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Can It Stay Sunny in Philadelphia Forever?

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It's Always sunny in Philadelphia

With the announcement of an upcoming fifteenth season, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has cemented its status as the longest-running live-action sitcom on air, having stuck around for fifteen years to date. It boasts a hundred and fifty-three episodes, ranging from the heights of classics such as the musical “The Nightman Cometh” (Season 4, Episode 13) and technically impressive “Charlie Work” (Season 10, Episode 4) to the comparative lows of the unfocused “A Cricket’s Tale” (Season 12, Episode 7). 

But how long can it keep going?

Speaking to NME this year, creator Rob McElhenney said: “I’ll do it forever. If people keep watching it and we keep having fun, why would we ever stop?”

He has a point. It’s Always Sunny’s quality has remained remarkably consistent over the course of its run, thanks in part to its simple, malleable premise. In season one, the show was essentially an offbeat workplace comedy about three morally questionable, politically incorrect dudes who owned a bar. There’s a simplicity to that first season when the show was still finding its groove: the gang deals with underage drinking in the bar, debates hot button 2005 issues like abortion and gun ownership, and seems like a relatively normal friendship group, albeit one that encourages the worst tendencies in one another. The show began to ascend to the level of great television when the gang startled hurtling downwards into a chasm of moral depravity and – vitally – deep, existential sadness. 

Each member of the gang has spent over a decade getting very close to the worst possible version of themselves. A season eight episode in which the gang goes to a therapy session delves into the deep-seated emotional issues that inform who the characters have become. Mac (Rob McElhenney) goes first, immediately exposing the therapist to wild mood swings, repressed sexuality, and religious trauma; Charlie (Charlie Day) reveals a pigeon stashed in his jacket that he killed by ‘hugging it too hard’; Frank (Danny DeVito) breaks down after remembering his time in a mental institution as a child; Dennis (Glenn Howerton) puts his narcissism, control issues and general creepiness on full display, and perhaps the episode’s most uncomfortable laugh is drawn out as Kaitlin Olson’s Dee begs the therapist to, “Tell me I’m good.” The episode also explores how unhealthily co-dependent the gang has become. All of them are trapped together in freefall. 

The show’s greatest strength – could also be its weakness going forward…

This co-dependence – the show’s greatest strength – could also be its weakness going forward. None of the gang can leave, and so none of the main cast can, either. Even more so than if one of the friends had left Friends, one of the core four leaving It’s Always Sunny would create an implosion from which the show would be unlikely to recover. In something like Friends or Cheers, it’s conceivable that one of the main characters could move on with their life and go somewhere else. Not so with It’s Always Sunny: the gang is a fragile ecosystem and none of the members have a life beyond it. Various episodes have explored the concept of the gang trying to go their separate ways (season five’s “Mac and Dennis Break Up”, season ten’s “The Gang Misses the Boat”) but they always end up crawling back to each other, longing for a return to ‘normal’. It seems as though Glenn Howerton (Dennis) attempted a more permanent separation, appearing to leave the show at the end of season twelve for the greener pastures of NBC’s AP Bio. His absence for even just four episodes (out of the thirteenth season’s ten) left the show feeling off-kilter and wrong to many viewers. Taking IMDb ratings with whichever sized pinch of salt you normally would, it’s clear that something went wrong with season thirteen: it is the only season where the average user rating dips below 8.0 (and the episodes without Dennis seem to account for the slump). 

But season fourteen got back on track while proving that there is always more for It’s Always Sunny to do and explore. One episode is a film noir homage; another riffs on Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. And the characters continue to have just enough humanity to make them bearable, while also representing what most people pray they’ll never become. After (literally) years of repression and guilt, Mac finally came out as gay in season twelve, providing the show with a new avenue to explore. In the same season, Dennis admitted to experiencing human emotions, a big step for him. Dee got to experience the rest of the gang’s approval in the second episode of season thirteen, and Charlie remains just childlike enough to make some of his worse actions, like ripping a mall Santa’s throat out with his teeth, seem almost forgivable.

Going forward, it will be essential for creators McElhenney, Howerton, and Day – as well as newer writers such as Megan Ganz and Erin Ryan – to balance the darkness of the gang with their remaining slivers of light. They’re past the point of redemption, but that doesn’t mean that sincere, sweet moments like Mac giving Dennis a rocket launcher for Valentine’s Day (this is what passes for sweet in the context of the show) can’t still be welcome and impactful. Many LGBT+ viewers have responded to Mac’s coming out story, which culminated in a gorgeous interpretive dance played not for laughs, but for genuine emotional catharsis. Moments like those are doubly impactful for their scarcity, and leave the characters feeling like more than grotesque caricatures of evil. 

Staying funny for so long…

Then there’s the fact that It’s Always Sunny has managed – against all odds when one considers other sitcoms that ran for over ten seasons – to stay funny. The five lead performers are all hilarious in their own distinct ways, the kind of talented where even a flicker of a facial expression can draw a laugh out of a viewer. A benefit of McElhenney, Howerton, and Day’s dual acting-writing roles is that each episode exudes an intrinsic knowledge of how to play to everyone’s strengths. The hilarity is often drawn from the gang escalating seemingly benign situations (Charlie yelling, “People will choke! People will DIE!” about the bar having thick limes instead of thin, for example) but also from wry social commentary and characters’ interplay. There seems to be no danger of the show running out of jokes to make, or running out of new registers for Day and Howerton’s vocal cords to hit.

It’s Always Sunny benefits from a surprisingly broad appeal. Some of its humour finds an audience with the sort of Internet guys who have a lot to say about Captain Marvel; a large number of the jokes have become popular memes, and a small but dedicated part of the fanbase are young members of the LGBT+ community (thanks in part to Howerton’s 2011 statement that “all of our characters are a little ambiguously gay”). Keeping that range of people happy seems like an impossible task – and there are certainly some who bemoan that the show has become too progressive – but the team has managed well so far. Long may they continue.

  • Ellie Burridge

Ellie recently completed a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham and should be graduating sometime soon. Her greatest loves in life are damaged-but-sarcastic fictional characters, coffee, and semicolons.

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The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

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The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
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The Best Golden Girl is Sophia Petrillo

Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won.

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Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

A seemingly harmless little old lady with curly white hair, oversized glasses, and an innate ability to tell a great story shows up on her daughter’s doorstep when the retirement home she was put in by said daughter burns down. With a simple, “Hi there,” the world meets Sophia Petrillo. For seven years on NBC’s The Golden Girlsa show about the senior set—Sophia lived with her intelligent and extremely sarcastic divorced daughter Dorothy Zbornak and her two roommates, sexy, eternally horny southern belle Blanche Devereaux and sweet but dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund. Each is memorable in their own way, but it’s Sophia, “feisty, zesty, and full of old-world charm,” that stands out the most.

When TV was full of generic, sweet grandma types, Sophia was anything but. Sure, she looked the part with her bifocals, pearls, and now iconic straw and bamboo-beaded handbag, but Sophia was always trying to make a quick buck. She conned Rose into going into a sandwich-making business that pit them against the mob, faked being paralyzed to try and collect insurance, and constantly “borrowed” money from Dorothy’s purse. Instead of helping Dorothy, Blanche and Rose get out of jail when they are mistaken for hookers (don’t ask, just Youtube it). She stole their tickets to go to a party and meet Burt Reynolds. She also stole Rose’s car, worked at a fast-food restaurant, and won a marathon. Not bad for a woman in her eighties. Sophia had a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue, blaming her stroke for leaving her without the ability to self-censor. She was always ready with a zinger or a comeback, some of which she saved for her very own daughter.

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

Sophia Petrillo is the Secret Star of The Golden Girls

That’s not to say she’s all schemes and insults. Beneath her tough exterior is a kind woman with a big heart who loves her family and friends. Viewers don’t often get to see her softer side, which makes the moments they do seem that much more special. One of the best Sophia episodes showed her reaction to the death of her son, Phil. She put up a wall of anger which Rose was finally able to break down in the final moments of the episode, revealing Sophia’s true feelings of guilt over Phil’s cross-dressing as she bursts into tears. Another favourite was when Dorothy expressed concern about her mother not doing enough with her days. We then get to see exactly what she gets up to sticking up for her friend and causing a scene at the grocery store while claiming to represent a fictional senior citizens union, volunteering at a sick kids hospital and later, conducting a senior citizens jazz band. Meanwhile, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche do next to nothing except sit around and eat. When she’s asked what she did all day upon her return, she simply says she bought a nectarine, and Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are none the wiser.

But if Sophia has one claim to fame, it is her colorful old-world tales about Sicily, which often as not, contain a pearl of wisdom or embellishment of some kind. We would have loved to have known her during her “picatta period (a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything),” when she was the most beautiful girl at a resort and all the men fought over her (so beautiful, in fact, that she had “a butt you could bounce a quarter off of”). She was also once painted by Picasso and was best friends with Mama Celeste. But I digress. Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won. Her hunches were never wrong, and rarely, if ever did she meet her match. Sophia was, in short, a one-woman show. And thanks to re-runs and fan appreciation, that show will never be gone.

  • Dasilva

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
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