In the world of scripted television, particularly the world of scripted television comedy, entropy is the norm. No matter how funny or inventive a show might get by its second or third or fourth season, the inevitable decline always seems to begin around the seventh: the premises start to repeat, the jokes get tired, the characters become caricatures, the original creators run out of ideas and move on.
Which is why it’s so miraculous that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which began its 12th (!) season on FXX last week, has managed to stay (more or less) as funny as it’s ever been, tackling topical issues with the same sharp, irreverent tone they always have, keeping the core cast dynamic consistent without tipping into self-parody, and even finding inventive ways to repeat itself without feeling stale – not unlike the other gravity-defying long-running TV comedy, South Park, which just finished its 20th (!!!) season.
Long described as an (even more) nihilistic version of Seinfeld, It’s Always Sunny follows the exploits of the staff of Paddy’s Pub, a South Philly dive bar with a rat problem and very few customers. Twins Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Deandra aka “Sweet Dee” (Kaitlin Olson), their childhood friends Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day), and their millionaire-turned-degenerate father Frank (Danny DeVito) – better known as The Gang – spend their days getting into various get-rich-quick schemes, pursuing inadvisable relationships, exploring various locales where they are not welcome, and generally screwing each other over while managing to offend and alienate nearly everyone they encounter.
Amazingly, they are still finding ways to milk this premise, starting with last week’s season premiere, “The Gang Turns Black,” a musical episode (as pitch black as this show has always been, its creators are actually hardcore musical theater nerds) that finds the quintet trying to figure out what lesson they’re supposed to learn when an accident with an electric blanket makes them all African-American. Other exploits we can look forward to this season: Dennis, the ladies’ man-slash-suspected serial killer of the group, becoming an erotic dancer; The Gang turns surveillance video of Mac’s and Charlie’s cohabitating mothers into a sitcom; Frank deals with a PR nightmare around his cola company, Frank’s Fluids LLC; and, strangest of all, The Gang tries to actually tend bar on a busy night. In other words, more of the dark, irreverent, super-quick humor that made Sunny the best sitcom of the 21st century, and I could not be more excited that it’s back (and, by the way, renewed for at least two more seasons).
I have long argued that though Charlie Day gets most of the accolades, Kaitlin Olson has quietly been Sunny’s strongest performer – I could literally watch her dry-heave for an hour – and she gets a long-overdue chance to spread her wings on her new FOX series, The Mick, where she is the lead and the executive producer.
Olson plays Mickey, a financially challenged free spirit with flexible morals who goes to hit up her sister, who married into money, for a small loan. When her sister and brother-in-law are arrested by the FBI for assorted white-collar crimes, Mickey is hastily put in charge of her sister’s mansion, insanely spoiled children, and put-upon housekeeper.
While it would be an oversimplification to call the show “Sweet Dee the Nanny” – despite the many similarities, there are some key differences between Mickey and Dee, the biggest being that Dee is a black hole of insecurity and Mickey truly doesn’t care what anyone thinks – the same kind of irreverence that has made Sunny stand out for all these years is a key strain of The Mick’s DNA, though slightly diluted for network TV – so though you won’t (probably) see Mickey smoking crack to get on welfare or having a funeral for the baby she lied about having (also to get on welfare), she does have some creative solutions to parenting problems, including tricking her teenaged niece into thinking she’s pregnant, encouraging her 12-year-old nephew to defeat a bully by making fun of his privates, and helping herself to the 7-year-old’s platinum card.
In the early going, most episodes are centered around the personality conflict between Mickey and oldest niece Sabrina (Sofia Black-D’Elia, most recently the murdered girl on The Night Of), who (correctly) sees Mickey as a slacker with zero parenting skills; for just about every problem that comes up, Sabrina either ignores Mickey’s advice or, when it comes to looking after the younger kids, comes up with a solution of her own, usually no better than Mickey’s. Do the kids eventually warm to her unorthodox parenting and in turn teach her to be a better person? (SPOILER ALERT: No. No they don’t.)
I wouldn’t say that The Mick is as sharp as It’s Always Sunny – what show is? – but I would say it’s an encouragingly sure-footed step in the right direction. It’s not for the faint of heart or the easily offended – in one episode, the 7-year-old swallows a balloon full of heroin courtesy of a junkie birthday clown – but of the four episodes I watched, I got at least three good laughs out of each of them, and I am still quoting a line from the pilot four weeks later. If that’s not a sign of a solid comedy, I don’t know what is.
New episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are available on-demand on FXX on Thursdays; New episodes of The Mick air Tuesdays at 8:30pm ET on FOX where available, and are available on-demand on Wednesdays.