How much crazier can The Gang get? How much viler, meaner, more disgusting, offensive, and vulgar can It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia become? A lot, apparently. In the first 10 seasons of FX’s beloved comedy, the gang has done everything from pretend to be handicapped for the sake of stripper discounts to smoking crack for a welfare check. Frank opened his own sweat shop. Dennis and Mac hunted the same man that they forced into a life of homelessness. Dee thought her blackface routine was the height of comedy. And Charlie… well, poor Charlie would be the lowest form of life on television if he wasn’t so darn adorable.
With Season 11 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia set to kick off tonight on FXX, we had the opportunity to speak with the actors who portray television’s most lovable sociopaths. The biggest question, again: How much crazier can the gang get? Rest assured that each character, no matter how awful they may have seemed in the past, still has plenty of room to devolve into something worse. How will they do that in Season 11? They’re keeping most of the fun under wraps, but they offered us some secrets to prepare us.
The Gang Hits the Road
As the first action-packed promo revealed, the gang will take on ’80s films like Ski School and Ski Patrol at some point during Season 11. What’s important to the cast is that we understand that when they take on a story like saving the mountain’s resort from an evil developer, they’re going all the way. It’s partially because — like every Adam Sandler movie made in the last 10 years — it’s a chance for a group vacation, in this case to California’s Mammoth Mountain. But it’s also because they want it to feel real. They need it to feel real.
“It’s always exciting because we’re such a family,” explains Charlie Day, whose character was once terrified and fascinated by the notion of leaving Philly. (Also, eating fruit.) “To pack the family up and go on a road trip, so it’s as fun for us all to be on the mountain for the cast, as it is to say, ‘Hey, there’s Dave our second cameraman and we’re hanging out at a ski lodge.’ The adventure of that was really fun.”
Kaitlyn Olson, who plays Dee Reynolds, seconds that notion, adding, “It’s always fun to just mix it up and do something totally different.” However, there was still work to be done, including making the skiing aspect of the episode as real as it can be. “It’s always fun every year to challenge ourselves and take big swings,” explains Glenn Howerton (Dennis Reynolds). “The ski episode was ambitious for us because they’re skiing in it. It’s a whole thing. It’s a big thing. I hope when people look at it they don’t go, ‘Oh, that’s green screen.’ Cuz it ain’t. That was all real.”
It’s not hard to imagine that in a story about an evil millionaire taking over a mountain, the gang member with all the money will be filling that role. Danny DeVito’s Frank Reynolds has always been a crucial part of the series because of his inexplicably endless wealth. Every story is better when Frank is funding the adventures, because there is no limit to the stupidity. Whether trying to conquer Wade Boggs’s beer-drinking record on an airplane or taking advantage of the mortgage and gas crises, Frank’s money is a necessity. And even when it seems like he might have lost it all, he’s still good for a bailout.
“The thing is, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” DeVito tells us. “My function there was I’ve got all the money, they have no money. The bar doesn’t make any money so I finance everything. The whole thing was they got to ski. Not very well. I went on the mountain with my shoes. But I didn’t go down the mountain. I didn’t ski down the mountain.”
Like the rest of the actors, DeVito does a great job of not revealing too much about the episode. But he let us in on a little more beyond “The Gang Hits the Slopes.”
“We’re going underwater this year. We’re doing all kinds of stuff,” he adds. “The guy was saying, ‘Can you use one of those scuba tanks because you gotta do this thing.’ I mean, c’mon, of course I can use a scuba tank. Not really well. I’m not Jacques Cousteau, but I can do that.”
We Could All Learn from Frank
While each character is terrible in his or her own unique way, Frank exists on another level of crazy and depraved behavior. In fact, it seems like when it comes to the idea of getting darker, weirder, and more disgusting, Frank is the constant. DeVito says playing Frank is “always crazy,” not just because of what he’s gone through to this point, but because of what they keep coming up with for him.
“It seems like I always say from the very beginning this is going to be the craziest, we’re not going to do anything wilder than this,” he says. “And every year we just keep going more and more, farther and farther. I just had them attached to batteries trying to pull keys out of their arms and electronic shock, all kinds of crazy stuff that they have Frank doing and I love it. Of course it keeps me going. It’s why I get out of bed in the morning to go to work. I know there is going to be some craziness going on at the show. But we’re having a good time, every day is a lot of fun.”
Taking over Mammoth is just the tip of the mountain for Frank this season, because the gang is actually going to take us inside Frank’s head for one episode. We’ll get to see the Paddy’s Pub crew through his own eyes and hear the thoughts that go through his warped mind. God help us all if Gail the Snail makes a comeback in that one.
“We did a whole episode this year from Frank’s point of view, the entire episode is seen through Frank’s eyes and you’re in his mind hearing his thoughts as well,” Howerton says. “Just to tell a story, to see how an episode of the show would have played out if you saw it all from one character’s point of view the entire time.”
“And hear his thoughts! To hear what Frank is actually thinking half the time,” Day elaborates. “We’re talking into the camera, that was really fun and really exciting when we were in the scene to look behind the monitors and see characters through a different lens that we use a different camera for. Different depth of field and focus.”
And it doesn’t even stop there. The return of a game will elevate Frank’s competitive edge to new heights, as he will emerge from the dog cage and defend his right to be a part of the gang’s test of knowledge and liver fortitude.
“We’re doing the game again, Chardee MacDennis, and I want them to change it to Frank and Chardee MacDennis but they won’t,” DeVito explains. “Have you ever played the game? It’s so insane, it’s really hard to follow. In fact, I would say that a guy like Noam Chomsky would have a tough time following the game. It’s crazy.”
Again, DeVito doesn’t want to spoil the surprises – we’re not even sure he could if he tried – but he did promise that there will be “masks and things” and he will have some “funny, weird additions” done to him. But at the same time, despite all of the insanity that his character goes through, DeVito believes that everyone can learn something from Frank and this show.
“Lighten up,” he suggests. “Please stop all this crap, you know what I’m saying? Take care of each other. Look at Frank. Obamacare, same sex marriage… I’m like every LGBTHGKQ thing you could be. I support everything. Frank is benevolent in that way. I’m speaking for myself because I’m Frank and I would say that if you want to look around at the least-selfish person on the show, I give a lot. People in the world could learn from this experience, of how we have to share things. What do you think I’m going to do? Because they can’t add the books I’m going ostracize them? No! Let’s drink a little bit more beer.”
Is There a Sick, Twisted Romance Brewing?
We asked each cast member to name the sickest and craziest character on the show, and the answers were mostly diplomatic. Howerton and Day believe that each character is equally awful, but Olson is a little more confident: “Probably Dennis.” Rob McElhenney agrees, “He’s gone from like a human being to…” before his real-life wife can finish his sentence. “… a total sociopath. Serial potential. Murderer.”
What is it about Dennis Reynolds that makes him worse than someone like Charlie Kelly, who does all of the bar work that no one else would dare attempt, like cleaning the filthy toilets or clubbing all the rats to death? “He’s quite possibly the most insecure of all of them,” Howerton says of his character. Day adds that Dennis’s arrogance is so spectacular that it puts him in situations that we can’t help but cringe and laugh at.
“There’s nothing funnier to me than a man, like Glenn’s character, who is so consumed with vanity, and that vanity is challenged at every turn,” Day says. “Every turn he makes he’s confronted with conflict.”
McElhenney also recognizes that Mac has “changed dramatically” over 10 seasons. To him, only Charlie has remained the same, which simply means that the rest of the characters have been trying to catch up to him. A case could be made that Frank has changed the most, since all he wanted in the beginning was to give up his upper class lifestyle to experience how the other half lives. But no matter what has happened up to this point, things are still about to get much weirder for everyone.
“I’ve allowed them to do some really crazy things to me,” DeVito recalls before dropping a potentially awful spoiler about the show’s siblings. “But then you got Rob who is almost out of the closest. Charlie is getting very liberated this year, let’s put it that way. And there’s a lot of sexual tension things going on, which is really weird because they’re brother and sister, with Dee and Dennis. It’s always getting more and more interesting as it goes along.”
Oh, and if you’re worried about how much deeper Dee can slide into her self-loathing fantasy world, rest assured that things can and will get worse for her. When we spoke to the actors, they were only halfway through filming season 11, but Olson assures us: “I’ll probably hurt myself at some point.” McElhenney takes it one step further and promises, “There will be a Kaitlin injury at some point, believe me.” Perhaps we’ll see the Aluminum Monster back in action.
“Let’s F*cking Go Nuts”
“Every year we all come into it, usually one of us has one episode where we’re like, okay I want to do this fucking thing and it’s weird, but I want to and we just figure out a way to do it because that’s fun,” Howerton says of the show’s unique approach to creativity. “And things don’t last. I don’t know if I’ll ever create another show again, so let’s f*cking go nuts. I’m going to do whatever the f*ck I want and see what happens.”
FX, and now FXX, deserve a ton of credit for not only giving this show an opportunity in the first place, but also for letting the cast find its legs and really get crazy to see what worked. Some of it has been memorable, some just flat-out weird. What sets Always Sunny apart from almost every other show is that there are few if any boundaries.
“It’s fresh, it’s off the wall, it’s a little bit random, and the rules… There aren’t very many rules,” DeVito tells us. “We stick to the characters. Frank is always Frank. Charlie’s Charlie and so on and so forth. But the basic thing is we’re a little anarchistic in a way, which is really fun.”
What makes it even more impressive is how the creators started with a simple concept – some losers own a failing bar – and have turned it into their own world. Again, they’re traveling away from Philadelphia — from the Jersey Shore to this season’s Mammoth adventure — and that all goes back to Howerton’s approach of going “f*cking nuts” and letting the characters get bigger and more bizarre, all while mixing in what he calls the “classic episodes” as well.
As Day explains, “With 11 years of doing a show, and not a show where you’re competing for the Iron Throne, but a show where you’re just stuck in a bar, you can’t help but dive into the character’s traits and get deeper and deeper into the nuances of their idiosyncratic behavior.”
The Gang’s Not Going Anywhere
Eleven seasons sounds like a lot for a television series these days, but we have to remember that Always Sunny is only giving us 10 episodes per season. It’s just enough insanity to leave us wanting more, which is why it’s not shocking that people are still so excited for the new stuff. Howerton’s a little surprised, though, as he reveals, “In our minds, in my mind, this show was not going to last. This show was never going to last. It was too bizarre, too out there, too strange.”
So how far can the gang go? How many more seasons do they have the gas for, knowing that at some point they might not be able to top themselves anymore? McElhenney admits that he doesn’t know, but he also recognizes that as long as people love what they’re doing and keep watching: “I don’t see why we’d stop.”
“I knew right from the beginning when I came here that I was onto something,” DeVito says. “I had something that was going to touch a lot of, especially young folks. I have three kids, and at the time, 10 years ago, my son was 17, and I knew from watching their first couple of shows with my kids how it was going to be infectious. It took a while. It took a couple years, but it did catch on really pretty damn good for all you young people out there.”
As Olson points out, it also took a while for the show to really build a strong fan following. “Most people didn’t see it for about five years,” she offers, while McElhenney sees a distinct advantage in that. “It started to kick in around season four, season five,” he says. “Which is strange for us because by season six, we had been doing it for six years but people thought we were on season two. So, in some respects people hear that we’re 11 years in and they can’t believe it because they didn’t start watching till season six or season seven.”
Above all else, McElhenney is happy that other people have agreed that what this series does is “really different and fun and special.” The only thing that might bring It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia down, then, would be the network thinking that the show is going too far or is being too offensive. But it seems like the cast has that under control.
“[FX President] John Landgraf and all the people at FX have just always been so supportive of the show,” DeVito says. “And of course you got to deal with Standards of Practices and all that stuff. In fact, there’s a little room down here where we keep them locked up. [Laughs.] I’m only kidding. We give them food in the afternoon, sometimes.”