The key art for this season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia depicts the cast as hair metal rockers, complete with giant hair, face paint, and metal studs everywhere. This excess and confidence is well deserved—10 seasons in, Always Sunny is one of television’s most consistent, laugh-out-loud funny series. Surviving to a tenth season is an impressive and rare feat for any show, but with its upcoming episodes, the series does more than survive, it delivers some of its best episodes yet.
The tenth season combines familiar group-hangout setups as well as a few episodes that break from the series’ established patterns and dynamics. The season premiere sees the gang attempt to top the legendary drinking record of third baseman Wade Boggs. Episode four (“Charlie Work”, airing February 4th) breaks format to follow Charlie through a stressful day, episode six (“The Gang Misses the Boat”, airing February 18th) sees the gang toy with changing their roles within the group, and episode eight (“The Gang Goes on Family Fight”, airing March 4th) brings the cast to a Family Feud-style game show. Familiar faces return, including series mainstays the Waitress and Cricket, and a few new elements are introduced, including a suspicious business that’s moved in next to “Paddy’s”. The core of the season, however, is what it’s always been, the characters and their toxic relationships and destructive choices.
One of the strengths of Always Sunny is that despite its lather-rinse-repeat approach, with the series resetting after each episode (as is traditional for sitcoms), it allows for changes in perspective that keep the characters fresh, even 10 seasons in. Over the years, the group has grown increasingly cartoonish and heightened, but while the writers and actors embrace the characters’ consistent narcissism and downright terribleness, they’re happy to pull back on these elements from time to time as well. In a series like Seinfeld (and most other sitcoms), the character dynamics remain static: Jerry is always the reasonable center and Kramer is always the kooky neighbor. On Always Sunny, these roles are fluid, depending on the narrative of a given episode. One week Sweet Dee is the put-upon beacon of sanity, the next she’s out-scheming Dennis. Depending on the episode, Frank can be an astute businessman believably working a room in a suit or a disgusting troll of a man sifting through garbage. Rather than feel disjointed or random, however, these shifts are completely natural, a far more accurate representation of people’s multi-faceted personalities than the fixed list of traits many series adhere to for their characters.
This approach allows the audience to experience each character’s point of view, depending on which unreliable narrator a given episode has selected, and get to know them better which makes each character, in turn, more relatable and likable. The most accurate glimpses audiences get of these characters are likely the episodes where they all come off poorly, but entertaining as these are, their constant negativity could quickly grow tiring. By giving over an episode or two a season to one of the main characters and making them utterly sympathetic, the series’ frequent harshness is tempered, helping a series about a group of horrible people generally being horrible to each other remain interesting and fresh for a decade.
These character-specific episodes also provide wonderful spotlights for the talented cast who rarely get enough to do elsewhere. Glenn Howerton had a memorable and entertaining role in Fargo season one and recurred last year on The Mindy Project (which also brought on Rob McElhenney for a two-episode guest spot) and Danny DeVito has a long and impressive career behind him, but otherwise, the leads are bizarrely under-cast. Kaitlin Olson in particular has done tremendous work on Always Sunny (her turn in season nine’s “The Gang Broke Dee” was among the best comedic performances of 2013) and yet she rarely pops up in other projects or gets mentioned by critics for awards consideration. In season 10, it’s Charlie Day’s turn to shine, in the fantastic Charlie-centric “Charlie Work”, but given the show’s history, it’s unlikely this strong performance will make the waves it should.
Fortunately, the series is already renewed for two more seasons which means, if nothing else, two more years of consistent, entertaining comedy from one of the best and most underappreciated sitcoms on television. Few series manage to last for 10 seasons and even fewer reach that milestone with any remaining narrative or comedic energy. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has energy to spare and is as funny as ever, delivering its tenth season with style and confidence.