It feels strange to wonder if a show is growing up when it aired an episode two months ago that featured a character pretending to have AIDS to cut in line at a water park. And it feels especially strange when the show has taken great pleasure in being immature and focused like a laser on goofs for over a decade, even when the jokes and subject matter are not things you would want to discuss in polite company. It feels… it feels almost like an accusation, without the context. (I’m sure people will read the headline and declare me wrong before, or just without, reading my explanation. Which is fine. Lord knows I’ve done it, too.) And yet, that is exactly what I am doing at the end of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s 12th season.
There are two moments, really. Small ones. Both lasting a few seconds, tops, and coming at the end of episodes that saw a main character display something resembling growth. The first was at the end of “Hero or Hate Crime?,” the season’s sixth episode, which used a very silly starting point and very many slurs to get to a long-brewing development: Mac finally coming out of the closet and announcing he’s gay, for real, for good. It’s not just that he did it, though. It was the happy, almost relieved look on his face, and the way the rest of the gang was taken aback and legitimately happy for him. It was kind of touching, or at least as touching as any moment can be when there’s a dildo-thrusting exercise bike in the background.
The other moment was in the season finale, “Dennis’ Double Life.” The episode started with Dennis discovering he fathered a child in North Dakota while using an alias (and it says a lot about the show that this happened and my reaction was “Yeah, that makes sense” instead of shock and/or disgust), continued with an elaborate death-faking plot to try to get out of the situation, and ended with him apparently leaving the gang, the bar, and Philadelphia to go be with his new family. (It’s Always Sunny in… Bismarck?) The moment his attitude changed came near the end of the episode. Watch his face as he says goodbye to his son. It’s also kind of touching, or at least as touching as any moment can be when a character is covered in fake blood because he faked his death in an attempt to avoid paying child support.