The short answer to the title of this post is “Probably not,” although many have tried: here, here and here, for example. The reason I think it’d be a challenge isn’t necessarily that there’s so many great episodes — there are — but more because the show is the most blissfully confusing thing to be on television in probably twenty years. On surface, a lot of people look at it and think, “Oh, sociopathic narcissists running a bar in Philadelphia and getting into shit! So it’s like Seinfeld on crack!” Sure, it’s that — and that’s where a lot of the humor comes from. But look at that clip above. That’s close to 12 minutes of jokes and sequences pertaining to the U.S. economy (and how incorrectly The Gang perceives it). A lot of shows won’t go near that stuff. Sunny has gone near that, gun control, welfare, same-sex marriage, and, of course … rape.
The sequence in question — and quite literally, I think this is the only sitcom in history that has addressed the idea of rape and managed to make the topic even remotely comical — is this:
By the way, that overall episode — “The Gang Buys A Boat” — is fairly hysterical, if also for this scene:
Another thing about Sunny that makes the challenge of picking one ultimate episode harder is that it’s a rare show that’s actually gotten better with substantial age. You could argue that a golden period might have been around Season 7-8, but even the most recently televised episode — the beef-squashing one with Zachary Knighton from Happy Endings — was excellent. “The Gang Broke Dee,” which opened Season 9, was a classic. Sometimes I think about it this way, although I think this parallel is a bit busted, but bear with me: Sunny debuted in August 2005; the pilot of How I Met Your Mother was about seven weeks later. No one would really compare these shows, as one is an edgy FX sitcom and one is a toned-down CBS sitcom, but as the latter has aged, it’s gotten semi-pointless — their final season is taking place across the course of one weekend, and it’s tedious and dragging on. It almost seems like NPH, Segel, Radnor, et al don’t want to be there anymore. Even though Mary Elizabeth Ellis had another show (Perfect Couples, which never should have been cancelled) and Charlie Day makes big movies and Glenn Howerton is making out with Mindy Kaling on FOX, you never get the sense that Sunny people don’t want to be there. I actually can’t think of many sitcoms that have substantially improved over the seasons — dramas, yes. Breaking Bad did, but if AMC had forced that show to go another 1.5 years, I’m not sure what would have happened. Mad Men may have hit its peak last year or two years ago, and it has two summers left. The Wire Season 4 is unreal, but Season 5 is … something. But sitcom-wise, all the great ones faded after about Season 8, with the possible exception of The Simpsons (and even there, the glory period is probably Seasons 4-7). It’s Always Sunny, which may or may not get to 11 seasons, is bucking that trend.
Final thing before we rip into a few episodes: I really enjoy the fact that Sunny seems like a legitimate family off-set. McElhenney and Olson are married (with two kids), Ellis and Day are married (with 1 kid), and almost all the episodes are written and directed by about the same group of seven people. You almost never see that model on a TV show. It’s gotten more expensive to produce, yes, and that’s seemingly a factor in the 11th season discussion, but you get the sense that if you hung out on set with these people, they’d be legitimately tight. Sometimes I wonder how Emily Deschanel — who is married to David Hornsby in real life — fits into the whole thing. I wonder if she’s tight with Olson and Ellis. These might be great mysteries I never solve.
As for episodes — probably too hard to pick a No. 1. I’ve been sick the last couple of days and watching rips of episodes, and the Pepe Silvia freakout might be one of the best scenes ever:
I’m also really partial to “The Gang Dances Their Asses Off,” which you don’t often see make a lot of these lists. Here’s one small clip:
(If you watch that episode, the Sklar Brothers as really typical local DJs is pretty funny, and I don’t normally find the Sklar Brothers that funny.)
“You see that sign there that says ‘Toxic Spill?’ What’s that?’
“Disregard that, Frank. It’s a bunch of liberal bullshit.”
The Jersey Shore episode has so much depravity — the hobos under the boardwalk, the killing of the doctor, “getting ripshit on ham” — that it might be the perfect representative episode in some ways.
Terrible, but funny:
Because I could go on like this for hours, I’ll just embed a good scene compilation right now and let it be:
The more I rip through these, I honestly might call it the greatest comedy ever on television. A reach? Perhaps. But almost nothing gets after it so frequently, and for so long, and hell, almost nothing in TV history ever had the power to turn this guy —
— into a millionaire and respected content producer.
Now if we don’t get a Season 11 … will we get a movie?