It would be unfair to say that it was a big weekend for the gang of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” because, well… it wasn’t just big. If anything, it was a massive celebration for the show, whose historic double season renewal was announced on the same day the cast and creators were due to appear at the Paley Center. Yes, that’s right, folks. After eleven (!!) years on the air, and right before they even head into filming their twelfth season, FXX has continued to express the utmost faith in the beloved sitcom, greenlighting two more years, bringing the show up to 14 seasons on the air.
Even if you’ve never seen a single episode of the show, it would be impossible to deny its presence in pop culture. With more than a decade of hilarious material to boast, the show has certainly become a staple in the world of television. The “Gang,” a group of misfits all of them somewhat endearing in all the ways that they actually aren’t, consists of Dennis and Dee, a pair of twins, along with their friends Charlie, Mac and Frank, who all operate a rundown Irish bar called Paddy’s Pub in South Philly. The show follows the Gang as they get into all sorts of hijinks, constantly turning on each other for their own personal gain. As deplorable as they are to one another, however, they’re all each other has.
Over the weekend at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, the cast and creators sat down to discuss the beloved (or not so beloved?) members of the Gang, the show’s likely and unlikely influences and of course, their exciting plans to continue messing with their loyal audience. In addition to McElhenney and Howerton, Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson and the legendary Danny DeVito were all on hand to talk about all things “Sunny” with the show’s surprising mega-fan: the creator of the “Mad Men” universe himself, Matthew Weiner. Needless to say, ridiculousness ensued.
Let’s get right to the craziness then, shall we?
To begin with, the show was never actually supposed to happen.
Dare we try to imagine a world in which the show never came to be? It’s a thought that’s almost darker and more absurd than any episode the show has ever produced. Creator Rob McElhenney (who also plays Mac on the show) had become rather jaded after experiencing terrible luck in the all-too-unforgiving world of show business. After optioning a screenplay to a studio in Hollywood, he was forced to make too many changes to his script over the slow course of a year, eventually having to pass on the project altogether. Despite feeling slightly burnt out, he remained determined to work on something new.
Instead of being completely turned off from writing any new material, he wanted to skip the grueling process of development and “wanted [to] just write something that [he] could shoot with [his] friends.” His solution? He said, “Concurrently, I met all of these guys and I wrote this really fucked up short film about these horrible people and I realized, as I writing it, no one else is going to find this funny. Except for a couple of guys I know. So I brought it to those couple of guys. I actually showed it to a bunch of other people that were like, ‘Well, we don’t get it.’ I showed it to Glen and Charlie and they were like, ‘This is great!’ So I brought it to these guys, but it was a short film. It was never supposed to be a television series. And so we thought, ‘How can we make this? How can we shoot it?’ And so we just figured it out.”
They got Larry David to laugh once. (And he doesn’t laugh.)
Despite clearly being a dark comedy on the surface, panel moderator Matthew Weiner pointed out that the show is still somewhat difficult to attach to any specific genre. With the creative freedom that they’ve been able to explore on the show, the results could really be whatever they please.
However, the comparisons to classic sitcoms the most welcome of compliments. Citing their biggest influences as “Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and the British “Office,” McElhenney recalled a surreal experience with one of their heroes — Larry David himself.
“We had Larry come to a premiere,” McElhenny said, “and I didn’t care what was happening. I was just listening for that very distinctive laugh behind me. We got like, two. Later on, I said something, and they go, ‘Larry laughed twice. That’s two more than he’ll laugh at anything else.'”
Glen loves reading your tweets about the show, especially the bad ones.
Any show is always subject to much scrutiny, and “Sunny” has never been anything different in that regard. But while we might expect the gang to be brave enough to face the mixed reactions they may often receive, Kaitlin Olson (“Dee”) and Charlie Day (“Charlie”) try to avoid the Internet in different ways. Day, who avoids it altogether, succinctly said, “I’m too fragile.”
But he might be a liar. “I have Twitter,” Olson said. “I don’t get really any negative responses. But I will not do IMDB. There was a whole thread of like, whether I did or didn’t get a boob job.”
“That was me!” Day told her.
Meanwhile, Howerton embraces the controversy. He sincerely enthused, “I’m only on Twitter, but I read [them] all. I go on after every episode and read what people think. I’m not one of those people who’s like, ‘I never read your reviews!’ I read them all. Even the bad ones, I love it. I love that shit, man. I love when people talk about how bad the episode was.”
Nobody loves the Gang like the Gang loves the Gang.
It would probably be fair to say that there isn’t quite another cast of characters on television like the Gang. Weiner expressed his genuine love for the group of unlikely allies, saying that despite how cruel they are to each other, “I feel that those people [laughs] are nicer to each other than anybody else on TV.”
“What shows are you watching?” Day snapped back.
Perhaps Weiner has a point that most people overlook. Why would these people be friends with one another to begin with? McElhenney said, “It’s very simple: nobody else will be friends with them. All they have is each other and that’s a weird, really sweet way of looking at it.”
Howerton agreed, clarifying that they do, in fact, care for one another, but that “there’s [also] tremendous codependency at work.” He added, “A lot of people say, ‘We need a character to be likable,’ but really, what you need is a character to be relatable. And in order for a character to be relatable, you just have to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. So, you can do crazy shit, but you have to understand why the character needs to do that. That’s all you really need to know, because everybody has insane impulses… they just don’t act on it.”
The Gang will be returning to their roots in Season 12.
After all, after spending such a long time with the same five people, it must be important to continue finding ways to keep things fresh. McElhenney said, “We always try to do different conceptual stuff. And oddly enough, this year [for Season 12] we’re doing more episodes that take place in the bar. It’s almost like bringing it back…” Day described their return to their roots as a sort of restless move following their adventures outside of Paddy’s last season, saying, “Fuck all that shit, let’s just do stuff in the bar.”
Howerton added that “especially with the same characters… a lot of it is about keeping it interesting for ourselves. I like the idea of creating something where you really don’t know what to expect in the episode.”
As the ever-so-eloquent Danny Devito summed up things: “[I’m] looking forward to [the next three seasons] to really fuck you up.”
“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” Seasons 1-10 is currently streaming on Netflix. Season 11 is available on FX NOW.
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