Reliable isn’t a word you’d think would be associated with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a show about a group of people anything but. But that’s exactly what it is: Eleven seasons in, and the FXX sitcom’s characters are as hysterically nasty as ever, the same overgrown, alcohol-fueled toddlers they were when the show first premiered back in 2005.
Successful, admired TV shows are often heralded for depicting character growth, for showing its subjects encountering obstacles and working through them. Those shows and those stories are valuable both as learning vehicles and as mirrors — we all want to see our experiences reflected back to us — but there’s also a specific and equally admirable value in the static nature of It’s Always Sunny, where everything and everyone stays exactly the same from one season to the next. It’s comfort food for the filthy-minded.
That being said, it’s no surprise that the season 11 premiere features Charlie, Dennis, Mac, and Dee behaving wretchedly and remaining incredibly entertaining the entire time while they pitch a game (a version of which was first introduced in season 7 episode “CharDee MacDennis: The Game of Games”) to a Mattel executive, played by the perfectly straight-faced (and perfectly game) Office alum Andy Buckley.
To give you an idea of what their characteristically deranged invention is: Think of a game, any game. Now add IVs filled with white wine, potentially explosive diarrhea, broken bottles, and flesh wounds, and you get CharDee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo, a game genius in its dementedness. Sounds fun, right?
It’s not. It’s not fun at all. In just as one example of how intense it gets, Charlie ends up nearly dead in the hospital (although, to be honest, ending up nearly dead in the hospital isn’t all that bad in the world of It’s Always Sunny). If we’re judging the game by how fun it is to watch, though, it’s the best game ever invented.
The whole thing starts innocently enough, with the gang inviting the Mattel exec to partake in an opening wine and cheese reception. That sophisticated pretense quickly turns to disastrous chaos once everyone smashes their wine glasses on the floor in aggressive unison. This game is definitely not suitable for children, if that wasn’t already apparent.
After throwing some bottles against the wall and taping them back together before chugging some beer from them, attempting to depict the concept of love through clay — a concept so foreign to these people that the only one who even thinks to fashion a simple heart out of the clay is Frank, and adopting new (and horrific) accents, everyone save Frank ends up trapped in a Saw-like dungeon. And you thought getting stuck playing Monopoly for a few hours was painful.
The transition from raunchy comedy to comedic horror is fast but not as jarring as it might seem: The rest of the episode already exists in such an unbelievably sadistic universe, where taking laxatives and seeing who will get diarrhea first while standing on a ladder is an acceptable activity, that being chained in a creepy basement isn’t all that outlandish. No one really expected this game to end nicely, and it certainly doesn’t — a sentiment that can be applied to any episode of the show.
Remaining watchable — and, more significantly, remaining enjoyable — after a decade on the air is a feat, one It’s Always Sunny has achieved in large part due to its consistency in humor, in tone, in unabashed savagery, and in its refusal to be anything besides itself. If you want to feel emotions and consider life’s biggest questions and see real-life problems on TV, there are plenty of comedies for that — but It’s Always Sunny is always there when you want to escape into a world where you don’t have to.
Watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia when it airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.