It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia is known for its signature band of crass comedy and characters - which is why some of the more clever comedic writing the show puts forth largely goes unappreciated. For example, the season 5 episode "The Great Recession" made great meta use of the show's very-real budgetary strains by simultaneously mocking and promoting sponsor Dave & Busters as part of the episode's commentary on the economic crisis in America; but to some viewers, it ultimately came off as shameless promotion.
For the third episode of season 9, titled, "The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award", Sunny took satirical aim at a new target: The Emmys, which not-so-coincidentally will hold its 2013 awards ceremony this Sunday.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia actually received its first and only Emmy nomination this year... in the category of "Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series of a Variety Program". Judging from the episode, the makers of the show clearly aren't fawning over such "recognition."
Within the episode, the farce plays out in a plotline about the Paddy's Pub Gang realizing that they are one of the only Philly bars never to win some kind of award. The revelation elicits the usual range of schizophrenic egoism, irrational rage, general mania and scheming you would expect from the gang, as they launch a doomed attempt to lure other "industry types" to their bar for a display of feigned class and artistic talent. The whole thing ends in a classic Sunny meltdown, laughs are had, songs are sung ( much mucus is spit) and before you know it, we're at the end of another fun outing with the gang.
Points to the actual gang behind the show, however, for an episode that deliciously skewers everything about The Emmys and the deeper industry politics that go into determining what is held up and rewarded, and what is not. The metaphors were pretty much dead on: from the saccharine sitcom bar the gang stakes out for research (take that multi-Emmy winner The Big Bang Theory!) to the real gem of the night: a timely hat-tip to the more discriminatory aspects of Emmy consideration - specifically in reference to one show.
I nearly exploded with glee in the scene where Walking Dead star Chad L. Coleman showed up in a cameo that paid sly homage (intentional or not) to his earlier work on HBO's The Wire - a show which remains one of the most egregious Emmy snubs of the new Millennium. (Just two nominations and not a single win in that show's time on the air from 2002 - 2008 - despite its widespread critical acclaim as THE best show on TV at the time.)
A particular standout were Dennis' (Glen Howerton) outbursts about how there were too many black guys in Paddy's to create the proper atmosphere to impress the industry crowd ("Black bars don't win awards - I don't know why, they just don't."). The joke went beyond comedic satire to touch upon something deeper - a still lingering question of how things like the racial makeup of a show's cast factor into decisions about what is put into the (often superficial) spotlight of awards recognition. And it wasn't just race: technical matters like disingenuous, formulaic writing and misleading lighting and visual effects were just as ripe for a put down.
In general, the episode managed to do what good satire does: totally milk a sacred cow like The Emmys while appearing to do nothing of the sort. Not the kind of intelligence you might expect from the Gang at Paddy's (or the team behind Sunny) - but then, maybe that was the point? Take note, Emmys 2014.
Meanwhile, as a conciliation prize, I'm hoping those Paddy's Pub tee-shirts that they promoted in the episode (see above) make the Sunny gang a fat chunk of change in merchandising. Grass-roots profit can certainly be its own reward.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is in the midst of Season 9 and now airs Wednesdays @ 10pm on FXX.