See, the thing that’s easy to forget about It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is just how long it’s been around. The show debuted on Aug. 4, 2005. That makes it both FX’s longest running show currently on the network — runner-up: Louie, which debuted in 2010 and has aired over 50 fewer episodes — and the network’s longest-running show ever. The only notable FX shows that pre-date it are The Shield, Nip/Tuck, and Rescue Me. It started two years before Mad Men and four years before Parks and Recreation, which feels impossible. It’s been on a long time. That’s my point.
And here’s the thing: The 11th season kicks off tonight, and through the five episodes sent out to critics, it’s still pretty good. That’s a heck of an accomplishment, especially for a live-action show in an era when #SixSeasonsAndAMovie is considered a long, successful run.
It’s Always Sunny actually addresses this long run — sort of — in one of the season’s early episodes. After Frank (Danny DeVito) falls out of a window and suffers a head injury, the gang tries to take advantage of his memory loss by “correcting” past mistakes. What follows is a series of callbacks to decades-old episodes that manages to reward long-time viewers without slipping into full-on fan service. He goes back to the strip club. He gets hit up for money. He gets very confused by modern technology. All with a gaping head wound. It’s a good episode.
Other highlights from the early run include: The return of the chaos-filled drinking game, Chardie MacDennis, which takes up the entire season premiere and features IVs filled with alcohol; Dee (Kaitlin Olsen) accidentally appearing in a Skinemax film and using the experience to become a director; Charlie (Charlie Day) entering the art world, kind of, with drawings of dog orgies; and the whole gang leaving Philadelphia entirely for a winking tribute to the the ski movies of the very early 1990s — so early that they were basically still 80s movies — where a crew of hard-partying schlubs take on slick corporate suits who are trying to ruin their mountain. Perhaps you recall this trailer for the season. Yup, that’s an entire episode.
(Two notes about this ski-movie episode: One, it features a guest spot from a Ski School veteran. It took me a few minutes to figure this out, and once I did it delighted me to no end. And two, yes, technically South Park also did an ’80s ski movie episode a few years ago. But theirs did not feature Danny Devito walking around a snowy mountain in a full-length fur coat. Let’s not sweat the details here.)
The best episode out of the first five, however, is “Mac and Dennis Move to the Suburbs,” which, yes, is about Mac and Dennis (Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton) moving out of the city and into a nice, quiet suburb. It’s Always Sunny is rarely better than when it takes its gang of deranged lunatics and sends them out into the real world — notably, any time any of them meet with literally anyone in literally any office — and this episode is a prime example. What starts as a sensible idea to save a little money results in a descent into madness that gets a little extreme even for Dennis, which is really saying something. And Mac’s descent goes even further, which is really saying something. Dennis is a sociopath. Takes a lot to out-crazy him.
All in all, Season 11 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia appears to be somewhere between more of the same and a continuing natural progression, which is by no means a complaint. I mean, it would be weird if the characters grew too much, right? The whole fun of the show is that they remain just horrible, horrible people despite their actions repeatedly causing physical, financial, and psychological ruin to themselves and just about everyone they come in contact with. If you’re looking for more of that, you definitely won’t be disappointed.