This week’s listmaker: Nick Honeywell. Nick watches television using a $9 digital antenna he bought from Walmart. He gets decent reception.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Seinfeld is the best television show of all time. It’s not because the show had great characters, or even brilliant writing (although it did have both of those things). It’s because it glorified narcissism in revolutionary ways–a hilarious comic device that turned out to be one of the most common motifs of the modern sitcom. Many of the most-successful shows over the last twenty years–The Office, Arrested Development, Married with Children, Entourage–all rely heavily on narcissism for comedic effect. And you can thank Seinfeld.
Jonathan Storm of the Philadelphia Inquirer called It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia “Seinfeld on crack.” I think that’s a pretty accurate description. It takes a few cues from Seinfeld to be sure: strong auxiliary characters, intertwining stories, and of course the whole narcissism thing, but all with a much darker twist. It’s a show that might be too much for some people–those who are easily offended–but as our world becomes a more cynical place, so does our entertainment. Self-centeredness, pessimism, vindictiveness, and laziness are funnier than ever, for better or worse.
If you’ve never seen the show before, it stars a brother and sister (Dennis and Dee), their father (Frank), and two friends (Mac and Charlie)–together known as The Gang–who collectively own an unsuccessful bar in Philly and encounter various misadventures mostly due to the fact that they’re just bad people. All five are funny in their own right, although popular sentiment tends to favor Charlie (played by Charlie Day), and Frank (played by Danny DeVito) as the funniest. But as is the mark of any classic show, a decent argument can be made for any of the main cast. It’s been on for nine seasons now, and airs on FXX.
It’s Always Sunny is also available on Netflix, where you can watch episodes back-to-back-to-back until you realize the sun will be up in two hours and you should probably get some sleep before work. While I recommend watching from the beginning, make sure you don’t miss these five episodes–the very best, in no particular order:
1. “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” (Season 5, Episode 10). Dennis Reynolds might be the undercover best character on Always Sunny. “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” is a perfect introduction to his depravity as he explains to the The Gang his systematic approach for manipulating women into loving, then hating, then loving him again. It’s all for his sadistic pleasure, and Charlie and Frank try to implement the D.E.N.N.I.S. system on their own with hilarious results. Frank in particular tries to impress women by purchasing magnum condoms with a large roll of $100 bills. The episode culminates with Dee (Dennis’s sister) being stabbed by a carney at a state fair and Dennis being told he has AIDS. Despite how absurd and horrific that sounds, it’s hilarious. I wasn’t kidding when I said this show was pretty dark.
2. “Mac Bangs Dennis’s Mom” (Season 2, Episode 4). The very best episodes of Always Sunny tend to revolve around vindictiveness. This episode is perhaps the best example of that, as revenge is the primary driver of everything that happens. Dennis blackmails Charlie, and Charlie plots an intricate revenge that involves Mac sleeping with Dennis’s mom. Dennis finds out and tries to sleep with Mac’s mom. And because of his “whore wife,” Frank tries to pick up chicks with “the move,” as seen below:
3. “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats” (Season 6, Episode 10). Charlie is relegated to “Charlie work,” which involves bludgeoning to death all the rats that inhabit the bar. Apparently there are a lot of them. All the “Charlie work” is really getting to Charlie, so the Gang, in a rare moment of altruism, decide to throw him a birthday party complete with presents–including a brand new “rat stick” with which to bludgeon more rats. Dee is charged with entertaining Charlie while the rest of the Gang assembles a luau-themed party. Frank pits rival pig dealers against one another as he wants to supply the party with pork. After one pig dealer highballs Frank but then calls him back with a lower offer, Frank tells him “I knew you’d come crawling back, you sack of shit.”
4. “Paddy’s Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens” (Season 5, Episode 8). What’s the biggest problem with cats? Their thunderous gait, obviously. Luckily, Charlie Kelly has the perfect solution: kitten mittens (or, as Charlie spells, it “kitten mittons”). It’s all part of Charlie’s genius plan to generate more revenue for the bar through merchandising. Below is just one example of the Gang’s video production skills–a fairly common and hilarious trope on the show.
5. “The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention” (Season 5, Episode 4). The whole notion of the Gang giving anybody an intervention is inherently absurd, as they are all alcoholics. Frank, however, starts taking things too far for even the Gang, so they stage an intervention. This episode is Frank at his best: obnoxious, irreverent, and completely wasted. I see Frank channeling a bit of one of his former roles–Oswald Cobblepot in particular–to make himself truly disgusting, and I love how he asks Mac to block the wind so he can “roast this bone” in the middle of a funeral.