It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has long been one of television’s most audacious — and audaciously satirical — sitcoms. The FXX comedy’s writers have never been afraid to sink their teeth into a hot-button issue, expertly tackling topics ranging from white privilege (“The Gang Turns Black”) to the #MeToo movement (“Time’s Up For The Gang”) through the escapades of their politically backward, notoriously sociopathic bar owners.
The series has also not been shy about tackling the conflict between religiously conservative ideology and LGBTQ+ acceptance — embodied by Rob McElhenney’s dopey, cognitively dissonant Mac. The core of Mac’s character throughout the series is his long-running internal struggle between his Catholicism and his sexuality. In season 12’s “Hero or Hate Crime?, he came out to his closest friends — who had known about his repressed sexuality for years — so he could claim ownership of a $2 lottery scratcher. Mac entered 2018’s season 13 of It’s Always Sunny as a gay man, but not a proud one. He’d come out to his inner circle, sure, but he’d done so in the impulsive manner in which he does everything else, and he was still unsure of his place both among his friends and in the LGBTQ+ community.
In season 13’s game-changing finale, “Mac Finds His Pride,” the show made perhaps the strongest choice it has ever made. While the first two-thirds of the episode is business as usual, with the gang grossly misunderstanding Pride and treating Mac poorly, it ends with Mac coming out to his father by performing a wholly surprising, beautiful five-minute contemporary dance. The dance is so profound that Frank (Danny DeVito), a frequent user of homophobic slurs and a man who claimed to have never “gotten” Mac’s sexuality, is moved to tears. DeVito added a remarkable gravitas and sincerity to the episode’s final line: “Oh my God. I get it.”
It isn’t exactly difficult to be critical of an overt public display of LGBTQ+ ally-ship. In television shows and movies, queer characters are often underdeveloped or sidelined, and their adversaries — often conservative homo/transphobes — are caricatures. But in It’s Always Sunny’s case, it’s different. The care with which the show crafted Mac and Frank as satirical archetypes of the sexually repressed Catholic and the transgressive rich man over the course of 13 seasons ended up, paradoxically, giving them multiple dimensions, full characters, and complex relationships.
The beauty of Frank’s last line is that it’s a sympathetic epiphany from a man who, until that point, had not one ounce of sympathy toward Mac in his whole body. The audacity of the episode’s turn isn’t simply that it decided to feature an emotional dance number — it’s that it flipped the genre of a sitcom on its head by mining the depths of a 14-year relationship for the gold to take Mac and Frank out of stasis and move them forward on a fundamental level.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia returns for season 14 on Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.