FX’s oldest original sitcom, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, returns this week for its eleventh season on spin-off network FXX. Some shows would start to grow stale after more than a decade on the air, but this one, perhaps in part because of a production schedule that only requires ten fresh episodes per year, has managed to stay inventive and engaging. It pays tribute to long-time fans by keeping the running gags and throwbacks coming, but also finds ways to not make the stories seem repetitive.
Season 11 begins with “Chardee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo,” in which the homemade game the gang competitively tears each other apart playing re-emerges as they try to sell it to an executive. Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Dennis (Glenn Howerton) defend their title from Charlie (Charlie Day) and Mac (Rob McElhenney), as Frank (Danny DeVito) tries to put his spin on it. As you expect, things get out of hand and go horribly wrong, which our core group of characters seem completely unaffected by.
The chemistry between this ensemble is one of the best on television, finely honed after many years together. While the people they play are almost always trying to get a leg up on the others, the performers themselves mesh together beautifully, each allowed plenty of time to shine, never stepping on top of one another in the name of a good joke. They seem completely at ease and in their element.
“Chardee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo” is enhanced by the presence of Andy (Andy Buckley, The Office), an outsider who participates with the group. For brief moments, viewers might wonder why Andy goes as far as he does in the service of the competition, but usually one is too distracted by the zaniness around him to notice, and I love seeing a fresh outsider tossed into the mess that eventually shocks even him. Plus, the half hour wraps things up nicely with no further explanation needed.
The inside jokes among the gang are communicated well enough that most of the audience at home will feel included, not excluded. When a beer bottle becomes a puzzle, it’s funny because we’re familiar with the characters and how they relate to one another, even if someone who has never seen the show before might be confused. Even if you are a first-time sampler, though, this half hour is plenty humorous enough, providing a nice example of the show’s style, to hook you in and entertain you.
For the deeper fans, there’s a chuckle when we’re reminded that Mac finds Dee disgusting, even though Olson and McElhenney are married in real life. The chemistry of the group only works because of the revulsion, though. If any of the guys ever wanted Dee, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia would fall apart, so Olson plays her just despicable enough to hang with the guys, who each are awful in their own way. Except maybe Charlie. Sort of.
Week two, “Frank Falls Out the Window” is even more for the fans, as the events from several season two episodes are revisited. Frank did not join the cast until season two, and with a somewhat clever twist on a television trope, updated for the raw edginess of It’s Always Sunny, his origin plays out again. I won’t spoil exactly what’s going on, but it did make me want to pull out my DVD and rewatch some old installments.
If I have one complaint about the show, it’s that only seasons five through eight have been released on Blu-ray. The older and the more recent episodes are sold exclusively in standard definition DVD, which seems a waste when the show airs in HD.
While I have only viewed the first two episodes of season 11, it seems to me that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has returned exactly on the level I wanted it to, still lots of fun, and still surprising me when I think I have it all figured out. The show premieres Wednesday on FXX.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00T6KIORG][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B000RW3VDE]