A common rule in fiction writing is that a character must change over the course of the story for it to be interesting. If the events they experience don’t shift their perspective or their behavior, then why have we watched or read it? Don’t try to tell that to the creators and writers of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, who have made an extremely successful TV series based on the premise that no character ever improves, evolves or gain self-awareness. And that, along with the ridiculous antics, is what makes it so funny.
In the 16th season, the gang is as self-centered and wonderfully insane as ever. In the opening episode, “The Gang Inflates,” Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Mac (Rob McElhenney) take the economic crisis literally and attempt to earn some “nut” selling inflatable furniture. They get Frank (Danny DeVito) to bankroll the idea, much to the annoyance of Charlie (Charlie Day), who has his own thoughts on how to battle inflation. Dee (Kaitlin Olson) is furious because she’s been kicked out of her apartment by a greedy landlord and begins protesting by gluing her hands to various walls. It’s a classic Sunny episode and a perfect way to begin a season, reminding viewers how clever the series can be when it takes on contemporary issues.
The following episodes, including “Frank Shoots Every Member of the Gang,” which also premieres on June 7, are slightly more hit or miss. There’s a reliance, 16 seasons in, on mining the vast history of the characters and making jokes from Easter egg moments that have come before. We meet Mac’s uncle Donald, for example, who turns out to be the father Mac never had—only for Mac to reject the nurturing he always wanted. Charlie, it turns out, has sisters. Chase Utley returns, as do characters like Rickety Cricket (David Hornsby) and Charlie’s creepy uncle Jack (Andrew Friedman). There are other notable cameos, including Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, who feature in “Celebrity Booze: The Ultimate Cash Grab,” which riffs on actors who hock their own alcohol brands (which the cast of Sunny does).
The inside jokes and throwbacks, beloved by many Sunny fans, are plentiful, but this far down the line it sometimes makes the episodes hard to follow. There are many moments of “Wait, who is that?” or “Wait, when did that happen?” Historically, some of the best Sunny episodes are the ones that stand alone and could be viewed by anyone, anytime, without an understanding of what has taken place in previous episodes or seasons. Like with The Office or Friends, the history helps, but it’s not necessary for a few laughs. This season, though, Sunny is less funny if you don’t understand the winks and nods (it is still very funny).
Since its premiere in 2005, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has become more than a series; now, it’s a brand. Fans own themed merchandise and dress up like Green Man. They pack global venues like Royal Albert Hall to watch live performances of the creators’ podcast. The references are endless in pop culture, again like The Office or Friends. Everyone keeps returning to Paddy’s Pub because it’s irreverent, funny and it still manages to hit on bigger ideas like inflation or gun control. And maybe we also return because the characters aren’t aspirational. They behave poorly and don’t care if they change. Sometimes, we need that. It exhausting to constantly feel like you have to better yourself and Paddy’s Pub is a respite from that feeling. Why improve when you can scheme, fail and scheme again?