The 50 Greatest Episodes of 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'
While it just missed our Best Shows of 2016 list, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia lords over the competition as one of the longest-running live-action comedies in TV history, among such greats as Cheers, Happy Days, Frasier, and Married... with Children. Unlike those other shows, however, Sunny has a reputation for depravity, regularly addressing such topics as bed-pooping, blackface, and uncomfortable "implications" involving the open ocean.
Of course, any show that runs for 11 seasons will inevitably cultivate a ton of mass, so we've pruned Sunny's 124 existing episodes down to a leaner, sexier, eminently bingeable top 50. Then we ranked them, because that's how these things work.
50. "The Great Recession"
Awkward product placement aside, this episode's exchange between Mac and Dennis regarding "Paddy's Dollars" is worth the price of admission alone.
49. "Who Pooped the Bed?"
Take the classic whodunit formula, add in the bizarre sleeping arrangement between Frank and Charlie, and top it off with a healthy dose of doo-doo. Bonus points for Rickety Cricket's skilled turd forgery.
48. "The Gang Beats Boggs"
Between bringing (and drinking) beers on a plane and climbing into the luggage compartment (à la Executive Decision) to join the Mile High Club, not a whole lot of what happens in this episode is possible. But what show did you think you were watching?
47. "Paddy's Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens"
Beyond the joy of watching pre-fat Mac eat Dee's written contract, this episode satisfies by showing us (for better or worse) each character's idea for Paddy's merch. Who wouldn't want a hard-boiled-egg stress ball?
46. "The Gang Wrestles for the Troops"
Of course Frank's Trash Man is the best wrestling gimmick of the past decade, and the Birds of War's pageantry is undeniable, but you've really gotta give this episode to Roddy Piper for his dialed-in performance as "Da' Maniac."
45. "The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis"
This is the first episode where Charlie's experience in Bird Law is revealed, and it's made all the better by the fact that his inciting argument -- that you can't keep a hummingbird as a pet -- is actually completely accurate. Hugh Honey and Vic Vinegar just sweeten things from there.
44. "Dennis and Dee Go on Welfare"
Dennis and Dee's crack addiction resulting from the pursuit of their dreams is an indictment of the American dream itself -- that, or it's what happens when two lazy idiots try to game the system. Why not both?
43. "The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre"
Any appearance by the McPoyles is noteworthy on Sunny, but the zombie-laden Ponderosa wedding freakout features nearly the entire clan -- including Pappy McPoyle, played to gruesome effect by Guillermo del Toro. It's also one of the few episodes not to take place in Philly, by the way.
42. "The Storm of the Century"
Despite its alarming lack of Mac, this episode is made all the stronger courtesy of Dennis's gloriously creepy pursuit of bunker babes to ride out the storm with, culminating in his total failure to secure the attentions of weatherwoman extraordinaire Jackie Denardo.
41. "The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore"
Rum ham is one of those things that sounds like a great idea, then becomes disgusting the more you think about it, until finally it's 2am and it somehow becomes a great idea again.
40. "A Very Sunny Christmas"
It's the only double-length episode in the series, and for good reason: There's no way you can cram Charlie's bloody Santa visit, Frank's naked couch explosion, and a wildly X-rated Claymation scene into 22 minutes.
39. "The High School Reunion Part 2: The Gang's Revenge"
Some of the best Sunny episodes end with a musical production, and this one's no exception, thanks to the impeccable dance moves led by Fat Mac. It also contains one of the all-time best Dennis freakouts in the entire series, regarding his desire to bind and "to be bound."
38. "The Gang Misses the Boat"
Charlie and Dee have a legit moment here, beyond their shared realization of a beakless chicken sandwich, and the episode's worth watching for that reason alone. Of course, there's also a mesh-shirt-wearing Mac, Dennis attempting to sell his submerged SUV, and Frank dressed as a man-cheetah, so you can't go wrong either way.
37. "Frank's Pretty Woman"
The dawn of Fat Mac sees him tearing into a garbage bag of chimichangas with Dennis and popping insulin shots without a care. It also sees the resurgence of Dennis's sweet, sweet crack addiction, as well as Charlie's "Dallas Oil Man" character, and that horrific limo ride reinforces the series' absurdist DNA.
36. "How Mac Got Fat"
This is actually a Frankenstein's monster of clips from a previously unaired episode, but who cares? The visual of a glue-huffing Charlie doing a private dance for a glue-huffing, chemical-peeled Dennis in the Paddy's back office is something we all needed to see, no matter how it came up.
35. "The Gang Gets Analyzed"
The cold open here is a sort of microcosm of the entire show: It takes a standard concept (character sees psychiatrist), adds a touch of the wacky (character brings friends to psychiatrist), and then ratchets things up to 11 (character's friend brings dirty dishes in a bedsheet).
34. "Charlie Catches a Leprechaun"
Any episode where Mac is the responsible one means you're in for some serious shit. Dennis's gun-toting psychopath "act" makes the fact that Charlie might've actually caught a real leprechaun almost an afterthought.
33. "Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack"
Charlie's mailroom rant to Mac is the stuff of legends, but the other two subplots are no slouches, either: Dennis and Dee's Steve Winwood-fueled workout and Frank's Cuckoo's Nest moment are classic Sunny.
32. "The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis"
Does anyone actually need a wild card in their group? And if they do, should they allow that wild card around giant garbage cans of fuel? The answer to both of these questions, unless you're some random guy with a gold car, is yes.
31. "The Gang Recycles Their Trash"
Sunny puts its own spin on the oft-dreaded "clip show" TV trope, opting instead to have the group revisit behaviors and schemes from many previous episodes -- most notably, replacing their gas plan with a trash plan. It works, and we get the phrase "twank versatile" as a happy bonus!
30. "The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6"
Speaking of revisiting former glories, the decision to revisit Lethal Weapon 5 (which appears higher up this list) for a whole episode could have resulted in tone-deaf disaster. It didn't, though: Instead, we got twice as much horrific racial stereotyping, and it totally worked. Somehow.
29. "The Gang Gets Extreme: Home Makeover Edition"
This episode has the Ty Pennington seal of approval, which is good because a story about white people kidnapping a Latino family and burning their house down can really get away from you.
28. "Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs"
Sunny's later seasons stray into some really harsh territory, and Mac & Dennis's descent into the maddening hellscape of suburbia is no exception. The laughs in this episode are darker, but there's no denying them -- especially when Dennis goes primal on his cloyingly friendly neighbor.
27. "The Gang Buys a Boat"
This is a classic "Gang" caper, in that it starts with them making a foolhardy decision, gives them chances to express themselves, and ends with them back at square one. It also gives rise to "The Implication," which might just be the best scene Mac and Dennis share with one another.
26. "Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense"
Mac's denunciation of evolution is an all-time great Sunny bit, but it also happens to be sandwiched within a delightfully absurd episode arc that stems from one simple question: Should you eat cereal while driving a car?
25. "Sweet Dee's Dating a Retarded Person"
Charlie's musical obsession with Nightman (and Dayman) first rears its beautiful head in this episode, both as an ill-conceived Bob Dylan imitation and a far-more-effective glam-rock number. By virtue of that fact alone, it is required viewing.
24. "Frank Retires"
Mac just can't seem to get the hang of subterfuge here: First he slices his hand open with Frank's toe knife, then he repeatedly reveals he's playing both sides, then he slices his hand open again using the bar's lime knife. Oh, and the amount of blood that's drained from Frank's body in this episode is astounding.
23. "Mac & Dennis Break Up"
Despite the startlingly abusive turn that Dennis's relationship with Mac takes in the later seasons, there's something charming about how much order Mac brings to Dennis's life in this episode. Is eating an apple with the skin really all that bad?
22. "The Gang Dances Their Asses Off"
The reveal of Rickety Cricket's hydraulic, air-cooled leg braces during his dance-off with Mac might be the best part of this episode... or it might be Mac's Bell Biv DeVoe-backed dance-off with Dennis... or it might be Charlie's Berlin-backed interpretive dance session. Hell, maybe it's all three?
21. "Charlie Rules the World"
Watching Charlie wield supreme power over the world -- even if that world is an online multiplayer fantasy game -- is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. And then, of course, there's Dennis being forced to fellate the British version of himself in a Matrix-esque dreamworld, which is also hilarious and terrifying.
20. "Mac and Charlie Die, Parts 1 & 2"
This is technically two episodes, but we're keeping them together because the entire saga of Mac and Charlie faking their deaths is worth highlighting in one go. Dee's car gets ruined, the guys prove their incompetence time and time again, and Charlie's slippery teeth are the stuff of nightmares.
19. "The Gang Gets Trapped"
Similar to the Boggs episode, one has to wonder how in God's name the gang isn't discovered during their Indiana Jones-esque caper in a Southern family's home. Between the yelling and Frank's incessant whip-cracking, you'll have to suspend your disbelief quite a bit here. Not that it's hard to do.
18. "Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats"
Charlie's job is full of thankless grotesqueries, not the least of which is bashing entire colonies of rats in the basement, so it's tempting to feel bad for him. That is, until he sneaks a tray of spaghetti into a movie theater and refuses to stop talking/standing up/flinging meatballs.
17. "The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award"
We get two blockbuster musical works by Charlie this episode: He performs the Paddy's Pub theme once in its original, Randy Newman-esque form, and then once again as a sort of nightmarish opera towards the end. Not bad for an episode that's a thinly veiled meta-jab at Sunny's own lack of award wins.
16. "Chardee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo"
Sunny spent half the time in its 11th season doing bizarre, experimental comedy, and the other half retreading old ground. One of the instances where retreading worked, and gloriously so, is the return of Chardee MacDennis, the Gang's demented drinking game: It has just enough callbacks, and puts enough spin on the original to fully warrant its existence.
15. "Mac and Charlie: White Trash"
This could be a blistering indictment of the class system in America, or it could be an excuse to watch Mac and Charlie strand themselves inside a drained pool filled with trash. Either way, Frank's greased-up watermelon pool game should absolutely become a real thing.
14. "Dee Reynolds: Shaping America's Youth"
We get our first taste of the Gang's Lethal Weapon passion project here, and it's at the tail end of an episode that sees Dee attempt to live out her acting dreams as a drama teacher. It also sees Charlie become a beloved, folksy school janitor who takes a Juggalo student under his wing, which isn't something a janitor normally does.
13. "The Gang Dines Out"
Gugino's, the "nicest restaurant in Philly," appears in multiple episodes throughout the series, but none features it more prominently than the one in which the group decides to go out for dinner, separately. Despite their desire to underhandedly "pay tribute" to one another in this fine Italian restaurant, things end about as well as you'd expect.
12. "The Gang Hits the Road"
Spoiler alert: The Gang never actually makes it to the Grand Canyon. Then again, with all the fruit-eating, shopkeep-haggling, and wicker-chair-burning that goes on, does anyone really care?
11. "Who Got Dee Pregnant?"
The Gang returns to their whodunit roots with this attempted investigation into Dee's pregnancy, during which we see Rashomon-style flashbacks that tell the tale of a Halloween party through each person's eyes. So many plot twists in this episode, all of which are great.
10. "The Waitress Is Getting Married"
Sunny prides itself on the many horrific foodstuffs created by its characters, whether it's Grilled Charlies, rum ham, or denim chicken, but the most iconically awful food has to be milk steak. Charlie's dating profile scene is pure gold, and Dee's attempts to derail the wedding are a hysterical travesty (despite the fact that she succeeds).
9. "The Gang Saves the Day"
Each character gets his or her own demented time to shine during this outside-the-box episode centered around a convenience store robbery, but Charlie's Pixar-inspired cartoon fantasy easily takes the cake. It's an oddly poignant moment in an otherwise chaotic show, and almost makes you forget the creepy stalker/stalkee relationship between the Waitress and everyone's favorite janitor. Almost.
8. "Mac Fights Gay Marriage"
Mac's repressed homosexuality is played for laughs constantly, but the fact that his Bible-thumping protection of the sanctity of marriage comes from jealousy of a married post-op transgender woman takes it to new heights. His extension cord demonstration of why gay marriage doesn't work is especially poignant.
7. "Frank Reynolds’ Little Beauties"
Is there anything more ghoulish than Frank's "Paul Bearer-meets-Oswald Cobblepot" awards show look? The beauty contest's opening song-and-dance number is packed with genuine, cheesy greatness, most notably Mac's epic belly roll, but the whole episode takes constant shots at the concept of the child beauty pageant, and they all land.
6. "Mac Day"
Seann William Scott's guest appearance as Mac's country cousin shows us a bizarro version of Mac: one who performs badass stunts successfully, has perfected the "ocular patdown," and actually embraces his homosexuality. Scott's performance is great, but Mac's frustration at being outclassed is what really makes this episode shine.
5. "Flowers for Charlie"
Fun fact: This episode was actually written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the creators of Game of Thrones. It lacks the rampant incest and murder you'd expect from those two, but Charlie's ballooning megalomaniacal intelligence is a wholly acceptable substitute -- plus, the reveal of his final invention is absolutely incredible.
4. "The D.E.N.N.I.S. System"
It's hardly surprising that Dennis would have a six-step system of seduction, but his painstaking explanation of that system (and the gang's subsequent misunderstanding of it) delivers laughs at every turn -- tall order, considering we're talking about deeply sociopathic womanizing. This episode "Demonstrates Value" from start to finish.
3. "Charlie Work"
What does it take to keep a bar like Paddy's running, despite the best efforts of its owners? How has it not been shut down already? This episode reveals Charlie as the mastermind behind the pub's continued operation during a visit from the health inspector, and features multiple continuous takes inspired by the iconic scene from True Detective. It's the most technically impressive Sunny episode, but beyond all that, it's just genuinely funny.
2. "The Nightman Cometh"
The culmination of Charlie's Nightman obsession comes in the form of his brilliant-yet-problematic musical, written in an attempt to win the affection of his beloved Waitress -- and it really is brilliant. The episode manages to highlight each of the main characters' key attributes: Dee's an attention-seeking actress, Mac does awful karate and seeks gasps instead of laughs, Frank plays a hideous troll, and Dennis manages to inject sexiness into arguably the play's least sexy role. What could ever top that?
1. "Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games"
The original Chardee MacDennis manages to roll most of the best parts of Sunny together: The Gang splits up into factions, there's copious amounts of drinking and screaming, Mac is fat, Charlie's illiteracy makes an appearance, Dennis and Dee act like they're superior to everyone else, and Frank gets disgusting by eating the ingredients of a cake. Jokes are set up and paid off repeatedly, and each of the characters plays an equal part in the madness that ensues. It's about as close to a perfect episode as you can get on a show as off-the-wall as this one.
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