Netflix recently informed me that the latest season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, one of my favourite shows of all time, has been added to it’s database. But before I commit to a five hour binge, I thought it’d be worthwhile to briefly return to my favourite episode in it’s 10 season run.
To anyone who doesn’t know, Always Sunny is a show about five friends who own an Irish bar in Philadelphia. Standard sitcom fair yes, but it adapts the format by making every single one of it’s central characters an awful human being. This isn’t bullying for the sake of “banter” but rather genuine cruelty performed by psychopaths. The reason the season nine opening episode – “The Gang Break Dee” is my favourite episode, and one of the finest of the series as a whole, is because it explores the depth of this cruelty and elevates it to previously unexplored levels.
The episode opens with a disheveled Sweet Dee drinking whisky from the bottle and eating a month old cake she found in the trash. Years of abuse from everyone she knows has finally taken it’s toll, and she is unable to fight against the tide of abuse. Finding themselves without their punching bag, the rest of the gang attempt to fix the issue that they admit they might be slightly to blame for. Charlie, Mac and Frank encourage Dee to return to comedy, because she now “straddles the line between suicide and actually dying where comedians often thrive”. On their suggestion Dee begins to thrive on the comedy club circuit, transforming her self-loathing into a brutally honest, “the jokes on me”, styled comedy routine.
The best character within this episode is undoubtably Dennis. Often hinted to be the most twisted, vile psychopath of the group, he refuses to encourage Dee to try and better herself. His solution to the predicament is for her to accept her place as human trash, and settle for a husband who can take her off their hands forever. But when his twin starts to succeed as a a comedian, he is unable to contain his jealousy. In Dennis eyes, Dee is: uncultured, unintelligent, ugly. His narcissism is unable to reconcile the fact that his talentless sister is finally achieving more than he is. This prompts Dennis to question why he seems to hate his sister as much he does, why he’s so determined to control her and keep her in her place. The answer? He loves her, and this repressed incestual attraction has manifested as cruelty over the years.
But here comes the kicker, the whole time “the joke” wasn’t just on Dee but Dennis as well. Of course Dee didn’t succeed as a comedian, it was all a prank conceived by the other three. Every audience member, potential manager, make up girl etc. were actors paid by Frank to build up her hopes and perpetuate the lie. There solution to Dee being on the brink of a mental health crisis was to commit there most elaborate cruelty yet as a reminder that you can always sink lower. The only person not in on the joke was Dennis; his heartbreak, and soul-searching attempts to understand repressed emotions were genuine. It’s implied Dennis has opened up a part of himself that he won’t be able to ignore again.
The punch line of the episode is “he might go kill himself”, and everyone on screen laughs. Always Sunny has always been a show about cruel people performing evil acts, but “The Gang Broke Dee” takes this to it’s extreme. It is the single episode that perhaps exemplifies the social dynamics at the heart of the show the best; three of the characters explicitly break the other two for the own personal delight. Sunny has always been about finding the humour in cruelty, this episode is brilliant because it is still able to find comedy when the cruelty is as extreme as pushing someone to suicide.