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The “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” Filter: A Simple Process For Making Choices

How do you make good choices?

How do you know when something is right, just, and ethical?

How do you go about determining the morality and ethics of any given situation?

These are the kinds of questions that lawmakers, philosophers, scientists, religious leaders, and YouTube commenters debate constantly. It’s one of those deep, fundamental issues that everyone contemplates regularly, but few can claim to understand. The world is so chaotic and complicated. It’s incredibly difficult to surmise a simple, concise, consistent standard for making good choices.

However, there are ways of simplifying that daunting process. It may still be impossible to completely resolve such issues for every person in every situation, but we can make it easier. As it just so happens, one of the greatest TV shows of all time, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” provides us with an important tool that also happens to be hilarious.

Using that tool is simple. It goes like this.

If a certain choice, response, or recourse seems like someone that the Gang would do in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” then chances are it’s not the one you should follow.

To anyone who has watched this show in any capacity, that makes total sense. For those who haven’t had a chance to watch this hilariously obscene middle finger to every sitcom ever made, here’s just a sample of what I’m talking about.

Even if you’re not familiar with the show, this should at least get you familiar with the implications. I’ve written aboutIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” in the context of its masterful handling of dark comedy. I concede that this is one of those shows that isn’t for everyone. It’s hard to explain to most people the appeal of a show that finds humor in baby funerals, crack binges, and unauthorized Lethal Weapon sequels.

At the same time, it’s because this show dives head-first into dark comedy that it paints a clear picture on what goes into making bad decisions. There’s no getting around it. The characters in this show, also known as the Gang, are not morally upstanding people. In fact, they don’t even try to be moral. Nearly every episode involves them pursuing some elaborate plot based entirely on selfishness, greed, ego, or misguided pettiness.

They’re not stupid on the level of Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin, but they aren’t very smart either. Everything they do, from hoarding gasoline in an oil crisis to stalking a waitress, is incredibly simplistic. It can always be reduced to a basic level of selfish narcissism that never goes beyond basic.

It’s because the Gang’s choices are so basic and self-serving that the show is so funny in the first place. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” essentially takes the unique setup of a sitcom to amplify all the terrible traits and tropes that frequently go along with other shows that try too hard to be deeper.

At its core, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” doubles down on the simplicity of having characters who don’t even try to be moral. Through 14 seasons, the Gang actively avoids any effort to change or grow in a meaningful way. Charlie, Dee, Dennis, Mac, and Frank are the same selfish narcissists they are in Season 14 as they are in Season 4.

Even as the show has gotten bolder and more absurd with the Gang’s antics, their motivations are the same. They don’t need to be overly complex to be funny. That’s what makes these characters and the entire premise of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” such a great filter.

The next time you’re in a situation where you need to make a decision, try and apply this filter. What would Sweet Dee do? What would Frank Reynolds do? What would Dennis, Mac, and Charlie do? If you can determine that, then you can also determine exactly what not to do.

Even if it’s not specific, the moral filter of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” can act as a reminder. If you’re going to be exceedingly selfish and narcissistic in making decisions, then you’re tempting fate the same way the Gang does with every absurd antic. Doing so will rarely pan out well for you and those around you.

If you need further proof, just look at Rickety Cricket.

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Why “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” Is The Perfect Dark Comedy

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Every TV show, from sitcoms to talk shows to adult cartoons featuring dimension-hopping super-genius, attempts to capture a certain theme and hone it to the utmost. They try to craft the right kind of characters who exhibit the necessary traits to convey those themes while still being memorable, likable, and endearing. On top of that, they have to do it for multiple seasons, at least until they achieve syndication.

It’s an enormous challenge. Few shows succeed and even fewer do so consistently. Even among those select few, there’s a risk that the characters and stories will get stale. Due to the nature of half-hour TV shows, there’s only so much you can do before Archie Bunker’s casual bigotry becomes more pathetic than funny. That doesn’t even get into shows that end up crashing and burning in the series finale.

Then, there’s a little show called “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” In the annuls of TV history, this show is basically a unicorn wrapped in gold, covered in diamonds, and encoded with the browser history of every active politician.

Pragmatically speaking, this is a show that should not have lasted 13 seasons. For one, it airs on FX, a network most people probably don’t know they have, if they actually have it. In addition, the show’s budget is incredibly limited. The pilot was allegedly shot for less than $100 by a cast of aspiring actors who had zero name recognition, at the time.

On top of that, there’s the premise of the show. In its simplest form, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” follows the shameless misadventures “the Gang.” This crew consisting of Charlie Kelly, Ronald “Mac” McDonald, Frank Reynolds, Dennis Reynolds, and Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds basically take every traditional approach to making an enduring TV show and punches it in the kidneys.

This is a show where the characters will buy a boat with the intention of entrapping women.

This is a show where the cast will make an unauthorized Lethal Weapon sequel, complete with blackface, homoerotic subtext, and gratuitous sex scenes featuring Danny DeVito.

This is a show where two people are tricked into digging up the body of their dead mother.

This is a show where you’ll see people hold a funeral for a baby to get out of a tax audit by the IRS.

These are not the activities of lovable characters. Even Shelden Cooper had moments in “The Big Bang Theory” where he came off as genuinely compassionate. With the Gang, there are none of those moments. Sometimes, they’ll be teased. In some episodes, the Gang will give the impression that they’re about to finally realize just how deplorable they are.

Trust me, they’re doing exactly what you think they’re doing and then some.

Ultimately, they don’t just revert back to their less-than-reputable selves. They demonstrate that they never had any intention of changing their ways. Anyone who believed otherwise either hasn’t watched more than two episodes of the show or are deluding themselves. As antithetical as this is for crafting a compelling TV show might be, it doesn’t change one inescapable fact.

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is funny, enjoyable, and obscenely entertaining.

It almost sounds like a paradox. As someone who only recently became a fan of the show, I have hard time explaining that appeal to most people in a way that doesn’t sound weird. It takes a moment to appreciate the appeal of watching a cast of self-absorbed, narcissistic alcoholics. However, within the tone and context of the show, it doesn’t just work. It achieves something profound.

Specifically, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is the perfect manifestation of dark comedy at its finest.

Comedy, in any form, can be difficult. Jokes, gags, and bits can become overplayed and stale. There’s only so many times you can watch Charlie Brown fail to kick a football and still laugh. Dark comedy is even more difficult. It involves taking distressing, taboo subjects and trying to make them funny. Some, like George Carlin, can pull it off masterfully.

I like to think that if George Carlin were still alive, he would be a fan of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” The show’s approach to dark comedy isn’t overly complex. It’s just exceedingly overt. It doesn’t try to balance out those dark themes with something serious or nuanced. It blatantly takes things to an extreme and dares to laugh at the absurdities.

Trust me, it gets more absurd than this.

Take, for instance, the funeral for the dead baby that I mentioned earlier. There are only so many ways you can make funerals and dead babies funny, but this show never shies away from a challenge. It also helps that every character in the Gang has the moral fiber of a Big Tobacco lobbyist on crack. They won’t just cross lines. They’ll make it a spectacle.

In this particular case, Sweet Dee is getting audited and for good reason. She acted as a surrogate to carry the child of a transgender woman that Mac used to date. Trust me, it’s more absurd that I can ever put into words. However, Dee didn’t do this out of the goodness of her heart. Nobody in the Gang is ever that altruistic. She did it because she got paid. Then, she decided to list the kid she gave up as a dependent for the tax benefits.

Naturally, this put her at odds with the IRS. Like every problem the Gang faces, she tries to run away from it or pass off the problem to somebody else. However, the problem only escalates. In most TV shows, especially half-hour sitcoms, this is the point where the characters face the consequences of their actions and try to learn from it. Instead, the Gang tries to resolve the problem by holding a baby funeral.

It’s undeniably dark, but the way it plays out is still funny. The way Dee and the rest of the Gang conducts themselves is so irreverent that the inherent darkness of the issue only makes it funnier. It shows just how far the Gang is willing to go to shirk responsibility and avoid consequences. It gets bad and it belabors just how irredeemable these characters are, but it’s still funny.

A big part of what makes that approach funny is how blatant this show is when it comes to the time-tested tropes that TV shows have relied on for decades. Take any show, from “Breaking Bad” to “Friends,” and you’ll see a concerted effort to develop and progress the characters over time. Ideally, they achieve some sort of ultimate goal by the end.

Instead of growth, the Gang actively avoids any effort at growth. Their only goal is to continue being the unapologetic assholes they’ve always been, drink heavily, and recklessly pursue whatever crazy ideas they come up with. Who they are in the first few seasons of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” aren’t considerably different than who they are in the latest season.

In any other show, characters who don’t grow and progress usually derail the underlying themes. Sometimes, that’s unavoidable. The very structure of a TV show, especially a half-hour sitcom, ensures that the characters can only grow so much. Even after the show achieves syndication, it tries to stick to a formula, even if doing so undermines the very process the characters need to evolve.

By going out of their way to not evolve, the Gang insures “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” never deviates too far from the qualities that make it funny. It even channels its use of dark comedy to poke fun at the same tropes that other shows heavily rely on. From the frustrating use of clip shows to turning romantic sub-plots into a case study for excessive stalking, the show seems to revel in spitting on these time-tested methods.

What makes that comedy even more potent is that after 13 seasons, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” has lasted longer than some of the most iconic TV shows in history. It has outlasted the likes of “Cheers,” “Mash,” “Friends,” and “Frasier.” Moreover, it keeps finding a way to be funny and relevant. I think a non-insignificant part of that is how it uses dark humor.

There’s plenty more to be said about the show and why it has lasted so long. Even some of the show’s cast members have a hard time explaining why the show is still on the air. Even more likely wonder how the show can keep getting away with being so brazen about using dark comedy to tackle issues surrounding race, religion, gender, sexuality, mental health, and bird law.

There are likely many factors that have contributed to the success and longevity of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” It helps that the actors and crew of the show really enjoy working together. There’s something to be said about a show in which the original cast have a genuine passion for their work. It’s well-documented how a toxic environment behind the scenes can derail successful shows.

At the end of the day, though, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” works because it’s funny and entertaining. It found a way to take the best aspects of dark comedy and run with it. As long as it can keep doing that, the show will have an audience. If it can include more episodes that involve Mac dancing or Danny DeVito getting naked, then that’s just a bonus.

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