The End is Nigh For It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

With one cast member potentially on his way out, and all the others juggling different projects, how long can It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia survive?

It’s been a pretty amazing season for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Not just in pure quality (although that rarely faltered either), but in simple creative mileage. It’s absolutely nuts that a show approaching its dozenth year on television could still be good, let alone great, but It’s Always Sunny has set the curve. All seasons they’ve been showing other sitcoms how it’s done, delivering episodes that could rank with the very best of the show’s past. Episodes like “The Gang Turns Black” and “Hero or Hate Crime?” would be fantastic work for a show at its prime, but one 12 years in? It’s nothing short of incredible.

But here’s the tricky thing about television: as good as it might be, nothing lasts forever. Shows eventually have to come to an end, as all art must do at some point. And watching last night’s season finale of It’s Always Sunny, a realization dawned on me that never had in all my year’s witnessing The Gang’s various shenanigans: the endgame is fast approaching, and It’s Always Sunny is very much preparing for it.

To explain why this is the case will take a great deal of spoilers for the show up until this point, especially in regards to the big events of the season finale. I never thought that It’s Always Sunny would be the type of show that would warrant such a warning but, hey, first time for everything!

So, the biggest moment of last night’s episode was in fact its final one, as Dennis made a shocking revelation: his life is kind of terrible, and he actually might want to be a father to his bastard son. Furthermore, he’s pretty much finished with The Gang, and Philadelphia in and of itself. He takes a (somewhat) somber moment to depart the bar, and vows to never return.

It’s the kind of moment you would expect to be undercut seconds later, with some final line or silly joke. After all, It’s Always Sunny has been operating under a relative status quo for over a decade, and has done little to change the basic dynamic of the series in that time. Dennis leaving would do just that, so surely some plot device will quickly crop up to put things back to normal.

But, nope. Dennis does not return by the episode’s end, and The Gang even destroys his beloved Range Rover as a final note to end the season. At first I rolled my eyes at the cliffhanger, as such a departure was highly unlikely: everyone involved still loves doing this show, and there was no way in hell they would continue to create it without Glenn Howerton…right?

Once again…nope. News quickly started to surface that Howerton may in fact be done with the series, with a particular interview from Uproxx putting his future with the series in doubt.

“It’s a little complicated. I may seem a little bit evasive here, and I don’t mean to. It’s not entirely certain whether I am or am not. I might be. I might be, but I might not be. That really is the truth. Just to be clear, to dispel any potential weirdness, it has nothing to do with my relationship to anyone on the show or Rob or Charlie or anyone like that. It’s partially a creative and personal decision. We may be taking an extended hiatus between season 12 and season 13. So I’m certainly staying open to the possibility of doing more, but there is a possibility that I will not.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

For what it’s worth, I’ve been mulling over something like this happening for years now, for one reason and one reason only: the main cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are all really successful now and, as is often the case for successful creative types, have about a million irons in the fires. Let’s list them off, shall we?

  • Glenn Howerton (Dennis) is starring in a new show for NBC, one that will also star Patton Oswalt and is produced by Lorne Michaels and Seth Meyers. It’s likely one of the reasons he’s unsure he’ll return to the show — with another series in the works, he might end up overwhelming himself.
  • Kaitlin Olson (Dee) is also having the same problem, coming hot off of the success of Fox’s The Mick. That show, which also involves a lot of other writers/producers from It’s Always Sunny, has already been renewed for a second season. She also has a pair of elementary school aged kids, alongside her real life husband…
  • Rob McElhenney (Mac), who is making his film directing debut with one of the biggest properties on earth: Minecraft. That film is set to be released in 2019 and, as an animated project, will require quite a bit of hands on work. He’s also used the leverage of that project to sell another big tentpole to Legendary, a family adventure film entitled Figment. Yes, within a few years (and the inevitable success of Minecraft), McElhenney is going to end up being a pretty big Hollywood movie director.
  • And speaking of big Hollywood success, Charlie Day (umm, Charlie) is clearly the breakout of the entire show, and has leveraged it into a pretty big movie career. He’s already starred in plenty of big comedies (Horrible Bosses chief amongst them), and continues to be a substantial player in mainstream cinema. His latest feature, Fist Fight, is currently in theaters, and he is currently off shooting blockbuster sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising.
  • And lastly there’s Danny DeVito (Frank), who is freaking Danny DeVito — the guy’s a legend, and has a bevy of roles available to him. Hell, he just took one today in Disney’s live-action Dumbo film, and there’s plenty more unnecessary live-action Disney remakes where that came from! Also, DeVito is 72 years old: as awesomely game as he is too continuously run around naked and pretend to bang “hoors,” I wouldn’t blame him for wanting some rest.

All these developments have been slowly happening over the years, but only now has this entire cast seemed to really start lining up their lives for a post It’s Always Sunny career. With so many things occupying their time (including this thing called “real life,”) you can’t blame them for wanting to move on from the cable comedy they have been doing for over a decade. Things only get even more complicated when you consider the behind-the-scenes work involved with this particular series: unlike most shows, half the cast (Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day) are also the head writers, and the main creative forces of the show. Simply put, it’s a major time commitment for the lot of them, and even if they would be happy to do it forever (as has been the case every time they are asked about the show’s future), we all know that real life has an annoying way of getting in the way of these things.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Which brings us back to this week’s season finale in and of itself. Even taking the behind-the-scenes stuff away from the equation, it really does seem like It’s Always Sunny is naturally winding down. Earlier this season Mac finally embraced his homosexuality, putting an end to one of his character’s most prevalent running jokes. And though Dennis’ departure took the focus off a bit, the fact that Charlie ACTUALLY SLEPT WITH THE WAITRESS is also a pretty massive story development, and another pay-off for a long-time story arc. Dennis is decisively not a serial killer (we assume), Dee has indeed hit her rock bottom (inevitable), and Frank seems closer and closer to death’s door every passing day (and has indeed gotten “real weird” with it.) As much as things seemed to be the same this season, a lot has actually been changing. And if that’s not a sign that the people behind this might be considering “the end,” I don’t know what is.

Of course, the actual matter of the show’s final season is pretty complicated. After all, FXX already renewed It’s Always Sunny for another two years, and seems committed to having the show at least tie Ozzie and Harriet for the title of longest running live action sitcom. But with these new developments (and Howerton’s ambivalence at returning,) it’s hard to say exactly what will happen with It’s Always Sunny. I am pretty certain last night’s episode won’t be its last (the show is too much of a staple to unceremoniously dump in such a way), and I’m even confident that Howerton won’t end up leaving the show (an extended hiatus, however, is all but inevitable.)

But, suffice to say, I would be pretty shocked if the series is around past those already ordered two seasons. Mark my words: by the time we (fingers crossed) have a new president, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will have finally finished its run. But if the last few seasons are any indication, we’ll be in for quite a ride until then.