‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’: The Gang’s 13 Best Ripped From the Headlines Episodes

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Rob McElhenney as Mac and Glenn Howerton as Dennis (Credit: Patrick McElhenney/FXX)

In its 12th season, FXX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the longest-running non-animated sitcom currently airing. More incredibly, in a genre that is especially tough to do well that far into a run, Sunny is still at the top of its game, as funny, outrageous, and clever as it’s ever been. Take Wednesday’s new episode, “Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer,” in which the handsome Dennis, who has emerged as such a sociopath throughout the series that fans have fully fleshed out theories that Dennis is really a serial killer, is the subject of a documentary that investigates whether or not he killed his ex-wife. That ex, Maureen Ponderosa, was costing Dennis lots of money after all, and he was none-too-pleased that she used his alimony to pay for an ongoing series of surgeries designed to turn her into a cat.

It’s crazy, over the top, and the latest example of the series doing what has often led to its best episodes: taking something topical or hot in pop culture, exploring various sides of the topic, and dropping generous amounts of satire on all those sides, all through the eyes of these incredibly self-involved, often antisocial, yet still somehow endearing — the show has often been deemed “Seinfeld on crack,” after all — characters who spent most of their lives in what frequently appears to be Philadelphia’s least-populated bar.

So we salute you, Sunny, with this countdown of your best “ripped from the headlines,” topical storylines, and hope you continue to be as politically incorrect, smart, and most of all funny, as you want to be.

13. The Gang Takes on American Rights

“Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass,” Season 2
Original Airdate: Aug. 10, 2006
Writers: Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney

When Dennis’s cigarette habit prompts Charlie and Dee to suggest they ban smoking in the bar, as many other establishments have, Dennis, Mac, and Frank take offense at Dennis’s freedom being taken away and charge Charlie with being un-American. Charlie’s response: the episode title says it all, as Mr. Kelly dons an eagle-patched jean jacket and flag bandana and tries to join an anti-smoking organization. When the anti-smoking group turns out to be led by an obnoxious actor — who smokes — Charlie loses his patriotic mind, while Dennis, Mac, and Frank decide the best way to honor their American freedoms is to turn Paddy’s Pub into an anything goes-zone. They quickly change their tune, however, thanks to Frank’s out of control game night patrons who are doing drugs in the bar, and the presence of Liam and Ryan McPoyle who show up to knock back their signature drink — milk — while making out with their mute sister, Margaret. And speaking of tunes… Charlie is incensed when he finds out Dennis and Mac are letting the McPoyles, his enemies, hang at Paddy’s, leading him to declare he’s going to “rise up” against them in a little song called “Rock, Flag, and Eagle.” Unfortunately, doubling down on his American rights doesn’t prevent him from getting stabbed with a fork by Liam or one of Frank’s buddies from losing a game of Russian roulette with a loaded gun, making the takeaway of this ep that, well, maybe there is such a thing as too much freedom, at least when McPoyles and Frank Reynolds are running amuck in your world.

12. The Gang Gets Catfished

“The ANTI-Social Network,” Season 7
Original Airdate: Nov. 3, 2011
Writers: Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton

The gang concludes that a pretentious, but popular new drinking establishment that serves nothing but gin and doesn’t even have a sign outside is successful because of the Internet. A viral video is their way to emulate the new place’s success for Paddy’s, they decide, but Charlie and Dennis are still stewing about one of the patrons at the gin bar, who had dared to shush them during a loud discussion. So while they return to the place to stalk the shusher and have words with him, Dee and Mac decide to stalk the rude dude via Facebook, instead, only to end up obsessing about why it’s taking so long for him to accept the friend request they’ve extended. Further digging into his Facebook life leads Mac and Dee to a meeting with another, even creepier, stalker of the shusher, and then another meeting with the much older woman who catfished the shusher’s stalker. Finally, a viral video created by Frank leads the shusher right to Paddy’s, where the gang is waiting to get their revenge, and we get confirmation once again that, online or off, they are collectively the Mark Zuckerberg of the most anti-social network in town.

11. The Gang vs. North Korea

“The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation,” Season 3
Original Airdate: Sept. 27, 2007
Writers: Charlie Day, Scott Marder, and Rob Rosell

When the new Korean BBQ joint threatens to outshine them at the annual pub crawl with a new microbrew, the gang decides BBQ owner Mr. Kim — who not coincidentally looks like Kim Jong-il — must be stopped, lest, in gang logic, the North Koreans “take our way of life.” Mac and Frank commandeer Dee’s talent show so they can field a competition that will top Mr. Kim’s karaoke contest, and while Mac dons a black T-shirt and does his best Simon Cowell bit as a judge, ticked off fellow judge Sweet Dee gets soused from what’s in her Coke cup, and decides she’ll become the real American idol, er, hero, and steal Mr. Kim’s microbrew recipe. Along the way, Charlie falls in love with a young woman who (unbeknownst to him) turns out to be 12, and Dee wakes up in bed with an elderly “toothless, oily busboy” who turns out to be… elderly and toothless. Frank saves the day by making himself the target in Paddy’s Pub’s wet T-shirt contest — instead of Charlie’s underage pal — but Charlie’s ruined engagement and yet another humiliation for Dee does nothing but prove to the clueless gang that their original assertion is true: Those North Koreans “are some sneaky bastards.”

Related: Your 2017 Winter TV Preview of New and Returning Shows

10. The Gang Takes on Media Hype

“The Storm of the Century,” Season 7
Original Airdate: Oct. 20, 2011
Writers: Charles W. Hornsby

It came after Hurricane Katrina and before Hurricane Sandy, both, obviously, situations in which the media did not exaggerate the need for people to be prepared to deal with devastating storms. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of this spoof on so many other instances when news media whips local citizenry into a frenzy about an alleged major storm that fails to materialize. In this case, Philly is about to be hit hard by a hurricane, and the local big box store, the All-American Home Center, is the site of a live telecast during which well-endowed reporter Jackie Denardo is hyping the impending devastation of a storm that will turn out to be nothing more than a bit of rain. Mac and company are amongst those at the store to stock up on supplies, though Dennis is most interested in hitting on Jackie (whose breasts he deems “spectacular,” in what we assume is a nod to Sunny’s “Seinfeld on crack” comparison via Seinfeld’s “they’re real, and they’re spectacular” storyline). Jackie is completely uninterested in Dennis, or in remaining at the AAHC, after the storm is downgraded… until, thanks to a gunshot-wounded Rickety Cricket, who drives a car through the front of the store, looting breaks out, and Jackie gets the big story she so desperately wanted. The Paddy’s Pub crew: always a natural disaster waiting to happen.

9. The Gang Takes on Child Beauty Pageants

“Frank Reynolds’s Little Beauties,” Season 7
Original Airdate: Sept. 29, 2011
Writers: Scott Marder and Rob Rosell

It’s all about the children… who are the latest way for the gang to get themselves some attention and for Frank to make himself some cash. After Frank accidentally makes a honey of a boo boo and invests in a child beauty pageant, he worries people will think he’s a pedophile. Enter Charlie, who makes an impassioned speech about how child beauty pageants are an American tradition, as it is our right to put our toddlers in tiny bikinis and make them tan. Sweet Dee, meanwhile, a former kiddie beauty contestant herself, sees Frank Reynolds’s Little Beauties pageant as another chance to prove her late mother (and Frank, Dennis, Mac, and Charlie) wrong about her not being attractive enough to hang in the pageant world. Predictably, plans go askew, as Frank’s constant assertions that he’s not a creepy pedophile make him seem like one, while Dee gets competitive with both the pageant moms and the young contestants, and the guys take a young male contender under their wings, including putting the tween in a laser-filled patriotic performance in which he sports a glittery red, white, and blue jacket, sans shirt, with fake abs painted on his stomach (just like the ones the “Birds of War” donned in Season 5’s “The Gang Wrestles for the Troops”). In the end, cops burst into the pageant venue looking to bust a suspected pedophile; it’s not Frank, but the man who had been posing as a child beauty pageant inspector. Point well made, Sunny.

8. The Gang Takes on the Gas Crisis

“The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis,” Season 4
Original Airdate: Sept. 18, 2008
Writers: Charlie Day, Sonny Lee, and Patrick Walsh

Mac’s the brains, Dennis is the looks, and Charlie is the wildcard of the gang, and that is the key, according to Mac, to them being able to solve the problem of high gas prices. “The A-Team did it, Scooby-Doo did it, the Ghostbusters did it,” Mac says, and in order to emulate the success of “those organizations,” he and his pals just need to stick to the brains/looks/wildcard system. That means they’re going to apply for a $300,000 loan from a bank, which they’ll use to purchase gasoline, which they’ll store in giant garbage cans as the price of gas continues to soar, and then they’ll sell their reserves for a big profit. The plan, one of the all-time great ones in the gang’s history of comically insane plans that start from a germ of common sense (that being a relative term when discussing the gang), is rife with flaws, of course, with one of the funniest being the irony that they are cutting into their profits by making so many trips between the gas station and Paddy’s, where they’re storing the gas. Also, where are Frank and Dee in this adventure? Trying to track down Dee and Dennis’s wealthy father, Bruce, which leads to Frank’s junker of a van, many gallons of gasoline, Dee’s life savings, and Charlie’s wildcard behavior (he adopts a Foghorn Leghorn voice to pretend to be a Texas oilman trying to sell the gasoline door-to-door) combining to ruin the life of an innocent man who they mistakenly believe is Bruce. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: more destruction per minute than any of the gang’s beloved Lethal Weapon movies.

7. The Gang Pays Homage to Wade Boggs

“The Gang Beats Boggs,” Season 10
Original Airdate: Jan. 14, 2015
Writers: Dave Chernin and John Chernin

It’s an enduring urban legend that Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs once consumed between 64 and 107 Miller Lites in one day (many during a cross-country flight), and then actually was able to play for his Boston Red Sox the next day (and allegedly bat .600 in the game). That is the basis for this episode, in which the Gang tries to honor Boggs by seeing if any of them can match his consumption — they’re keeping track of how many beers they down with marks on their T-shirts — during their own flight from Philly to Los Angeles. This being the gang and all, the beer contest alone isn’t debaucherous enough, so Charlie adds rum and Cokes to his menu for the day, along with an insistence that the very much alive Boggs (who guest stars) is dead. Dee, who’s already guzzled more than twice as many beers as the rest of the group, is also adding pills to her mix (as she thinks she’s trying to beat the record of “Boss Hogg”), while Frank and Dennis make a side bet involving the mile-high club, and bossy Mac is up in everyone’s business as the self-appointed commissioner of the amateur drinking league. By the time they land at LAX, Mac has to push Charlie and Dee through the airport on a luggage cart, but they both manage to drink 71 beers each, topping what they believe Boggs’s record to be, and Charlie even somehow manages to hit a home run on a local baseball field, before he and Mac head right back to the airport to catch a red eye home. As for Dee, we’re never really sure how she ends up back in Philly, because the last we saw her, she’d passed out on the baggage claim carousel.

6. The Gang Takes on Its Own Network

“McPoyle vs. Ponderosa: The Trial of the Century,” Season 11
Original Airdate: Feb. 17, 2016
Writers: Conor Galvin

Galvin, who also wrote this week’s “Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer,” dropped this fine O.J. trial-mocking episode just weeks after FX premiered The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. And while that wildly successful series is terrific, so is this spoof, which not only brings back Charlie-as-litigator and his super creepy uncle, attorney Jack (who was obsessed with the size of his tiny hands long before it became a Trump meme), but also the McPoyles, the Ponderosas, and the great Brian Unger’s nameless, but continuously victimized by the gang, attorney. As usual, the gang has competing agendas during the trial (presided over by Judge Melvoy, played by Die Hard and Family Matters alum Reginald VelJohnson), in which Liam McPoyle is suing Bill Ponderosa for $200 for causing Liam to lose his eye during the events of Season 8’s zombie movie-spoofing “The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre.” Uncle Jack wants everyone to take notice of the ginormous fake hands he’s wearing, Attorney wants to finally settle old scores with the gang, and Dennis wants Judge Melvoy to cut his alimony payments to Maureen, who is in the courtroom and insists that she be referred to as a cat after her many Jocelyn Wildenstein-ish plastic surgeries. There’s also Charlie’s attempt to do some real lawyering with an odd, but oddly relevant bird theory, an homage to that iconic Law & Order “doink” noise, and the return of Guillermo del Toro as paterfamilias Pappy McPoyle, who cements the proceedings’ devolution from trial to three-ring circus and so frustrates Judge Melvoy that he throws the case out of his courtroom, handing Attorney yet another loss to the gang by default. But Attorney’s not the only loser: Melvoy clears the court for his next case, Morgan Steak Delivery vs. the proprietors of Paddy’s Pub (a reference to Season 10’s “Charlie Work”).

5. The Gang Takes on the NFL

“The Gang Gets Invincible,” Season 3
Original Airdate: Sept. 13, 2007
Writers: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, and David Hornsby

It’s the true-ish story of Vince Papale — as portrayed in the 2006 Mark Wahlberg movie Invincible — that inspired this gem, in which Dennis, Mac, and Dee attend an open tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles. Charlie and Frank decide to celebrate their friends’ athletic pursuits with a tailgate party of the tryouts, which includes the debut of Green Man, Charlie in his green Lycra onesie, and Frank tripping on LSD and ramping up the gang’s feud with the McPoyles when he shoots Doyle McPoyle in the leg, ending his Eagles tryout. On the field, the warm-ups for the gameplay is enough to prove that both Mac and Dennis are out of shape, while Dee — disguised as a dude — makes an impressive kick, but then breaks every bone in her foot when she unmasks herself and tries another kick while bragging about her prowess. Other highlights: Divorce’s Geoffrey Owens guest stars as a man pretending to be Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, but who Mac and Dennis claim is from The Cosby Show (Owens played Elvin on The Cosby Show, and returned to Sunny to play Fake Tiger Woods in Season 7’s “Frank’s Pretty Woman”). And Glenn Howerton delivers what is one of, if not the, best Dennis lines ever, when self-proclaimed pretty boy Dennis is running on the field, and talks to himself about his perfect stride. “Feel that stride, so fluid and fast… I’ve got the stride of a gazelle,” Dennis says. “A beautiful, beautiful gazelle person.”

4. The Gang Takes on Scientology

“Ass Kickers United: Mac and Charlie Join a Cult,” Season 10
Original Airdate: March 18, 2015
Writers: Scott Marder

Mac and Charlie think they’re getting swole thanks to the workouts of Ass Kickers United, a “way of life” in which they follow the teachings of “The Master,” the only human to ever “achieve enlightenment through the way of the warrior.” Frank surmises it’s a cult, but it turns out the whole “movement” comes courtesy of a quickly mocked up newsletter created by Dennis, who was simply trying to refocus Mac’s attention so he would stop eating Dennis’s Thin Mints… eschewing the cookies is one of the main rules of Ass Kickers. Sweet Dee isn’t content to let her master manipulator of a sibling have all the fun, though, as she sees some refocusing of her own could get the Ass Kickers to aim their physical efforts at rebuilding Mac and Dennis’s burnt out apartment — damaged during the Thanksgiving Day fire in the Season 9 finale “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs” — and finally stop the guys from carrying out their various shenanigans in her abode. An E-Meter-like device and the divulging of secrets that will later be used for blackmail purposes are but two of the more specific nods to Scientology, and the whole episode really comes down to which Reynolds is better at controlling others. The winner: Dee, who gets some of the Ass Kickers to do an impressive renovation on Dennis and Mac’s old place. Until Dennis one-ups her, telling the Ass Kickers the Supreme Overload Master texted him to say he wants them to set themselves ablaze, which Ass Kicker JoJo (guest star Dax Shepard) does, thus once again burning out Dennis and Mac’s apartment.

3. The Gang Learns The Secret

“The Gang Gets Extreme: Home Makeover Edition,” Season 4
Original Airdate: Nov. 13, 2008
Writers: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, and David Hornsby

 

This is why it’s really dangerous for the gang to read: When Dee explains the secrets of The Secret to the guys, they immediately get crafty and make vision boards. Charlie hopes his will help him become just like his idol, Ty Pennington, while Dennis wants a yellow Lamborghini, and Mac wants to impregnate Danica Patrick while getting drunk in a dune buggy in the Sahara. Frank pooh-poohs their belief in The Secret, and even Dee has to bring up a reality addendum to their fantasies by pointing out they’re only likely to come true if they perform some do-gooding for others. It’s a foreign concept, but they decide the quickest way to rack up karma points is to go all Ty Pennington on the home of a local working class family, the Juarezes. Home Makeover: Gang Edition involves blow torches and heavy tools wrecking the already shoddy Juarez casa, especially after the guys get Mr. Juarez to open a line of credit at Sears — Charlie’s favorite store, because he thinks they give things away, as per their sponsorship of Ty Pennington’s TV projects — which has the added benefit, they reason, of making Mr. Juarez even more American, because what’s more American than building up a “copious amount of debt”? As it almost never does, this Gang adventure doesn’t end well, especially for the gang: After ruining the Juarez family home, a judge decrees that Dee give her late mother’s mansion to the Juarezes, and Mac’s takeaway is that Frank was right about The Secret: “You try to help people, and you just wind up getting screwed.” Our takeaway: a classic Charlie and Dennis scene, as the two break down the ins and outs of denim shorts, especially as that pertains to construction site mobility. Messrs. Seinfeld and Costanza couldn’t have carried out a more perfectly self-obsessed and inane, yet thoroughly entertaining, moment themselves.

2. The Gang Takes on Gun Control (Again)

“Gun Fever Too: Still Hot,” Season 9
Original Airdate: Sept. 11, 2013
Writers: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, and Rob McElhenney

Gun control continues to be such a divisive issue that the gang follows up Season 1’s “Gun Fever” with this gem, in which Frank stirs up the gun rights issue after he appears on local TV shows and urges his fellow citizens to exercise their Philadelphia freedoms by purchasing some weaponry to protect themselves. Charlie, Dee, Mac, and Dennis listen to Frank’s speeches, and come to a conclusion, er, two conclusions, representing all sides of the issue with equally ridiculous ideas: Mac and Charlie think it’s time to make everyone safer by getting more guns on the streets, into the right hands, while Dee and Dennis set out to prove that it’s too dangerously easy for anyone to purchase a gun. The two groups swap POVs after Mac and Charlie tangle with some aggressive youngsters they’re trying to school in the ways of self-defense, and Dennis and Dee’s criminal and mental institution pasts prevent them from buying a gun at a shop or at a reasonable price at a gun show. Meanwhile, it’s almost cute how gullible the gang remains to Frank’s shadiness: They didn’t realize he wasn’t really advocating for the right to bear arms. He was just driving traffic to Gunther’s Guns, a shop of which he is a part owner. That’s why his next “public service” speech is all about the frightening level of pollution in the local water supply… right after he accepts delivery of a truckload of water purifiers.

1. The Gang Takes on Marriage

“Mac Fights Gay Marriage,” Season 6
Original Airdate: Sept. 16, 2010
Writers: Becky Mann and Audra Sielaff

In the best example of how the show can get its point across without being preachy, and while still being true to its characters (and poking appropriate amounts of fun at them at the same time), Dennis reconnects with and gets hastily married to high school girlfriend Maureen Ponderosa, and Charlie wants to become Frank’s “friend with benefits” — specific benefit: Frank’s health insurance — in a domestic partnership when roomie Frank refuses to continue paying for Charlie’s back treatments. But Mac has a problem with wedded bliss, or actually gay marriage, when he finds out his former transvestite fling Carmen completed her sexual reassignment surgery and has gotten married to another guy. Mac cites the Bible when he’s railing about gay marriage to his friends, who all point out that a) he, unlike Carmen’s husband, didn’t wait until she completed the transition to have sex with her, b) she’s a woman now, so it’s not a gay marriage, and c) so what if it is a gay marriage? Dee goes on to extol marriage as a wonderful institution everyone should be able to enjoy, but it’s Frank who puts his less rose-colored, pithy spin on why Mac and his like-minded gay marriage opponents should chill. “Who gives a shit if gays want to be miserable like everybody else and get married?” Frank says. “Let ‘em do it! It’s no skin off my ass.”

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FXX.