After last season’s finale of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia featured Mac (Rob McElhenney) delivering an epic modern dance coming-out performance for his imprisoned dad, viewers might think changes are in store for Mac as Season 14 premieres Wednesday. Think again.
Following a tour of the set and a press conference during the Television Critics Association summer meetings in July, Philly native and Sunny creator McElhenney said Mac’s life hasn’t changed much since announcing he’s gay.
“We want to make sure that even though the characters might change that they don’t evolve,” he said. “We don’t want to make anyone a better person or a sweeter person or a nicer person. We felt like we wanted to still keep the tone, so I would say in all the right ways he remains exactly the same.”
That’s on display in the season premiere, “The Gang Gets Romantic” (10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, FX). Written by McElhenney and Charlie Day, it has Mac concocting a plan to attract single women to roommate Dennis’ bedroom when they turn their apartment into an Airbnb.
Other episodes offer the Sunny off-kilter take on global warming, movie focus-group testing (Dolph Lundgren guest-stars as action-movie hero John Thundergun), a film noir episode, a Waiting for Godot-themed story set in a laser tag arena and another take on reproductive rights.
“Dee comes in saying that she wants to get a haircut and the four of us [guys] decide she should not be getting that haircut because, yes, it is her body, but we have to live with that haircut … we have to look at her hair,” McElhenney said. “When that was pitched, we’re like, ‘Well that’s a great new way of looking at it.’”
Alas, no plans for an episode built around McElhenney’s real-life experience in June of catching a pitch thrown by six-time All-Star Chase Utley at a Phillies game, which was inspired by a Sunny episode from Season Five in which Mac writes a fan letter to Utley.
“As soon as it started and you heard our theme song come up,” he recalled, “45,000 people started cheering and you realize, ‘Wow, everybody here knows the show — whether they like it or not, I don’t know — but they know it just based on the theme song.’”
Season 14 sets a Sunny milestone as the show ties The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (1952-1966), for longest-running live-action comedy series. (However, Ozzie & Harriet produced far more episodes each season it was on the air.) Sunny, with its selfish characters doing terrible things, is a far cry from Ozzie & Harriet, but dismiss Sunny as just a dirty show at your peril.
“One of the reasons we’ve survived this long is there’s thought behind the edge of the show,” said cast member/executive producer Day. “With each episode when we do something that’s really pushing the button or going to the edge, it’s because we’re trying to say a little bit of something about us as Americans — maybe it’s a global thing — but, about humanity and about how people are self-absorbed. So I hate to say, that’s clean and we’re dirty. I don’t think we’re dirty. We’re edgy, but I think we’re outlasting them because we’re smart.”
“We’re not [bleeping] dirty,” co-star Danny DeVito added helpfully.
Even as Sunny ages, the show’s producers say they don’t plan to end the series anytime soon.
“It’s tough to say you want to stop a thing,” said Glenn Howerton, who plays Dennis. Howerton directed two episodes in Season 14, and took a hiatus from the series to star in NBC’s A.P. Bio. “For as much as I love all the things that I’ve done outside of this, I don’t know that I’ll ever get to do something where I get the amount of creative freedom that we get on this show to tell the stories that we want to tell and bring something that’s so singularly our sense of humor. So I don’t know, maybe we’ll take breaks here and there, but I don’t know if we’ll ever stop … until they kick us off.”
McElhenney agreed, noting advice he got from Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld), who knows a thing or two about ending shows, having written the infamous Seinfeld finale.
“I was expecting some sort of, like, comedic breakthrough, something about the episodes, something about our approach to the show," McElhenney recalled, "and he said, 'Don’t be an idiot. Never stop. Just keep doing it. One, because it’s the greatest job you can have, and two, because if you do a final episode, they’ll just destroy you.’”