It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia just concluded its 12th season — an absurd lifespan (even with shorter cable seasons) for any comedy, much less one that remains as vital and funny and inventive as this. Season 12 was a particularly momentous one for the Gang, as we saw (SPOILERS) Mac finally come out of the closet, life from Cricket’s perspective, and, in tonight’s finale, Charlie finally convince the Waitress to have sex with him (for the purpose of giving her the baby she’ll never otherwise have) and Dennis, after being confronted by the son he fathered (after the events of season 10’s “The Gang Beats Boggs”) and the boy’s mother, having an epiphany about his own awfulness and leaving town by declaring, “I can’t do any of this shit anymore.”
It was a remarkably emotional moment for a series that has made it through a dozen years without anyone in the Gang growing or learning much of anything from their many terrible misdeeds — and exceptionally well played by Glenn Howerton (who, shortly before Sunny came together was briefly part of the ER cast) — but one I assumed would be undone shortly into the start of season 13. So when I got on the phone with Howerton this afternoon to discuss both the finale and this wonderful dozenth season of the show, I asked if he was leaving the show entirely from a sense of journalistic thoroughness, rather than any belief that the answer would be yes.
That’s when things took a very surprising turn — albeit one that made a bit more sense an hour after the interview ended — which you can read about just as soon as I fake my death in an alley…
I have to start off with a question I’m pretty sure I know the answer to, but just in case: Are you leaving the show?
So… it’s a little complicated. I may seem a little bit evasive here, and I don’t mean to. It’s not entirely certain whether I am or am not. I might be. I might be, but I might not be. That really is the truth. Just to be clear, to dispel any potential weirdness, it has nothing to do with my relationship to anyone on the show or Rob or Charlie or anyone like that. It’s partially a creative and personal decision. We may be taking an extended hiatus between season 12 and season 13. So I’m certainly staying open to the possibility of doing more, but there is a possibility that I will not.
(An hour or so after we finished speaking, clarity appeared in the form of reports in the Hollywood trade press that Howerton has signed to do an NBC comedy pilot with Patton Oswalt. These things are usually verboten to discuss before they become official, and as the Variety report suggests, this would be a slightly different situation than Kaitlin Olson pulling double duty with Sunny and The Mick, since FX and Fox are corporate siblings (and thus more amenable to share their stars than NBC would be if it had Howerton on a series regular contract), and since Howerton is a writer and executive producer on Sunny, while Olson just acts. So it sounds like his availability for future seasons will depend on whether the NBC pilot goes to series, and/or whether Sunny season 13 is delayed long enough to create a hole in Howerton’s schedule that lets him do both.)
So that brings us to what happens with Dennis at the end of the episode. How did you decide that, if you’re going, this is the way you wanted to go out?
You know what’s funny about our show is we’re on such a weird schedule. We used to air in the fall and now we air in January, but we still write it on the same schedule, so the conversations that happened about how to leave the show, what’s going to happen with Dennis at the end of this season if Glenn is not going to be coming back, they happened so long ago — almost a year ago, I’d have to go back in my mind to try to remember exactly how we landed there. We knew we wanted to leave it open-ended. We didn’t want to do something where Dennis died or anything like that, anything hokey. For my part, I’m just a big fan of subverting expectations whenever possible. It just makes for interesting drama, comedy, whatever you have it in entertainment. And in comedy, I have a great affinity for trying to surprise people and do the exact opposite of what people expect. In my mind, I like the idea of taking a character who we’ve built up to be potentially a serial killer and realize that it may be the exact opposite. He may be an extraordinarily fragile and emotional person who has created a shell around himself to try to protect himself.