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November 01, 2019

Still Going Nowhere

It’s a record-breaking year for the rascals of Sunny in Philadelphia.

Barry Garron
  • Charlie Day, Danny DeVito, Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson as crafty companions Charlie, Frank, Mac and Dee

    Patrick McElhenney/FXX

Charlie Day recalls how it felt just before It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia premiered on FX, back in 2005.

"We were just happy to have the work," he says. "We made the show because we wanted to work. We wanted to act, and then we were asked to write as well. And the fact that they kept giving us the opportunity is the reason we're still here. I'm still happy to have a job."

Not just any job. A really long-term job. This season Sunny — which premiered September 25 — will have been on-air as long as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which ran from 1952 to 1966.

Sunny has also offered its principals various creative roles. Rob McElhenney created the show, and he, Day and Glenn Howerton are executive producers. McElhenney and Day are still writing, and this season Howerton is directing. In addition, all three are stars — along with Kaitlin Olson, who's been with Sunny since its debut, and Danny DeVito, who joined the following year.

It's hard to imagine two more dissimilar programs than Sunny and Ozzie. The mid-20th-century sitcom was the ultimate idealization of polite, white, middle-class, small-town America. The contemporary dark comedy, on the other hand, revels in the misadventures of five scheming, self- absorbed, dishonest, disloyal, disgusting misfits.

Just don't call them slackers.

"They aren't dirtbags who sit around and smoke weed and do dumb [stuff]," Howerton says. "These people are going to make the best of their lives. Their great ideas may require them to destroy other people's lives, but they think they're going to come out on top, and that's important. That's the American dream."

McElhenney adds, "We're never celebrating that behavior — we're satirizing it. We're saying that behavior will always get you right back in the same place, which is nowhere."

The series gets wide comedic latitude on FXX, to which it migrated in 2013. The Gang, as the characters are collectively known, have robbed graves, huffed paint, scammed and stalked. They've also tackled climate change, abortion and other hot-button topics.

This season, they'll rent out their dingy rooms, Airbnb-style, for sex and profit. In another episode, the four guys try to persuade Olson's character not to cut her hair because, well, they're the ones who have to look at her. The show took its title from A-ha's 1985 song "The Sun Always Shines on T.V.," which Howerton used to play on a mixtape at the gym.

"The juxtaposition of how things are portrayed on TV versus the darkness of what's happening in real life struck me as funny."

In the beginning, the show was called It's Always Sunny on TV and portrayed aspiring actors in Los Angeles. When the characters were changed into owners and workers at a bar in Philadelphia, the name changed as well.

"It was such a clunky title," Howerton says. Day adds, "We had a running bet in the office that if anyone could come up with a better name, we'd give them $200." The money never changed hands.

Having tied the comedy series–longevity record, the group now looks forward to breaking it. McElhenney says Larry David (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) recently offered encouraging words when they crossed paths at an event.

"He said, 'Don't quit. Don't be an idiot. Just keep doing it. First, because it's the greatest job you could ever want. And second, if you do a final episode, they'll just destroy you for it.'"

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 10, 2019

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