[This is a review of the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia season 11 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Anyone who’s seen even just a few episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia could tell you that the members of The Gang are almost assuredly going to hell. Even if you aren’t a believer in Christianity’s version of the afterlife like Mac (Rob McElhenney), you’d still have to admit that — based on The Gang’s deplorable actions and outright crimes over the years — harsh posthumous judgment of some kind has to be awaiting the proprietors of Paddy’s Pub on the other side. That said, as horrible as The Gang has treated everyone — including each other — for 11 glorious and hilarious seasons, Sunny fans weren’t ready for them to die and face that judgment just yet.
But that’s exactly where the show’s two-part season 11 finale began — with The Gang pleading its case to what the audience could only assume was God. Then, with ‘The Gang Goes to Hell: Part 2′ picking up with The Gang detained in the barge of a sinking cruise ship, it appeared that Mac, Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Frank (Danny DeVito) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) were going to actually meet their demise. This certainly would have been a bizarrely surrealistic turn for the series to take, so the delightful twist ending was a relief — in that fans’ favorite despicable TV characters would live on, but also that the finale kept in line with the show’s irreverent humor and tone by letting The Gang off the hook, despite their endless amount of wrongdoings.
In all actuality, the real threat of killing off the show’s characters was an empty one, especially considering the show has already been renewed through season 12. However, it’s also easy to imagine the showrunners making a creatively bold move, like starting the next season with its characters in the afterlife, and possibly having them resurrected later on. After all, when a series is on the air for 11 seasons and more than 100 episodes, such immensely different story departures begin to seem more appealing. And remember, this is a show that’s already started to produce sequels to earlier episodes, including this season’s premiere, ‘CharDee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo‘ (which remains one of the season’s highlights, by the way), so one could argue that Sunny‘s well of ideas may be running dry.
Of course, you could also argue that Sunny is still just as funny as it’s always been; because, despite producing more concept-driven episodes (‘Being Frank’, ‘The Gang Saves the Day’) in recent years, the show’s familiar and consistently amusing character dynamics always seem to elevate even the most middling episodes. Last night’s finale was certainly a prime example. On premise alone, the idea of the episode — with The Gang facing the music for each committing their personal favorite of the Seven Deadly Sins — was humorous, but it was really the behavior of The Gang while facing certain death that made the episode more than mediocre.
In a scene reminiscent of Almost Famous‘ almost plane crash, Sunny‘s characters air their dirty laundry. But instead of making confessions, they stay true to their natural selves and reveal each other’s darkest secrets to the rest of the group (the truth about Mac’s hidden Tony Romo jersey and the reaction to it were particularly hilarious). And moments later, after touchingly embracing death together underwater, they again show their true colors by fighting to the surface at the expense of one another when potential salvation presents itself.
As with many Sunny episodes, the comedy that really works is the banter between the main five. Locked in a room together, all they can do is argue about what kind of sound the boat’s engine makes (Dennis notes that their argument only went on for four hours, which is actually a good example of conflict resolution for The Gang), and play stupid games (which they argue about, too) to pass the time. What’s most impressive about the episode — and the series as a whole — is that all it really needs are its five actors and an empty room to create big laughs. The situation in this situation comedy is almost always secondary. Simply put these five narcissists in any given predicament, and the chances of finding comedy gold are high.
That said, the episode’s set-up still had comedic value of its own, and it’s funny just realizing that — in one way or another — The Gang was in hell the entire time. After all, just being on a Christian cruise — one that didn’t permit alcohol on board — might have killed them had the boat stayed afloat for the remainder of the trip. Plus, the twist ending, which revealed they were actually being interviewed by an insurance claims adjuster, and not God, was memorable and befitting of the show’s sensibility.
So, what’s next for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in season 12? What’s great is we have no idea, but what’s even better is that we know wherever Mac, Charlie, Dennis, Frank and Dee find themselves, we can count on one of television’s longest running and funniest comedies to keep bringing the good stuff.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will return for season 12 in 2017 on FXX.