Is It Still Sunny In Philadelphia?

 This article contains major spoilers for the Always Sunny Season 12 finale. 

 

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It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has just wrapped another fantastic, groundbreaking season, managing to somehow seem as fresh and bold as ever in it's 12th season. Danny DeVito  has often compared his costar, showrunner Robert "Rob" McElhenney, to Lucille Ball, and I think at this point he and the show have surpassed her and elevated comedy and television. After 12 years though, it's difficult to imagine the ship running without any major shake-ups, and it's clear that change is coming to Philadelphia.

The Bombshell 

Let's start with the finale, and it's potential real world repercussions. As I said, spoilers ahead.

Last warning. Ok, here we go... 

 

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Dennis's famous system catches up to him in a big way - a few episodes after losing his first wife, he reveals that he has another, secret wife and son (and a fake identity) from another state. After a lot of wacky hijinks, Dennis stops laughing. Maybe it's the dildo bike in his basement, maybe it's the burgeoning parental instincts we first glimpsed in the second episode of the season, "The Gang Goes to a Water Park." 

Whatever the cause, the season ends with Dennis leaving the gang, and Paddy's Pub, to be a dad.  The rest of the gang points out that they're still around, and after taking a moment, they get back in the groove, only pausing their signature dance moves to Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" to mark Dennis's departure with the destruction of an innocent Range Rover.

Dennis, Mac, and the Eddie Bauer Edition Range Rover. One of these items will definitely not return for season 13. 

Dennis, Mac, and the Eddie Bauer Edition Range Rover. One of these items will definitely not return for season 13. 

But the cliffhanger ending was weird. Weird enough that Uproxx's Alan Sepinwal asked actor Glenn Howerton in a Friday interview whether he would even return for the show's next season. His reply?

  “So… 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. "

Kinda cagey. But before the day was over, Howerton clarified the situation by telling The Wrap that he had been cast, along with Patton Oswald, in the pilot for AP Bio, an NBC sitcom which will feature him as a starring role as a college professor. Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels and Seth Meyers are Executive Producers on the project, written by SNL's Mike O'Brien.

That's a big deal. It's also, undoubtedly, a huge new amount of work and travel packed into an already staggering schedule. Kaitlin Olson proved that you can helm a network sitcom while also starring in Always Sunny this year, as she did double duty on Fox's The Mick. But an actor's life is unbelievably complicated, everyone's scenario is different, and frankly, a 12-season run without a seismic change as this might turn out to be, is incredibly impressive.

Longtime fans may have noticed that the season 12 episode "PTSDee" was based around longtime themes and storylines featuring the character known only as "Ben the Soldier," though the role of the traumatized vet was aptly filled by a new Carter McIntyre. as "Mike the Stripper." A solid script, combined with the sad fact that any real gang of friends could very plausibly have more than one traumatized vet in their crew, meant that only a hardcore fan would notice and think, as I did and do,  that actor Travis Schult's career likely superseded his availability as a recurring character. Again, an extremely common issue for serialized TV, and it's amazing that it hasn't happened - or I haven't noticed, anyway - up until this year.

I'm curious to see if he makes a return, though obviously the monumental question is whether Howerton will return. The answer is a hard maybe - it doesn't sound terribly likely, and in any event it's going to be a long wait before we see Always Sunny Season 13. 

Howerton made the following clear in his interview with The Wrap:

  • There will be an extended hiatus between Always Sunny seasons 12 and 13
  • Howerton's status as questionable returnee is not a personal or creative issue - the love between the cast mates is as solid as it ever was, although...
  • Whether he returns will also not be based on whether or not NBC picks up AP Bio for a complete season.   

Doing his best to explain a complicated situation, presumably with several restrictions about what he's allowed to say and many questions about his scenario to which he does not yet have answers, Howerton put it this way:

 "I want to service the show as best I can, and if we decide the best thing for the show is for Dennis to leave, or at least leave for a while for whatever reasons we come up with, then that’s what we’ll do. If we decide it really is best for the show for my character to come back in some capacity then that’s what we’ll do.” 

The Future

 

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There is no doubt Dennis' absence would be a real downer for fans - I'm despondent just over the exteneded wait between seasons - for Always Sunny to lose it's loveable sociopath would be a real kick in the nards. But it would not be the end. The characters, and more importantly the show itself, are so reslient, so fresh, so comfortable in uncomfortable territory - Always Sunny will return, and grow, with Howerton or Without. 

We've had unprecedented character development this season, and new insight into the character's lives and new ways of telling their stories present themself every season. Season 11's episode "Being Frank" was not just an amazing half-hour of television. It was an entirely new way of seeing the show, and the gang, through Frank's cataract eyes, narrated by his inner bridge troll. It was brilliant, and a signal to viewers that the sky is the limit in terms of what Always Sunny is willing to try - and a reminder that there are millions of stories waiting to be told, character traits to mine, new levels of depravity to sink to. 

A showrunner/star who gains, then loses, 50 pounds for the comedy of it, is not someone who takes his work lightly. That unbelievably dangerous act shows not only Rob McElhenny's devotion to his art, but his ability to work under all sorts of insane conditions. Like a lot of talented showrunners, he seems to prefer working outside the comfort zone. He always pushes the limits, and 12 seasons in I think nearly all of his choices have worked wonderfully.

Off the top of my head, I would love to learn more about what goes on under the bridge and in the sewers with Frank and Charlie. I'm still curious about the yuck puddle. And Mac has a whole new lifestyle to either explore, or he may repress and bury his feeling and secrets hidden in the basemen with the dildo bike. Either option feels entirely possible, and Mac can make either scenario funny. The Gang without Dennis will remain The Gang.

I would watch another 3-part episode, for that matter, about Mac tweaking his new identity- going back and forth between power bottom, bear, twink, twank, otter etc. 

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and the Gang, will return. Will Dennis be part of the Gang? Time - too much of it, sadly - will tell.