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May 21, 2020

Thinking of binging It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Try these three episodes first

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Always-Sunny_052120_FX Patrick McElhenney/Youtube screen grab

The cast of Always Sunny (left to right): Kaitlin Olson as Dee, Glenn Howerton as Dennis, Charlie Day as Charlie, Danny DeVito as Frank, Rob McElhenney as Mac.

There is just too much TV content out there for you to watch everything. That's where we come in. 

We want to help those of you who are considering watching one of the many TV shows available to stream that you haven't had a chance to watch before. If you are on the fence about a show, have had it recommended by friends or are simply curious, we've got you. 

Is the show worth it? How should I watch it? And what should I know about the series before diving in?

We've decided to answer those questions, and also provide our suggestions of three episodes to watch first — episodes that best summarize why the show is worth watching to give you a crash course on what makes it great. We are avoiding extremely serialized shows, like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Good Place, and other classics that demand you sit through the entire series start to finish. 

So far, we've taken a look at a trio of comedies from different eras (Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Bojack Horseman) who who each brought different kids of laughs to the small screen. Today, we'll take a look at another comedy that has outlasted some of the all-time greats and in the process earned its own place among the funniest shows ever: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

How many episodes are there?

153 episodes over 14 seasons, with another season on the way.

When does it get good?

Like a lot of the shows we'll cover in these binging guides — there's a reason they've made the cut in the first place — Always Sunny was pretty great right from the start. But, given that it's been on the air for the a decade and a half, there have obviously been some ebbs and flows. While all the seasons are good on their own merits, the show really kicked into another gear starting in the fourth season. That season featured several all-time episodes, including "The Nightman Cometh" and two of the three episodes we're considering "must-watches" for anyone thinking about giving the show a chance. 

When does it stop being good?

Somewhere around the 10th season, the show started to lose a bit of the consistency that made it such required watching each week, but given the level it was operating at for the first decade of its run, a slight dip is not only to be expected, but still left for an incredibly watchable show that could deliver an all-timer on any given Wednesday night. 

For example, there are still plenty of late-season episodes that are among the best in the series, like "Charlie Work," a Birdman parody from the 10th season. There's also another great episode in that season, when "The Gang Goes on Family Fight" with host Keegan-Michael Key. The 11th season has "Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs," which goes about as well as you'd expect and features Dennis freaking out over traffic on the Schuylkill between bowls of Mac's Famous Mac and Cheese. And "Hero or Hate Crime" and "Time's Up for the Gang" in Seasons 12 and 13 respectively showed the gang attempt to reckon with the political correctness they so openly mock on a weekly basis. 

Why should I watch it?

The question should really be, why haven't you watched it yet? Most of our readers live in and around the Philadelphia area, and you think a show set in their city, especially one that features several Philadelphia celebrities, locations and institutions — like the Oliday Inn across from the stadiums — would be enough to at least get them in the door. But if you've been hesitant to give this show a shot, I'm here to tell you that you've been making a mistake. 

The show focuses around four friends (brother and sister duo Dennis and Dee Reynolds, and Dennis' best friends from childhood, Mac and Charlie) and Frank Reynolds, the father of Dennis and Dee (and possibly Charlie). Beyond all the references to Philadelphia, the show is immensely watchable. And, in a way, it's a lot like a modern-day Seinfeld if Jerry and his friends lived in South Philly and owned a bar — and were much meaner. Obviously, the personalities and humor are different, but the basic premise of a show about nothing remains. There's no overarching plot in this show, although, like Seinfeld, the best episodes often feature several competing (or completely disparate) plot lines that eventually tangle and intersect in the most hilarious ways. 

Unlike Seinfeld, however, Always Sunny is considerably grimier, both in humor and character. And that might be the most Philly thing about the show. These aren't successful people. They certainly think they are, but the main premise of the show is them coming up with harebrained schemes only to be reminded that they aren't. And the more they fail, the more desperate and hilarious their antics become. 

Where can I watch it?

All 14 seasons are currently available on Hulu.

What three episodes should I watch?

'The Gang Solves The Gas Crisis'

Season 4, Episode 2 (2008)

This episodes tells us a lot about "The Gang" and is a great insight into how each of the characters, especially Dennis, Mac and Charlie, view their place among the group. After Charlie, who handles all the "Charlie Work" around the bar (read: work no one else wants to do), decides that electricity is too expensive, he opts to run the bar on a gas generator, which is obviously more expensive. This launches the trio into a debate about who is the brains, the looks and the wildcard of the crew. According to Mac, it's the perfect archetype. 

"The A-Team did it. Scooby-Doo did it. The Ghostbusters did it... Our problem is that we don't stick to that basic format and it gets us in trouble."

They then decide to live by these roles for the remainder of the episode as they launch into what might be the worst idea they've ever had: buying gas in bulk (by pumping it into a trash can), storing it, waiting for the price to rise, and then selling it. No way this goes wrong, right?

Between their trip to the bank to get a loan, Mac burning off his eyebrows and Charlie buying into the wildcard role a bit too much, this episode has some classic setups. This episode also features some shots at Mac's sexuality, a running joke throughout the show that, in Season 13, has one of the best payoffs of any running joke in the history of any show every. 

What makes this a must-watch for people considering the show is that it also has an incredibly strong B-plot that involves Dee and Frank, who still has money of his own, coming up with a scheme of their own to try to steal her inheritance back from the man her mother (and Frank's ex-wife) left it with. Their plan involves waterboarding, which they learn doesn't actually work after Frank tries it out on Dee. And making this a true Always Sunny classic is the fact that that B-plot intersects with the main gas scheme, and it all blows up in their faces. Literally. 

One of the staples of this show is the gang coming up with a crazy plan and nobody sticking to the script quite like they're supposed to be. This episode has that in spades. 

'Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack'

Season 4, Episode 10 (2008)

The title of this episode is "Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack" and features a gem of a cold open, but it might be better known as "The Pepe Silvia Episode" for reasons that will become apparent as soon as you watch it.

For the plot, after Dee suffers a heart attack and realizes that Frank took her and Dennis off his insurance years ago — yes, they're 30-somethings on their parent's insurance — the rest of the gang (with the exception of Frank, who begins taking every pill he can get his hands on) realize none of them have insurance. This sets the gang on two separate courses, with Dee and Dennis hoping to work out so much that their bodies become impervious to disease and Mac and Charlie going the opposite way by getting a job in order to get coverage. Of course, their idea of getting a nine-to-five job is the two of them splitting a minimum wage job in a mailroom just so they can both have insurance. 

While Charlie gets literally buried in work in the mailroom, Mac has his sights set on a corporate position and tries to take over the office of an employee who is on vacation. The use of the song "Oh, Yeah" is also a great nod to 80s movies Ferris Bueller's Day Off and, more appropriately for this episode, The Secret of My Success. And when Mac finally returns to the mailroom, he realizes he and Charlie might've gotten in over their heads. 

Meanwhile, Dee and Dennis hit the gym — yes, right after the former suffered a heart attack — and prove that they don't really belong, from their wardrobe to their lack of energy supplements. But after loading up on both, they return for a spin class but get into a classic battle with the instructor over the music and leave before it even starts. It's a perfect example of not only how Dee and Dennis think they're smarter than everyone, but also just better. Upon deciding they no longer need the gym, they decide to do the next best thing, plastic surgery, revealing their gym scheme to be nothing more than an exercise in vanity, not health.

Speaking of health, there's even a great C-plot in this episode, with all those pills causing Frank to go crazy, wander around the streets of Philly, and eventually get picked up by a mental hospital that bears a striking resemblance to the one from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Unlike the last episode, which shows what happens when all their plot lines join back together at the end, this episode shows that the gang is capable of giving us three separate, but all related, story arcs in the same episode. 

'The D.E.N.N.I.S. System' 

Season 5, Episode 10 (2009)

*NOTE: This is not the full clip of Dennis explaining his system, but it's the best I could do.

As anyone who has watched the show knows, Dennis Reynolds is a dangerous sociopath who was once implicated in the death of his ex-wife and has been known to carry a serial killer's toolbox in his trunk. But this is one of the first times we get to see just how crazy Dennis really is. And that comes in the form of The D.E.N.N.I.S. System, his full proof way of building a stable of women he can call upon at a moment's notice. The Ocean's Eleven way in which he reveals his system is incredible. 

While Charlie, Mac and Frank are all obsessed with the system and want to see if they can make it work for themselves, Dee worries that her boyfriend, "Ben The Soldier," is D.E.N.N.I.S.-ing here — I can only imagine that upon hearing this Dennis felt the way Mark Zuckerberg felt when people starting using Facebook as a verb. Instead, Dee sets out to prove that she's the one doing the D.E.N.N.I.S.-ing.

After they all appear to be striking out, Dennis invents a new plan that can work for all of them. But, as you may have figured out at this point, it doesn't quite go as planned, with each member of the gang veering off the charted course and worrying only about themselves instead of the greater good. 

That's really the third type of Alway Sunny episode. In the first two examples we looked at an episode in which the gang was working on separate schemes that wound up tying together and an episode in which their plots diverged from some singular point early on. In this episode, the plan should be the same for all five of them, but by the end, they're all actually working against each other and trying to serve their own best interests. Needless to say, they all lose. 

Please, for the love of god, go check out these episodes, and maybe some of the other ones I mentioned in the intro. You won't be disappointed. 

MORE: New 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' episodes written in quarantine, Rob McElhenney says

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