Arts & Entertainment

Review: ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ tackles racism through music

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” somehow still makes me laugh out loud 12 seasons in. With now seasoned showrunners Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day, this dark comedy tackles real issues and makes fun of them like nobody’s business. The formula of putting horrible people in horrible situations works in “It’s Always Sunny” arguably better than any other show on air. With that being said, I have no choice but to review this season episode by episode to truly honor its greatness.

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, the gang consists of five horribly codependent people who together own Paddy’s Pub in — yes, you guessed it — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the gang, we first have Dennis (Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) Reynolds, equally manipulative fraternal twins who go on hysterically loud rants and and fall to sociopathic tendencies. Then, we have Charlie Kelly (Day), the illiterate janitor of the group that strangely enjoys cleaning urinals, bashing rats in the basement and huffing glue. Next, we have Mac (McElhenney), who refuses to go by his real name, Ronald McDonald (see “The High School Reunion” for the shocking name reveal) and lives in a constant state of delusion, believing himself to be the biggest badass around. Last, but surely not least, we have Frank Reynolds (Danny Devito), the millionaire benefactor to the gang’s shenanigans. He raised Dennis and Dee, only to find out 25 years in that he did not spawn the devil twins. Deciding to leave his rich lifestyle behind, Frank chooses to live in squalor. Even more importantly, he shares a terrifying studio apartment with Charlie, where they willingly sleep together in an old futon, making them the most amazing asexual male relationship to ever grace our television screens.

While the season 12 premiere, “The Gang Turns Black,” may have tip-toed on the line of humanity, every risk paid off. After falling asleep while watching “The Wiz,” the gang is electrocuted by the electric blankets that dawn them, transporting them into an alternate reality. This episode is littered with ingenious musical numbers, written by Day himself, that the gang must unwillingly perform to get back home. Looking in the mirror and realizing they have switched bodies with African Americans, the gang goes on separate, yet equally amusing quests to understand racism and their own white privilege.

With a hilarious cameo from Scott Backula — Dee believes the gang has been “quantum leaped” — and a perfect appearance from Frank’s black bridge friends who inadvertently battle his own old racism, this episode has its fair share of funny moments. But the poignant moments are why this episode is ingeniously witty.

“The Gang Turns Black” shows how ignorant Philadelphians, and all other Americans, can be about racism. When Dennis can’t find his keys to his overly-hyped Land Rover, he and the gang push his car back and forth on the road to wiggle a lock loose — which apparently, sociopathic Dennis does all of the time. When the cops rightfully come to check out the sketchy situation, Dennis exclaims that they “get out of this stuff all the time!” Switch to Dennis, Charlie and Mac handcuffed in the back of a police car, and suddenly they are completely convinced the black men they embody will get charged. But here’s the best part — the black men they look like are upstanding members of society, unlike Mac and Dennis who both have numerous disturbing priors.

Charlie, whose new identity is one of a black youth, is separated from the others for interrogation. The police, believing him to be a child, are concerned about his life in his “gang” and lack of supervision. But the funniest part of the show is when the police ask if Frank is his father, to which he responds in song with, “No, he’s just some guy that banged my mother … Guess I’m just another black kid who doesn’t know his dad.” Immediately catching himself on his unfair presumption, Charlie replies, “Unless he knows his dad … oh shoot that was racist.” Having Charlie sing and rhyme about his own messed up life makes the audience realize that the black youth he has embodied probably has it better than “real-life” Charlie. And that’s the point — black stereotypes are bullshit, and the conclusions our country continues to draw are blatantly racist.

Finally coming together, the gang stand in front of an electronics shop conveniently named “The Wiz,” which they now believe is their only way back home. Charlie, seeing the police he was with only hours ago, sings “Let me talk, they’re my friends. They like me, they gave me this train!” Standing proudly with his gift held high, the cops shout, “He’s got a gun!” and proceed to brutally shoot Charlie on the spot. This scene was shocking as a viewer to see, but understandably necessary to get the point across. Black youths across America are wrongfully dying at the hands of racial profiling, and “Sunny in Philadelphia” wants to make it clear that we can’t shy away from it.

Howerton, Day and McElhenney’s handling of this highly controversial topic is one to appreciate. The season 12 premiere makes it clear that “Sunny” will not back down from topics that matter. Therefore, please go watch “The Gang Turns Black.” And when that gets you hooked, go to Netflix and watch seasons 1–11 to catch up to season 12. But more importantly, watch out for my season review of “Sunny,” because, let me tell you, I guarantee you won’t regret it.


Kelsie Abram

Kelsie is a senior at UWT and is the current Editor-in-Chief of the Tacoma Ledger. She is double majoring in creative writing and film studies, and has fiction published in the Tahoma West literary arts journal. In her spare time, she enjoys stage managing local Tacoma theater productions and working as a barista at Volcano Coffee in Puyallup.