All Seven Very Rough Episodes of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s First Season, Ranked
Without Danny DeVito, the sun would have set on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia way back in 2005. As Rob McElhenney told Stephen Colbert in 2020, after the abysmal ratings of the first season, the head of FX, John Landgraf, suggested adding his friend DeVito to the cast to give the show a bit of star power. McElhenney told Landgraf he didn’t want DeVito, but Landgraf replied by saying he’d have to cancel the series otherwise.
And so, Frank Reynolds, the rich, ultra-memeable crazy man who soon became the wildest member of the gang from Paddy’s Pub, was born. He quickly helped turn the show into a hit, and 15 seasons later, it shows no signs of slowing down.
In fairness, the first season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia still delivered on the series’ now signature mean-spirited, outrageous, “Seinfeld on crack” style of humor and showcased the considerable comedic talents of Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton and McElhenney. But it’s also fair to say that the episodes are very rough around the edges — both in their look and uneven pacing. You feel the absence of DeVito, too.
Either way, it’s interesting to go back and take another look at them to see how they measure up against each other and how they suggest the truly great show that is to come. Here then are all seven episodes of the first season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia ranked…
Episode 1: ‘The Gang Gets Racist’
Plot: Dee reveals her new boyfriend, a Black guy, and the three guys react super awkwardly around him because he’s Black. They quickly grow to like him, though, and hire him to promote the bar. As it turns out, he is gay, and he turns Paddy’s Pub into the hottest new gay bar in Philly.
What Works: Most of the conflict over Paddy’s becoming a gay bar plays: Dennis loves the attention he’s getting while Charlie likes that the bar is making money for once. On the flip side, Mac, who comes out as gay seasons later, is opposed to it on the grounds that he bought a bar to pick up chicks, and Dee doesn’t like it because her tips are suffering. It’s all funny, and Dee’s plot to swing Dennis’ vote is particularly hilarious — she gets him really drunk and convinces him he had sex with a man.
What Doesn’t Work: The awkwardness around race is downright cringey. From Charlie’s use of the “n-word” to Mac saying “You people,” the jokes are predictable and more “edgy-for-the-sake-of-edgy” than funny. The gang just didn’t seem to have anything unique to say about race.
Episode 4: ‘Charlie Has Cancer’
Plot: Charlie tells Dennis he has cancer, but to keep it to himself. Dennis immediately tells Dee and Mac, and they all work together to get Charlie’s crush, The Waitress, to sleep with him.
What Works: As it turns out, Charlie never had cancer, it was just a ploy to get Dennis to manufacture a way for Charlie and The Waitress to get together. Everything about this is really funny, from Dennis and the waitresses negotiating a price to sleep with Charlie — they settle on $250 — to Charlie’s reveal that it was all a lie. Better yet, The Waitress one-ups the gang by keeping the money and never sleeping with Charlie.
What Doesn’t Work: Pretty much everything about Mac’s story — he’s dating a trans woman with a penis — comes off as transphobic. There’s an occasionally clever line-reading, but it’s all overshadowed by terrible “tranny” remarks and Dennis calling the relationship “gross.”
Episode 7: ‘Charlie Got Molested’
Plot: The creepy McPoyle brothers, who went to high school with Charlie and Mac, are seeking revenge on their mean old gym teacher by making up claims that he molested them. They also rope in Charlie, who originated the idea during a night of drinking. Charlie’s discomfort over the situation convinces Dee and Dennis that Charlie was molested too, which makes Mac jealous. After all, why would Charlie and the McPoyles get molested but not him?
What Works: This is Mac’s best stuff in Season One. Him going to the home of his high school gym teacher and trying to get molested as an adult is inspired. Even more inspired: The gym teacher is played by Saved by the Bell’s Dennis Haskins.
What Doesn’t Work: Charlie with the McPoyles feels like a missed opportunity — it’s just fine. And Dee and Dennis’ story, which is just them debating the psychology of molestation, is downright boring.
Episode 5: ‘Gun Fever’
Plot: The bar gets robbed, so the gang buys a gun.
What Works: One by one, the gang falls in love with the idea of having a gun, and it never fails to generate a laugh. It’s especially great when Charlie uses the gun to intimidate his landlord.
What Doesn’t Work: There are some solid laughs here, but it’s pretty uneven and far from wall-to-wall funny.
Episode 3: ‘Underage Drinking: A National Concern’
Plot: The gang decides to open up the bar to teenagers, and they end up getting sucked into the social lives of high schoolers.
What Works: The mental somersaults the gang goes through to justify allowing teens at Paddy’s is excellent, and all of them trying to rewrite the history of their terrible high school years is strong, too — most of all because it culminates in everyone, except for Mac, being invited to prom. The best moments, however, once again belong to Charlie, who gets really, really into high school gossip.
What Doesn’t Work: This is the kind of episode where you feel DeVito’s absence the most because the story comes together nicely, but it’s not laugh-a-minute material. In future episodes like this, a hilarious Frank Reynolds moment or two exponentially enhances things.
Episode 6: ‘The Gang Finds a Dead Guy’
Plot: The gang finds a dead guy in the bar, and Mac and Dennis use the occasion to try to score with the man’s grieving granddaughter. Meanwhile, Dee, with moral support from Charlie, tries to conquer her fear of old people by visiting her anti-Semitic grandfather in a nursing home. But he’s much more interested in talking to Charlie, who he thinks is his grandson Dennis.
What Works: At first, the anti-Semitism bit with Dee’s grandfather comes off as racist old man stuff, but then it’s revealed that the man was a genuine Nazi when Charlie is shown wearing his old Nazi uniform (as he hilariously eats a banana). Also, delving into her phobia of old folks provides Dee’s with her best material of Season One. The high point there: When she’s washing her face in the nursing home bathroom, and she suddenly notices a kindly-looking old woman behind her, to which Dee reacts by screaming in terror.
What Doesn’t Work: Mac and Dennis’ story is a bit light on laughs.
Episode 2: ‘Charlie Wants an Abortion’
Plot: Charlie finds out he might have a 10-year-old son while Mac and Dennis are attending both pro-choice and pro-life rallies to hit on women.
What Works: Everything with Charlie and his could-be son is magic. The kid is horrible to Charlie — from spitting in his face to hitting him with a pool cue — and Charlie’s manic screaming at the boy is fall-down funny. Even the abortion stuff works because it’s never really about the issue — it’s about two morons trying to use the worst possible setting to get laid.
What Doesn’t Work: Almost nothing. The ending — where Charlie meets the kid’s real dad, discovering that he’s just as annoying as the kid — falls a little flat, but that’s being nitpicky. Because Charlie Day screaming at a child for 22 straight minutes is ageless comedy gold.