We proud television junkies have adopted the tradition of really caring about our onscreen friends. Oftentimes, more than we do our offscreen friends (it’s a problem, but if they’re like us, they understand). But an upswing in the popularity of the antihero has challenged this well-worn practice. How, exactly, are we supposed to care about characters who don’t care about each other? Who act so reprehensibly as to shirk any semblance of moral fiber or understanding of basic right and wrong? These are questions provoked by the Season 9 premiere of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which has taken pride in delivering some of the worst people in contemporary television. With the kick-off of the FXX comedy’s ninth season, we see that the gang is trying to up the ante on this deplorability. Even for a longtime fan of the show, it’s a little unsettling.
The Season 9 premiere introduces a new bout of depression for Dee (Kaitlin Olson), who has all but broken after years of being tormented and mocked by her brother Dennis (Glenn Howerton), father Frank (Danny DeVito), and friends Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day). Finally unwilling to fight back against their accusations of her bearing resemblance to a giant bird and being destined to die alone, Dee succumbs to an implosion of self-esteem and makes mention of a new desire to kill herself. Naturally (naturally for Always Sunny, anyway), pals Mac and Charlie respond to this by (spoilers) hatching a scheme to prank Dee into believing that she has become a famous stand-up comedian — her longtime dream — hiring hordes of actors to pose as adoring fans and agents, only to ultimately reveal that the whole ordeal was a fallacy. The boys’ rationale behind the prank is muddled at best, defending their actions by insisting that they wanted to show Dee that things can “always get worse.” But at the end of the day, it’s simply because they’re awful human beings.
Again, this is nothing new. Mac, Charlie, and Dennis have exhibited insurmountable disregard for the human race and general responsibility in the past. But it hits especially hard when the gang shows this sort of apathy, presented in accordance with their lifelong friend and family member’s desire to commit suicide. Of course, we’re not meant to take anything on It’s Always Sunny seriously. Not Dee’s pain, not the guys’ reactions, nothing — it’s all for laughs. All a showcase of the depths of the human mind’s center of depraved wackiness. But even knowing this and approaching the series on board to find humor in dark places, the empathetic viewer residing inside of us might cringe at these particularly harsh in-group atrocities.
For those in this mindset, a preferable breed of It’s Always Sunny has the gang taking out its malformed ideas and destructive behaviors on outside parties — banding together to uphold, with misplaced pride, their toxic attitudes and lifestyle — or illustrating the follies in various misguided schools of thought on spotlit sociopolitical issues. When the characters’ ignorance is highlighted over their general menace, the show triumphs. When Mac, Charlie, and Dennis are painted to be weird, stupid, inconsiderate, or otherwise pitiable, It’s Always Sunny really finds its charms. Not everyone will agree with this, of course, but those who do might find the Season 9 premiere to be a bit much in its aggressive amorality. Luckily, we’ll have some gems in the weeks to come.