Popular comedies in today’s TV, especially network TV, skew towards a warmer, more family-oriented sitcom format. Award juggernaut Modern Family and critical darling Parks and Recreation both have comedy styles that are a bit more wacky and less cutting. But cable comedies don’t have the limitations that shows like Parks and Rec do. One cable comedy that has used its run as a vehicle to push the envelope comedically is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Always Sunny just premiered its eighth season, and it looks like the series’ creators, stars, and often writers (they are credited as so on this premiere) Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Rob McElhenney have no intention of toning down the show’s heightened comedic universe. In the premiere, Dennis and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) discover that their long forgotten grandfather (“Pop Pop”) is on life support, and it is their legal obligation to decide whether or not to pull the plug. The Reynolds siblings waste absolutely no time getting into extremely dark material when they assume that choosing a dog to put down in front of them will “prepare them” for the decision to kill their grandfather. These are incredibly dark jokes, even rivaling some of the more outrageous things that Sunny has previously pulled in its run.
Sunny has always been a dark show, but it seems that as time has gone on, Howerton, Day and McElhenney have been indulging their urges to top themselves. Last season, McElhenney gained 50 pounds to be “fat Mac,” a ploy which seemed like a gimmick at first but actually significantly heightened the show’s comedy in a triumphant seventh season. This season, fat Mac is no more, but the central cast is still having fun with their freedom to tackle any subject comedically. This is a show that’s mined comedy out of racism, sex crimes, crack babies, stalking, kidnapping, death, rape–you name it. It must be hard to sustain that kind of comedic energy for upwards of seven years.
The show has had dips in quality throughout its run but has never lacked in laugh out loud moments, something its network counterparts often fail to serve up. Part of Sunny’s charm is its raggedness. The show has obviously gotten bigger budget-wise, and moving from Philadelphia to shoot in Los Angeles did have some effects on the show; but despite these changes, Howerton, Day, and McElhenney have done a great job of keeping tone consistent over the years and maintaining the manic energy that Sunny thrives on. The show has become a great anti-sitcom, tackling subjects that other shows wouldn’t dare mention, and doing it with confidence and a weird, dark charm. The show’s seventh season was a great return to form for this little show. Hopefully the eighth can sustain that energy.