In a way, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the Little Show That Could, a sitcom whose pilot was shot on the ultracheap (the long-standing rumor has been that it cost $200, which star and writer Charlie Day has since disputed). It’s come a long way: Since being renewed for its 13th and 14th seasons on FXX, it will eventually become the longest-running live-action sitcom in terms of seasons in TV history. This achievement becomes even more incredible when considering the show’s conceit: Five of the most morally repugnant people on the face of the planet lie, cheat, steal, and behave with apathy toward the general world to their own consistent detriment. The amoral position they take has led many to compare the show to Seinfeld — but Seinfeld never had its characters get addicted to crack, file false police reports, threaten people at gunpoint, or intentionally sell alcohol to minors.
But Always Sunny transcends edgelord status by way of how strangely endearing its collection of miscreants have become over the years — no doubt due to the performances of Day (Charlie), Glenn Howerton (Dennis), Kaitlin Olson (Dee), Rob McElhenney (Mac), and most infamously, Danny DeVito (Frank), who has practically become the show’s unofficial avatar since being introduced in its second season. Even more impressively, the show has constructed the type of world-building lore that rivals the MCU, with myriad secondary characters and ongoing plotlines that longtime viewers revel in.
With a whopping 12 seasons and 134 episodes to its name, and the 13th season kicking off this week, getting into Always Sunny is a bit daunting, even at the show’s most accessible moments. So here’s a ranking of every episode in the series to help separate the wheat from the chaff. We took into consideration general quality — how funny and well-structured every episode is — as well as times that the show went far beyond pushing boundaries into the realm of flat-out offensiveness. One note for you number freaks: We combined two-parters into one episode for the sake of keeping narratives tidy. Away we go.
129. “Frank’s Brother” (Season 7, Episode 5)
An atrocious episode that counts as the show’s worst to date, inarguably. Flashback-centric episodes have never quite suited Always Sunny, and that goes quadruple for this one, which introduces us to Frank’s brother Gino and takes the audience on a dreadful trip down memory lane. Which one will end up with their past paramour Shadynasty (pronounced Sha-Dynasty) at the end of the episode? More importantly, who cares? Clearly not the people behind the show itself, who never bothered to return to this plotline again — notable for a show that loves to return to past plotlines.
128. “The Gang Turns Black” (Season 12, Episode 1)
Always Sunny more often than not falters when attempting relevant social commentary — an increasingly frequent occurrence in recent seasons. This musical episode, featuring the gang accidentally “becoming black” after a power surge while watching The Wiz, attempts a few half-hearted observations about race, but ultimately doesn’t add up to much. (Points, I guess, for resisting the urge to employ blackface as part of this episode’s conceit — it’s a well that the show has returned to now and again and has seldom drawn anything potent from.)
127. “The Gang Solves the North Korea Situation” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Rough episode, man. Let’s just say that the Kim Jong-il–impersonating owner of the Korean restaurant that attracts the gang’s ire hasn’t aged well — not to mention Charlie’s questionable relationship with a preteen worker at the restaurant, an extended gag that never quite lands. It’s one of a few episodes in which Always Sunny’s attempt at highlighting the gang’s racism just comes across as, well, racist.
126. “The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell” (Season 4, Episode 11)
An imagined-history episode retold by Mac, Charlie, and Dennis as they attempt to acquire historical-site status for Paddy’s. Retrofitting Always Sunny’s “thing” to Revolutionary War–era America works about as well as it sounds. This mediocre glimpse at a fictional past deserves to be forgotten completely.
125. “Charlie and Dee Find Love” (Season 8, Episode 4)
Truly bizarre and ironic that the episode in which Charlie and Dee actually (and very briefly) find love with each other(!), “The Gang Misses the Boat,” is far funnier and more effective than this extremely forgettable episode in which our titular pair falls in love with a pair of rich-dick siblings. Notable for a pre-fame guest appearance by Alexandra Daddario, and not much else.
124. “Mac is a Serial Killer” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Nothing quite lands in this one, in which the gang suspects that Mac’s shady behavior means that he’s the serial killer that’s on the loose in Philly. Of course he’s not; he’s been secretly dating Carmen, whom the gang offensively refers to as “the tranny” as they dwell on the details of their sex life. (In later seasons, the gang is written to largely be more tolerant toward LGBTQ characters — Mac’s own self-hating homophobia aside — but “tolerance” is pretty much the high bar they aim to reach and nothing more.)
123. “Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender” (Season 3, Episode 11)
A decent concept totally devalued by the fact that Dennis is a sex offender — and, as revealed by later episode “Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense,” has multiple bench warrants for sexual assault filed against him. Also, let’s not forget his statutory-rape charge revealed in “The Gang Runs for Office”! Dennis Reynolds: bad guy.
122. “The Gang Gets Whacked” (Season 3, Episodes 12 and 13)
Some early tonal inconsistency in this mostly blah two-parter, in which Frank expresses aversion both to spending money to get the gang out of a jam and engaging in scumbagish behavior like selling drugs. The Dennis-as-sex-worker B-plot is more capably put to work in the season 12 episode “PTSDee,” but not by much.
121. “Dennis’ Double Life” (Season 12, Episode 10)
Effectively a way to potentially write off Dennis in the face of Howerton’s role on the still-going NBC comedy AP Bio, “Dennis’ Double Life” feels tossed-off. (Don’t worry, Howerton will reportedly recur as Dennis in the upcoming 13th season.) Not much makes sense in this episode as the gang scrambles to help Dennis create a cover story to avoid the paternity resulting from “The Gang Beats Boggs.” Proof that even 12 seasons in, Always Sunny can’t force zaniness.
120. “The High School Reunion” (Season 7, Episodes 12 and 13)
Another dull two-parter, marked only by the revelation that Mac’s real name is Ronald McDonald (really!). Some necessary myth-killing here regarding Dennis’s high-school stature as a “golden god,” but nothing about this episode feels quite right — evidence, perhaps, that the gang’s unbridled cruelty is most effective when their targets are those who don’t actually deserve it.
119. “The Gang Spies Like U.S.” (Season 10, Episode 5)
Ugh. An entire B-plot centering around the double entendre of the phrase “cream pie”? Thinly veiled Asian stereotypes? A nonsensical main plot that barely sputters to a close? Not even multiple trips to Guigino’s (featuring everyone’s favorite waiter, of course) can save this dismal late-series episode.
118. “Dennis and Dee Get a New Dad” (Season 2, Episode 10)
An episode centered around Frank’s false paternity of Dennis and Dee, as well as the reveal of their actual birth father Bruce Mathis, who’s played by Stephen Collins. If you don’t understand why that alone automatically makes this episode lower-ranked, watch Bruce sing about loving children, and then just do a cursory Google search of Stephen Collins. Yeah. Pretty hard to watch. On the relative plus side: the additional (and still unresolved) revelation that Frank might be Charlie’s long-lost father.
117. “The Gang Beats Boggs” (Season 10, Episode 1)
The gang attempting to beat Wade Boggs’s long-legendary record for the most beers allegedly drank on a single cross-country flight is a novelty in itself, but mainly a little too on the nose. A thoroughly unmemorable episode that nonetheless is essential to Always Sunny lore, setting off a chain of events that brings us to where the 13th season is about to leave off.
116. “The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6” (Season 9, Episode 9)
Oy, a Lethal Weapon episode. More blackface and, most dismayingly, more attempts to create a proper Lethal Weapon sequel (this time, a sequel to the gang’s own Lethal Weapon 5, which was first introduced in “Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth”). If the potential investors feel exasperated being made to watch the gang’s latest filmic attempt, imagine how the audience feels.
115. “Mac Fights Gay Marriage” (Season 6, Episode 1)
Set aside the show’s eventual reveal that Mac is gay for the sake of taking this episode into fair consideration; after all, his sexual orientation may have been faintly telegraphed from the very beginning of the series, but said telegraphing only becomes evident in retrospect. Mac’s relationship with Carmen was one of the show’s most tone-deaf plotlines in its early years (particularly, as noted above, in its insistence in referring to the female-identifying Carmen as “the tranny”), and even though Mac’s crusade against gay marriage after discovering that Carmen’s engaged is supposed to shine a light on his own ignorance, the plotline itself ends up coming across as ignorant. A notable episode for introducing Bill and Maureen Ponderosa into the romantic lives of Dee and Dennis, respectively — two more recurring threads that the show never manages to make truly compelling.
114. “The Gang Goes to Hell” (Season 11, Episodes 9 and 10)
A return to form of sorts, although not in the way you’d think: This two-parter (two-parters on this show! Never good!) is a hell (ahem) of a red herring that, for its majority, suggests the gang has died on a sunken cruise ship and is currently facing judgment for their many, many misdeeds. It’s a conceit that feels directly ripped off from Curb Your Enthusiasm’s fifth-season finale “The End,” which Always Sunny often evoked in its earlier seasons — but unlike Larry David’s own divine encounter, “The Gang Goes to Hell” ends with a thoroughly unsatisfying resolution, a wet blanket of a conclusion that’s as sopping as the gang’s clothes after they’re pulled out of the ship itself.
113. “Gun Fever” (Season 1, Episode 5)
A slight episode that’s weird to watch in light of the show’s current state; the novelty of the gang becoming obsessed with owning a gun doesn’t pack as much effectiveness when considering how frequently Frank waves his own firearm around after his introduction in the show’s second season. (Considering how unlucky in love she is, too, it’s similarly out of character for Dee to enjoy something of a stable relationship — that is, until the episode’s explosive conclusion.)
112. “The Gang Gets Extreme: Home Makeover Edition” (Season 4, Episode 12)
Blink and you’ll miss this cameo from Retta of Parks and Recreation fame as an employee in a home-improvement store. It’s perhaps the only notable element of this episode, which finds the gang turning a home-makeover attempt into a home invasion and indulging in some ugly stereotypes against Hispanic people in the process.
111. “Mac’s Banging the Waitress” (Season 4, Episode 4)
The only episode that doesn’t feature Dee! It suffers as a result, as the ultracomplicated plotline involving Mac, Charlie, Dennis, the Waitress, and multiple sex tapes fails to land. The episode’s faults speak to just how strong the show is when the full ensemble cast is present. Also of note: One of a few early episodes hinting at the full reveal of Mac’s identifying as queer a whole eight seasons later.
110. “Mac and Charlie Die” (Season 4, Episodes 5 and 6)
This two-parter falls victim to the same issues that plague the show’s other two-parters — poor pacing, useless filler, an abundance of useless B-plot — and it doesn’t help that its death-faking focus centers on Mac’s dad, one of several secondary characters in Always Sunny’s lineage that never quite seem to land comedically.
109. “The Gang Tends Bar” (Season 12, Episode 8)
A relatively shiftless episode about what happens when Dennis tries to make the gang work an entire shift at the bar to no avail. This conceit — what happens when the bar’s actually successful? — worked a lot better in the far, far superior “The Gang Group Dates,” and the episode serves as a lesson in itself: Not even a rocket launcher can make a boring plotline interesting.
108. “Mac’s Mom Burns Her House Down” (Season 6, Episode 6)
A purely functional episode in hindsight, leading the way for multiple instances of Mac and Charlie’s moms engaging in their own sordid schemes (“Charlie’s Mom Has Cancer”) or being the focal point of one of the gang’s own (“Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy”).
107. “Mac Day” (Season 9, Episode 5)
What should’ve been an instant-classic conceit — every member of the gang gets their own day to do whatever they want, and Mac’s day is the most insufferable of them all — is mostly suffocated by a charmless Seann William Scott guest spot as Mac’s cooler cousin, as well as the fact that Mac-centric episodes can prove a little overbearing. More proof that the show fires on all cylinders when achieving a perfect balance between plotting.
106. “The Gang Exploits a Miracle” (Season 2, Episode 7)
The first episode to introduce Rickety Cricket, the most misfortunate of the secondary characters that orbit Always Sunny’s universe — as well as a B-plot that provides early evidence of how far Dennis will go to maintain his supposed good looks. Otherwise, the fake-miracle exploit that the gang centers around is weak tea among Always Sunny’s stronger amoralistic brews.
105. “Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer” (Season 12, Episode 5)
The conceit of this episode is all in the title, but the concept fails to land any decent jokes beyond Frank’s The Jinx–mirroring hot-mic situation. At least it finally concludes the long-running, long-dull Maureen Ponderosa plotline (albeit in a ridiculously grisly fashion).
104. “Who Got Dee Pregnant?” (Season 6, Episode 7)
Or, “The Gang Gets Rashomon,” as Dee sends the rest of them into a panic by intimating that one of them impregnated her and everyone seems to remember the besotted night in question differently. The outcome has no bearing on the future of the series as a whole, and you could say the same about this forgettable episode, too.
103. “Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom” (Season 2, Episode 4)
An overly complicated and poorly plotted mess of an episode that starts with … well, just look at the title; it ends with the Waitress committing one of many acts that devastates the forever stalker-y Charlie. The gang often schemes against each other to great effect, but something about Charlie capably masterminding so many different schemes here just doesn’t feel right from a character-trait perspective — and it doesn’t prove that funny to watch either.
102. “A Very Sunny Christmas” (Season 6, Episodes 13 and 14)
I considered excluding this episode on the technicality that it began as a straight-to-DVD special, but FX did eventually air it as part of the sixth season, so it technically counts. Unfortunately, its extended length just means plenty of bloat, including several Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer–inspired claymation segments and go-nowhere plotlines that don’t add much lore to the show. Points only for the sequence in which Frank, totally nude, cuts himself out of a leather couch and horrifies an unsuspecting office party.
101. “The World Series Defense” (Season 5, Episode 6)
The tale that the gang spins to get out of a simple parking ticket intentionally runs out of steam by the end of this episode — and the episode does so in turn, yet another instance in which a flashback-centric episode misses the mark. The only highlight here is Frank, Mac, and Dee attempting to suffer through a pesticide-infested apartment, a humorous gag that honestly could’ve worked instead as the axis of a superior episode.
100. “The Gang Finds a Dead Guy” (Season 1, Episode 6)
The first time that the plotline of Dee and Dennis’s Nazi grandfather is introduced — a path for the show that never quite bears comic fruit, a critique that could be applied to this episode as a whole. Watching Charlie spray down the bar after the titular deceased is carted out is funny enough, but there’s something icky about watching Dennis succeed in romancing his granddaughter — beyond the fact that Dennis is plenty icky to begin with.
99. “Psycho Pete Returns” (Season 10, Episode 3)
Notable only for the relative closure provided for Frank’s “frog kid” story that began with the classic season-eight episode “The Gang Gets Analyzed.” Otherwise, a bummer of an installment about mental-health panic that doesn’t do much with its main conceit.
98. “America’s Next Top Paddy’s Billboard Model Contest” (Season 4, Episode 3)
A relative mess of an episode centered around the titular contest, attempts to imitate various strains of reality TV, and Charlie and Dee’s failed viral-video venture that also introduces Dee’s, yep, blackface-reliant “Martina Martinez” character. A blatantly offensive plot wrinkle (and, yes, I know, that’s the point) that is more effectively utilized in the masterful “The Gang Recycles Their Trash.”
97. “The Gang Gets a New Member” (Season 6, Episode 8)
The first part of the for-all-intents-and-purposes two-parter concluded by “Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth,” this episode features Jason Sudeikis guesting as former pal Schmitty, whose presence irks Charlie to the point that he takes his janitorial skills elsewhere. Not so coincidentally, that “elsewhere” turns out to be a nearby high school where Dee is also holed up, as she visits her former drama teacher in an attempt to recapture her youthful energy. The follow-up ep here is slightly better, but both ultimately shake up the show’s chemistry in an unwelcome way.
96. “Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense” (Season 8, Episode 10)
As mentioned earlier, this one’s notable for the revelation that Dennis faces multiple bench warrants for sexual assault. (Very unsurprising, considering his conduct throughout the entirety of the show.) Holding a trial to decide who’s responsible for Frank and Dennis’s car collision is inspired as a concept, but in practice this episode declines into tedium the moment Mac steers the proceedings toward a dull debate on evolution.
95. “The Gang Hits the Slopes” (Season 11, Episode 3)
Quite possibly the most bizarrely specific episode the show has put to tape, “The Gang Hits the Slopes” is both parody of and tribute to the unseen (for good reason) 1991 comedy Ski School, going as far as to cast that film’s star, Dean Cameron, as the pervy sexual deviant Drisko. (To the people intimating that this episode was actually a spoof of Hot Dog … the Movie — I know, I’m disappointed, too.) Funny idea, not so funny of an episode.
94. “Chardee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo” (Season 11, Episode 1)
One of Always Sunny’s strengths is its ability to revive plotlines or straight-up lift previously used conceits from earlier seasons while breathing new life into them. This sequel to “Chardee MacDennis: the Game of Games” isn’t an instance of either, adding little to that classic episode’s anything-goes brilliance beyond a grisly, Saw-esque third act that comes across as total overkill.
93. “Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth” (Season 6, Episode 9)
This episode’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo comes from Paul Walter Hauser, who would later find relative fame as Tonya Harding’s “bodyguard” in last year’s I, Tonya. His turn as a high-school juggalo that Charlie takes under his wing is strange and funny, and said plotline is certainly stronger than the first emergence of a recurring thread in which the gang attempts to make sequels to the Lethal Weapon franchise — one of the most boring and blatantly offensive beats the show likes to return to.
92. “Mac and Dennis: Manhunters” (Season 4, Episode 1)
David Hornsby’s Rickety Cricket is one of Always Sunny’s most treasured secondary characters, but there’s a reason the show eventually ditched his perpetual victimhood-by-teabagging from Mac and Dennis: It’s a one-note joke, and this mediocre episode makes that more than apparent. Charlie and Dee’s B-plot centered around accidental cannibalism (or is it?!) is similarly uninspired.
91. “Mac Kills His Dad” (Season 10, Episode 7)
The final time we see Mac’s dad to date, and good riddance — the character never quite worked in the show, even considering his importance in Mac’s own fucked-up lineage. We also learn that Maureen Ponderosa’s transitioning into life as a cat, another uninspired plotline that is mercifully resolved in “Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer.”
90. “The Gang Gets Held Hostage” (Season 3, Episode 4)
McPoyle-centric plotlines are 50/50 when they land, and this episode lands squarely on the not-that-funny side of things. Fun fact about this one: Charlie’s “bad room” — specifically, a place in the bar where he goes to be angry and break bottles — is introduced in this episode and never brought up again, a rare instance in Always Sunny lore of a new wrinkle in the gang’s universe being introduced and promptly discarded.
89. “Being Frank” (Season 11, Episode 6)
A Hardcore Henry/“Smack My Bitch Up”–esque POV episode attempting to show a day in the life of Frank’s twisted mind. It’s a clever conceit that nonetheless doesn’t rise above the gag itself, although it does mark one of the few humorous appearances from Bill Ponderosa.
88. “The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre” (Season 8, Episode 3)
The highly stylized, genre-ripping version of Always Sunny almost never works, and this episode is testament to that. The often delightfully icky McPoyle family’s gimmick is wasted on the dull drabness of the continuing Ponderosa plotline, but this episode at least sets up the main conflict for the superior season 11 episode “McPoyle vs. Ponderosa: the Trial of the Century.”
87. “The Great Recession” (Season 5, Episode 3)
A so-so attempt at topicality (never the show’s strong suit) that includes Frank attempting suicide several times, Charlie attempting to sell sewage-raised crabs, and Mac and Dennis attempting to mirror Dave & Buster’s business model in their own besotted, idiotic way. Despite the dire straits the gang finds itself in throughout, everything basically resets at the end of the episode — a fitting conclusion for a slight installment.
86. “Dennis and Dee’s Mom Is Dead” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Some deadweight is cast off here: the titular matriarch, whose character was never a good fit on the show’s earlier episodes, and Bruce Mathis (again, the less Stephen Collins, the better). A fairly weak episode that nonetheless introduces the Lawyer to the Always Sunny universe — inarguably the show’s most memorable secondary character not named Rickety Cricket.
85. “Dennis Gets Divorced” (Season 6, Episode 2)
Effectively an episode to undo all the marrying (or, in Dee’s case, marriage-ruining) that took place during “Mac Fights Gay Marriage.” Ranked slightly higher than that episode, if only because the conclusion of the dual Ponderosa plots gives the audience a respite from their characters for a season or so.
84. “Flowers for Charlie” (Season 9, Episode 8)
Fun fact: This episode was directed by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, whom you might recognize as the showrunners of Game of Thrones. Obviously, Always Sunny is not Game of Thrones, and this obvious Flowers for Algernon riff isn’t even that good of an Always Sunny episode, even if there’s some humor in watching Dee get her hand stuck in a hole while huffing gas and trying to catch a rat.
83. “Charlie Got Molested” (Season 1, Episode 7)
Most memorable for the introduction of Charlie’s creepy, hands-obsessed Uncle Jack, as well as the pivotal scene in which Charlie’s mom asks him to “show me on the doll where” the alleged molester touched him. Otherwise, if you’re a longtime fan who hasn’t watched this episode in a while, it probably hasn’t held up as well as you think: Besides the early days hobbling, something rings false about Charlie being able to capably dismantle the McPoyles’ extortion scheme.
82. “The Gang Goes Jihad” (Season 2, Episode 2)
Always Sunny has plenty of praiseworthy one-off characters, but Ari Frankel — then-paramour of Dennis and Dee’s mother, Barbara Reynolds, as well as the businessman who puts Paddy’s future into temporary jeopardy — is portrayed stultifyingly by Josh Stamberg, who has trouble falling into the show’s offbeat and befuddled rhythm. Worth mentioning: the titular and supposed flaming-bag-of-poop “jihad,” which sets off a plotline that resolves itself in the later season-two episode “The Gang Gives Back.”
81. “Pop-Pop: the Final Solution” (Season 8, Episode 1)
A rejoinder to the plotline established in “The Gang Finds a Dead Guy” that slightly excels its predecessor solely due to a mildly funny check-in with Rickety Cricket, who initially tries to pass himself off as a “dog executioner” at the local kennel before revealing the latest sad, dog-shit-smeared turn his life has taken.
80. “Charlie Catches a Leprechaun” (Season 11, Episode 8)
Ignore the titular scheme — it’s boring and cheap, and not as funny as Dennis, Dee, and Frank’s attempt to bring Paddy’s into modernity that turns into a catch-and-release mugging operation. But even that scheme feels a little played (see: “Bums: Making a Mess All Over the City”), an unintentional whiff of repetitiveness from a show that otherwise makes great hay out of its past elsewhere.
79. “Charlie Wants an Abortion” (Season 1, Episode 2)
Charlie’s attempt to pretend he’s part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program to impress the Waitress backfires horribly, and the brat of a child he pretends to mentor (Tommy, the son of Charlie’s high-school ex-girlfriend) is the shining star of this episode. The B-plot involving Dennis’s attempts to pick up women at an abortion-clinic protest — only to literally get stuck on the fence between the two sides of the issue — is a little too Curb Your Enthusiasm-y, as well as an indication that the show was still finding its own voice in the first season.
78. “Bums: Making a Mess All Over the City” (Season 3, Episode 14)
Charlie’s Serpico impression is medium-level inspired, as is Frank’s scheme to dress up like a cop to get free hot dogs (and, along with Dennis, occasionally mug everyday citizens). But what elevates “Bums: Making a Mess All Over the City” beyond its sorta-dull plotting is the episode’s extremely short cold opening, which features a homeless man masturbating with passion as the gang horrifyingly watches on. Making a mess all over the city, indeed.
77. “Paddy’s Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens” (Season 5, Episode 8)
A much-mentioned episode (how can you not bring up the mere existence of kitten mittens?) that is nonetheless not as strong as its reputation suggests. More notable for the “dick towel” conceit that sets up the brilliant “The Gang Buys a Boat.”
76. “Hundred Dollar Baby” (Season 2, Episode 5)
This one suffers from the poor pacing that occasionally plagues Always Sunny’s earlier seasons, but (no spoilers!) the titular homage paid toward Clint Eastwood’s classic 2004 film is hilariously effective (and brutal) in its final moments.
75. “Gun Fever Too: Still Hot” (Season 9, Episode 2)
A spiritual sequel to the first-season episode “Gun Fever” that slightly ups its predecessor with Dennis and Dee’s deranged plotline involving multiple attempts to purchase guns, including the reveal that Dee was institutionalized for setting her roommate on fire in college. Otherwise, a sorta-stale revival of a stale concept.
74. “The Gang Saves the Day” (Season 9, Episode 6)
The gang’s at a convenience store when a robbery breaks out, which causes them to briefly fantasize in the moment: How would each of them save the day, and what would happen afterward? Mac’s dream sequence is the weak link here, with Dee’s delusions of fame marking the episode’s high point — while Charlie’s Up-aping fantasy might actually bring a tear or two to your eyes (guilty, and I’ve seen it multiple times), just like the Pixar classic itself.
73. “The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby” (Season 3, Episode 1)
Charlie’s descent into madness after finding out he survived his mother’s abortion attempt — never mind the still-unanswered question of whether or not Frank is his real father — is one of many great Peak Charlie moments. But there are a few false notes struck in this episode, more indicative of the show not yet hitting the groove it would establish in later seasons: watching Dennis triumph over a group of hippies is humorous but feels wrong — we don’t want to see Dennis win! He’s a monster! Furthermore, even though Mac and Dee’s attempts to raise the titular dumpster baby (“D.B.” for short) are enjoyable, a scene with a child casting agent who emphasizes that white children don’t “sell” in the entertainment industry undercuts an unspoken rule of Always Sunny: The characters that interact with the gang are rarely supposed to be as despicable as the gang themselves. (As evidenced later in the season, it’s much funnier when said outliers out-ick the gang.)
72. “Frank Retires” (Season 10, Episode 9)
The gang jockeying for power in the wake of Frank’s sudden retirement isn’t nearly as funny as what they do to Frank after he retires: specifically, siphoning massive amounts of blood from his body while he’s sleeping for the sake of performing various blood tests. As far as Frank’s-decomposing-body plotlines are concerned, “Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack” did it better — but Frank’s pale, ghastly blood-lost look near the episode’s end is plenty memorable regardless.
71. “How Mac Got Fat” (Season 7, Episode 10)
How did Mac get fat? McElhenney notoriously gained 60 pounds for season seven of Always Sunny, working with a nutritionist recommended by baseball player Chase Utley (who looms large in Mac’s own idolatry and appeared as himself in “The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods”), but this episode finally offers the explanation of why the character chose to do this. As ever, the explanation isn’t as funny as how we get to the explanation.
70. “Mac and Charlie Write a Movie” (Season 5, Episode 11)
Dee’s diva-like behavior on a M. Night Shyamalan movie set where she’s merely a dialogue-free extra is Peak Dee — as is Dennis’s concept for his own movie, which involves the type of graphic sex scenes not typically seen in the cinema outside of Gaspar Noé films. Mac and Charlie’s subplot — in which they work on writing their own movie, of course — drags a bit, but the final shot of Frank ruining a take to eat some breakfast sausage makes up for it.
69. “Dee Made a Smut Film” (Season 11, Episode 4)
Frank’s “Ongo Gablogian” art-deal alias is certainly funnier than the revelation that Dennis was raped at the age of 14 by school librarian Ms. Klinksy — a late-series plot point that is occasionally played for questionable laughs but offers a surprising amount of depth in regards to his own predatory character traits. But the real star of this episode is guest star Richard Grieco, who stars in Dee’s ill-fated attempt to adapt Dennis’s erotic memoirs into a feature film and, hilariously, can’t stop eating seaweed (or chalk — it’s a long story).
68. “Frank’s Pretty Woman” (Season 7, Episode 1)
“Can I offer you an egg in this trying time?” Some of the weaker Always Sunny episodes can be saved by one perfect line of dialogue, and Frank offering a potential date his ovular obsession (after Charlie vomits fake blood capsules all over her, naturally) is certainly evidence of that. The scene where Frank’s titular prostitute dies of an overdose in front of the gang is undoubtedly one of the show’s bleakest moments, but it doesn’t quite translate into the level of deranged hilarity they were clearly reaching for.
67. “Charlie Work” (Season 10, Episode 4)
Despite this mostly single-shot episode serving as a theoretical hat-tip to Birdman, “Charlie Work” was actually written and filmed before Birdman even saw release. The camera-trickiness of it all is commendable, and it’s funny to experience the rare feeling of being one step removed from the central planning of one of the gang’s schemes (chickens? Steaks? Airline miles?), but, ultimately, the audience isn’t left too charmed.
66. “The Gang Gets Racist” (Season 1, Episode 1)
The first-ever episode of Always Sunny (if not the real first episode — more on that later) makes no bones about establishing the show’s capacity to offend, from an A-plot centering around the gang’s own racist tendencies to Mac’s latent homophobia. As is the case from much of Always Sunny’s first season, “The Gang Gets Racist” feels like the work of a show finding its own voice, including moments of conversational awkwardness lifted from Curb Your Enthusiasm’s improvisational framework. But it’s also striking how many character traits are established here that have since become part of the show’s core framework, from Dennis’s pathological vaingloriousness to Charlie’s over-the-top attempts to win over the waitress while stalking her. It’s far from an essential — or even particularly enjoyable — episode, but it’s impressive to witness in the rearview how much Always Sunny has stayed true to its roots even as it’s added embellishment after embellishment.
65. “The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis” (Season 4, Episode 2)
A minor episode that nonetheless carries major reverberations for future episodes: “The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis” is essentially the blueprint for one of the show’s finest achievements to date, the heavily meta “The Gang Recycles Their Trash.” In another meta stroke, the stranger whose life the gang basically destroys after mistaking him for Dennis and Dee’s birth father Bruce Mathis also reappears in the excellent “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs.” (No word on if he survived that notoriously fiery episode, though.)
64. “A Cricket’s Tale” (Season 12, Episode 9)
What if Rickety Cricket finally put down the pipe and made good? That’s the anchor behind this episode, which takes place temporally during the same period as the superior “PTSDee.” While it doesn’t quite match its episodic cousin in laughs, it certainly lives up to its depravity, as Cricket’s love affair with a “woman” (it’s a dog) named Bell goes horrifyingly, disgustingly wrong.
63. “Hero or Hate Crime?” (Season 12, Episode 6)
“Hero or Hate Crime?” hinges around the owner of a winning lottery ticket, a falling piano, and a few offensive slurs. It’s a bit mediocre overall, but the revelation of Dennis “making deposits” with a barely legal convenience-store employee is fairly humorous, in that any further exploration of Dennis’s sexual depravity is often humorous.
62. “The Gang Gets Quarantined” (Season 9, Episode 7)
This episode reveals what any casual viewer of Always Sunny knew well before its ninth season: The gang has a drinking problem, and the only solution … is more drinking. This bottle episode isn’t the most effective of the bunch, but the revelation that all they need to do to solve their flu-like symptoms is throw back some hair of the dog is as funny as it is obvious.
61. “Charlie Gets Crippled” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Keep your eyes peeled in this episode for a pre-fame cameo from none other than Tiffany Haddish, playing a dancer in the strip club that the gang occasionally frequents throughout the series. But “Charlie Gets Crippled” is most notable for introducing the incomparable Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito), Dennis and Dee’s sorta-father (it’s complicated) and a character that not only altered the show’s makeup but arguably added the final ingredient to make it the depraved, bizarre comedy powerhouse it stands as today. Also of note: a highly effective set piece in which, after Charlie’s titular temporary injury, the gang takes a trip to the mall while pretending to be physically disabled — exactly the type of despicable behavior that Frank’s mere presence elicits in future seasons.
60. “Charlie Has Cancer” (Season 1, Episode 4)
A little trivia: The conceit behind this episode’s opening scene — in which Charlie tells Dennis he might have cancer, with Dennis being too preoccupied in trying to borrow a basketball from him to elicit any real sympathy — was actually the idea-germ that led McElhenney and Howerton to film the show’s ultra-cheap pilot. (In said and unaired pilot, the basketball was actually a cup of sugar.) Anyway, spoiler alert: Charlie does not have cancer, and even though this episode drags as much as the first few seasons of Always Sunny tend to do, it’s a funny and early taste of the gang’s apathy and depravity.
59. “The Gang Sells Out” (Season 3, Episode 7)
Why would the waitress trust any of the gang enough to hire them at the chain restaurant she works at in this episode? In fairness, it’s an early episode; there’s still plenty of her trust to be abused. A funny (albeit not extremely memorable) episode that gives us an idea of what happens when the gang works at a real bar. (The answer: nothing good.)
58. “Dee Gives Birth” (Season 6, Episode 12)
A perfectly fine episode that concludes the end of Dee’s (and Olson’s) pregnancy, as the rest of the gang scrambles to figure out who the father is — so they’re not stuck taking care of the kid, naturally. Featuring a rare funny plotline involving Bill Ponderosa, as well as an extremely dark revelation regarding how Dee keeps the men in her life coming back for more.
57. “Paddy’s Pub: The Worst Bar in Philadelphia” (Season 4, Episode 8)
One of the only episodes after Frank’s introduction not to feature the character, which explains why something feels a bit off in the accidental dual-kidnapping plot this episode centers around. A decent installment that nonetheless suffers a bit from the escalation of the gang’s bad behavior not carrying maximum effectiveness.
56. “The Gang Dances Their Asses Off” (Season 3, Episode 15)
Charlie’s illiteracy fells the gang yet again, as he signs Paddy’s Pub up for a dance competition without realizing that the prize is … sole ownership of Paddy’s Pub. The Sklar brothers have a cameo in this episode, but don’t let that dissuade you from enjoying this solid season-three ep, which is essential to Charlie lore in retrospect (the kid can really hold his drugs).
55. “Underage Drinking: A National Concern” (Season 1, Episode 3)
One of the first indications that the gang’s sense of judgment is seriously off-balance: Not only do they open up Paddy’s Pub to host a gaggle of drunk high-schoolers on a regular basis, but Dennis and Dee both start dating high-schoolers (they’re 18, but still) as Charlie gets wrapped up in the attendant high-school drama. A solid early episode, bolstered by Mac’s realization that nobody really ever likes him all that much.
54. “McPoyle vs. Ponderosa: The Trial of the Century” (Season 11, Episode 7)
Hey, look, a funny Ponderosa-centric episode! The resolution of the plotline kicked off in “The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre” dives deep into the bizarre, hands-obsessed tendencies of Charlie’s uncle Jack, as well as the ever-suffering lawyer’s own personal pain caused by the gang’s incessant troublemaking. Charlie’s attempt to practice “bird law” is funnier than it should be, as is the gang’s general unawareness of how being in court works, despite multiple episodes set within courtrooms.
53. “The Gang Gets Stranded in the Woods” (Season 6, Episode 11)
A classic instance of Dennis trolling Mac in the finest, cruelest way possible, as a series of unfortunate events leads to Dennis finally playing catch with Chase Utley (Mac’s stalkerish longtime dream) while Mac’s left to contemplate eating rotted animals in the woods along with Frank and Dee. Guess who’s the one who eats said rotted animals? (It ain’t Dee.)
52. “The Gang Runs for Office” (Season 2, Episode 8)
“So do!” Charlie’s illiterate campaign-commercial script for Dennis’s failed comptroller run in this episode is the stuff of Always Sunny legend. A solid early-series episode on the strength of that plotline alone, even if the b-plots involving Mac, Frank, and Dee’s failed attempts to solicit bribes from public officials and union bosses fall comparatively flat.
51. “The Gang Gives Back” (Season 2, Episode 6)
The resolution of the “The Gang Goes Jihad” plotline outstrips its predecessor by leaning into their own capacity for horribleness, from the various acts of arguable child abuse committed by Dennis, Dee, Frank, and Mac as they coach children’s basketball teams to fulfill their community service. Charlie getting caught drinking a beer in an AA meeting is memorable, but not as much as when he falls off the wagon (was he ever really on?) near the episode’s end, drunkenly refereeing the Frank-fixed basketball game with pure comedic abandon.
50. “Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass” (Season 2, Episode 9)
Charlie lets loose his unforgettable rallying cry (“ROCK FLAG AN EAGLE!”) while Dee gives acting another post-college try, and Mac, Frank, and Dennis turn Paddy’s into a den of illegal activity — all in the name of freedom, of course. Some good Artemis material here, as well as a truly shocking ending that ranks up there with one of the grimmest kickers in the show’s history.
49. “Frank Sets Sweet Dee on Fire” (Season 3, Episode 8)
The title says it all, right? Well, it’s not entirely true anyway: technically, Frank, Charlie, and Mac all set Dee on fire — several times — and it doesn’t get any less funny every time she’s set ablaze as they try to attain public-access glory. Dennis and Dee eventually succeed where the other three fail, but not in the way they’d like to. All I can say: It’s diaper time.
48. “The Gang Goes on Family Fight” (Season 10, Episode 8)
Frank’s inexplicable embrace of Get on the Bus’s “Shabooya roll call” catchphrase emerges in this game show-centric episode, which also features Keegan-Michael Key’s turn as an infuriated game show host and one of a few Dee-focused fart-centric gags. If you don’t like this episode, you deserve to hear the buzzer that drives Dennis crazy for the rest of your life.
47. “PTSDee” (Season 12, Episode 7)
Undoubtedly the darkest scheme Dee’s ever engaged in, as she turns the tables on a male stripper one-night-stand to show him what “rock bottom” really feels like. Dennis and Charlie’s “Daddy and the Boy” scheme never quite comes together, even as it’s conceptually funny — but Dee’s delightfully deranged actions in this episode more than make up for it.
46. “Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person” (Season 3, Episode 9)
Political correctness of the title (and, hell, pretty much the entire episode) aside, this one’s a pretty good early-series episode that offers a window into not only the gang’s overall prejudice, but Dee’s total lack of compassion and empathy. Most notable for the introduction of “The Nightman,” Charlie’s song about a man who enters him in the night and fills him up inside (it’s not what you think though, he swears) that presages the epic “The Nightman Cometh.”
45. “The Gang Gets Trapped” (Season 7, Episode 9)
There’s a decent amount of funny stuff in this episode centered around breaking into — and, subsequently, getting stuck in — a family’s house to steal an ancient vase, but Charlie and Mac’s battle over who gets to eat a bag of chips is the crown jewel. A rare instance in which the audience is dropped in the middle of one of the gang’s schemes, left to figure out what’s happening as the episode progresses; the “reveal” at the end feels cheap, though, and more than a little culturally insensitive.
44. “The Gang Reignites the Rivalry” (Season 5, Episode 12)
A literally poisonous episode that finds the gang at their most vindictive — whether it be terrorizing diners at a restaurant, rigging a game of Flip Cup at a frat party, or cutting someone’s shower curtain in half (Frank’s idea — blame the Riterall). There are small details in many episodes of Always Sunny that are sometimes greater than the sum of the whole, and here it’s Frank’s obsession with wearing tight jeans; try not to laugh when he tells Dennis’s errant fraternity to rip on him for “how loose his jeans are.”
43. “The Gang Broke Dee” (Season 9, Episode 1)
Will Dee ever catch a break and realize her dreams of becoming a real-deal celebrity? This episode initially provides an answer — then, the rug is pulled from under the audience in its final minutes, in a not-totally-surprising but still cruelly clever way. This episode also provides another classic instance of Dennis descending into utter madness, despite his insistence that he’s not mad — he actually finds the whole thing quite funny.
42. “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats” (Season 6, Episode 10)
It’s Charlie’s birthday! Or is it? Either way, the gang tries to get less selfish in attempting to give the poor guy a break from the rat-killing drudgery of his everyday life. Along with a memorable one-liner from a veritable extra (“I’m the guy who wipes down the loads”), a rare happy ending for the show that doesn’t feel out of place, as well as the introduction of Duncan, the bridge-dwelling lowlife that Frank calls his friend.
41. “Dennis Reynolds: An Erotic Life” (Season 4, Episode 9)
I recently saw Sinbad at JFK wearing one hat on top of another hat. It was awesome — and rivaled his guest appearance on this episode, in which he and former Matchbox 20 front man Rob Thomas (you read that correctly) menace Dennis (or do they?) while he stays at a rehab facility (or does he?) to accurately re-create his falsified erotic memoirs. The B-plots involving Mac and Frank, and Charlie and Dee, walking in each other’s respective shoes for a day aren’t as funny, but we do learn how Frank and Charlie manage to get to sleep every night. (Hint: it involves a can of beer, a can of cat food — and some inhalants, of course.)
40. “The Gang Goes to a Water Park” (Season 12, Episode 2)
Dennis meets his scamming match in the form of the preteen Abby, whom he takes under his wing to show her the tools of his grifting trade. Dee and Mac’s plotline in which they get stuck in a water park slide is as harrowing as it is hilarious, while Frank and Charlie’s AIDS-riffing scheme to ride every slide at the titular water park feels like treading old ground — that is, until the grisly conclusion, which might make you cringe as it takes place.
39. “Dennis and Dee Go on Welfare” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Mac’s scolding of Dennis and Dee’s moral decline throughout this episode might seem incongruous with the way his character later develops (even if it speaks to his inherent conservative values) — but the escalation of the latter two’s plotline, which results in a debilitating crack addiction and their eventual poverty, is Always Sunny at its finest. It’s impressive, too, how the show continues to reference and play upon said addiction to this very day — one of many examples of Always Sunny’s impressive world-building tendencies.
38. “Mac and Charlie: White Trash” (Season 6, Episode 5)
It’s a hot one, and the gang are dealing with being seven inches from the midday sun by finding a decent pool to cool off in. Of course, none of them truly understand the members-only concept of country clubs, which leads to a variety of ill-informed discussions about class and wealth — not to mention Charlie and Mac getting stuck in an abandoned pool and Frank firing up a game of “Greased Watermelon” at the public pool. Just make sure you wear your sneakers while playing.
37. “The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis” (Season 5, Episode 1)
The platonic ideal of an Always Sunny episode: The gang splinters into two separate poorly drawn schemes, fail at both, attempt to combine said schemes into one mega-scheme, fail again, and end up throwing an impromptu pool party in a stranger’s backyard. Come for the Melanie Lynskey cameo (as a vaguely annoyed, seriously concerned potential parent enlisting Dee’s help as a surrogate), stay for Mac and Dennis’s indelible Hugh Honey–Vic Vinegar routine, as gleefully ridiculous of a conceit as any.
36. “The Gang Gets Invincible” (Season 3, Episode 2)
Green Man! Charlie’s bodysuit-donning alter ego debuts in this delightfully bizarre episode that also features Frank shitting himself after taking too much acid (while Artemis watches, of course) and a McPoyles-centered plotline that ends with a (literal) bang. “The Gang Gets Invincible” also marks the first appearance of The Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens as himself (kind of), as he unsuccessfully pretends to be Donovan McNabb to a gaggle of caped, hopeless Philadelphia Eagles tryout hopefuls; Owens also later appears in “Frank’s Pretty Woman,” in which he claims to be Tiger Woods and, failing that, Don Cheadle.
35. “The Gang Hits the Road” (Season 5, Episode 2)
The first episode we learn that Charlie’s never left Philadelphia (or eaten a pear, sticker or no sticker), canon information for Always Sunny that’s played up for further laughs in later seasons. “The Gang Hits the Road” delivers on its attempted road-trip premise with a hilarious reveal in the third act that involves the back of a trailer, a few wicker chairs, a grill, and not a whole lot of oxygen. (If that sounds complicated, trust me — you’ll get it when you see it.) Also marks one of many, many times that Dee purchases a new car, only to have it destroyed by one (or all) of the gang.
34. “Frank Falls Out the Window” (Season 11, Episode 2)
If you’re not a fan of gore, this episode may not be for you: the resulting head wound from Frank’s titular accident is plenty gross, even within the context of a show that’s never been afraid to get gross. One of many dizzily meta episodes in the show’s later seasons, as Charlie becomes convinced that the gang has time traveled a decade backward (they haven’t) and, in the episode’s highest highlight, interviews an amnesia-ridden Frank about his proclivity for eating cat food by any means necessary.
33. “Charlie’s Mom Has Cancer” (Season 8, Episode 6)
Some Always Sunny guest spots land better than others, but Diddy’s turn as a questionable medicine man obsessed with playing New Kids on the Block’s “The Right Stuff” on bass is perfect in its offbeat and bizarre tone. Parts of this episode feel strangely somber — Charlie does love his mother, after all — but its conclusion, mirroring both “Charlie Has Cancer” and “Sweet Dee Gets Audited,” is an impressive and hilarious twist that belies the been-down-this-road-before-ness of it all.
32. “Thunder Gun Express” (Season 7, Episode 11)
This 24-themed episode asks one question, and one question only: How will the gang make it to a showing of the new action film Thunder Gun Express? After all, he hangs dong in it! Mischief abounds, but the comic centerpiece is Frank’s hijacking of a riverboat tour en route to the theater, resulting in an impromptu rundown of some of the show’s highlights — as close as Always Sunny’s come to a clip show, without getting all boring and corny about it.
31. “The Aluminum Monster vs. Fatty Magoo” (Season 3, Episode 5)
Judy Greer’s guest spot as Dee’s former high-school misfit-in-arms made good is played with pitch-perfect indifference and disgust toward the gang’s sweatshop-starting, dress-design-mangling attempts to assist Dee (accidentally or not) in trying to, in her paraphrased words, bring down the fatty of her past. One of a few early tastes of Dennis’s vainglorious obsessiveness, as well as his distorted views on women’s’ body types (not to mention his own).
30. “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs” (Season 9, Episode 10)
The fire set in Dennis and Mac’s apartment at the conclusion of this episode affects the show’s plotting for seasons to come — not to mention the people trapped inside the fire! One of a few episodes in which the gang attempts, in vain, to become better people before settling on the fact that assholes — much like man-cheetahs — can’t change their spots. Would we want them any other way?
29. “Ass Kickers United: Mac and Charlie Join a Cult” (Season 10, Episode 10)
Dennis has found a perfect and totally normal solution to prevent Mac from eating all of his Thin Mints: Start a cult. Dee and Frank get involved, and things invariably get messier; but before they set Mac and Dennis’s apartment on fire (again), marvel with belly laughter at Frank’s obsession with convincing one of the cult members to eat a literal “shit sandwich.”
28. “The ANTI-Social Network” (Season 7, Episode 8)
A trip to a fancy gin bar causes the gang to have a realization: Paddy’s kind of sucks, and it has no social-media presence to boot. Before they can get to work on that, though, they have to find the rude man who shush’ed them at said gin bar and give him a piece of his mind. Some ruminations on exclusivity and the untruthfulness that social media allows (“Is anybody online who they say they are?”), as well as a classic homemade video (or, should we say, “virus video”) courtesy of a very, very confused Frank.
27. “Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Nightmare” (Season 12, Episode 4)
What’s worse: actively procuring the sponsorship of Boko Haram for your cola drink, or hating dogs? That’s just one of the questions this disastrously hilarious episode asks, which finds the gang juggling multiple public relations nightmares as a result of Frank’s questionable business decisions. Includes the return of Mac and Charlie’s “Fight Milk,”, along with a new infomercial for the disgusting beverage that’s funny enough to make you fly high as a crow.
26. “The Waitress Is Getting Married” (Season 5, Episode 5)
Revenge heads (I know you’re out there) will recognize a pre-Revenge Nick Wechsler as Brad, Dee’s formerly acne-ridden high school ex who’s marrying the titular waitress. It’s easy to ignore how weird it feels to watch Charlie get revenge (see what I did there?) on Brad at the end of this episode — again, as much as we love the gang, they’re not meant to succeed at nearly anything — but two moments in this episode are truly indelible: Dee’s disastrous attempt at throwing the waitress a terrible bachelorette party (it makes more sense when you watch the episode), and Frank and Artemis’s disgusting food fetish. What was he doing to himself with the onions at Wendy’s? We’ll never know.
25. “Who Pooped the Bed?” (Season 4, Episode 7)
Who did poop the bed? The answer isn’t surprising (I won’t spoil it), but this episode-length mystery investigates who pooped in Charlie and Frank’s bed — not to mention the many strange details about Charlie and Frank sharing a bed — while Dee attempts to get Artemis and the waitress to be her gal pals, Sex and the City–style. When that fails, Artemis attempts to solve the poop mystery herself — an early stroke of brilliance from a cherished secondary character.
24. “Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy” (Season 12, Episode 3)
Akin to “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award,” this episode takes aim at satirizing various televised comedy tropes, including the notion that you need a laugh track to keep your audience engaged. It’s an antiquated idea to harp on, but no matter — Always Sunny is typically funniest when its characters are out-of-step with current trends anyway, and sure enough the conceit of turning Mac and Charlie’s moms’ shared house into a multi-cam sitcom yields hilarious dividends. Dee’s failed attempt to become a recurring character in said nonexistent sitcom (meta enough for you?) is perhaps the funniest plot point in this episode, making for another instance in which Dee’s inability to be funny is actually hilarious.
23. “The Storm of the Century” (Season 7, Episode 6)
Notable moment in this perfectly chaotic and hilarious episode: Frank attempting a teaching moment with Dee in explaining to her how the media frames coverage of whites and non-whites during catastrophes — before dumping the lesson and showing her footage of him looting during the Rodney King riots. “The Storm of the Century” seizes on a few of the gang’s more unseemly and/or bizarre character traits (Dennis’s predatory behavior, Frank’s capacity for violence, Charlie’s lack of intelligence, Mac’s gluttony) and throws them right in the middle of a potential hurricane, making for the funniest big-box-store experience since the banter in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
22. “The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention” (Season 5, Episode 4)
Intervention! Intervention! How could you not love an episode that introduces Gail the Snail, a.k.a. “the garbage pail cousin” (played with delicious disgustingness by Mary-Lynn Rajskub)? This one birthed a meme, not to mention the ingenious idea of drinking red wine in a Diet Coke can to mask the fact that you’re drinking in public. (A personal anecdote: I got caught doing this by my Patterns of Adult Living teacher in senior year of high school. He didn’t report me to the principal. Thanks, man — I owe you one.)
21. “Mac and Dennis Break Up” (Season 5, Episode 9)
How annoying is Mac? How codependent are Charlie and Frank? How pathetic is Dee? All these questions are asked — and most are answered — in this episode that tests the limits of the titular duo’s friend-and-roommate-ship (beyond the fact that Mac wants to watch Predator too often). The sequence in which Charlie and Frank continue to insert multiple cats into Dee’s wall — all in the service, of course, of getting the first cat that made its way into the wall out of there — is comic gold.
20. “Sweet Dee Gets Audited” (Season 7, Episode 4)
“This is dark.” “Darkest thing we’ve ever done.” Indeed, the fake dead-baby funeral that this deliriously grim episode culminates in is dark as shit — and that’s before Dee starts bleeding from the eyes. Proof that the show can still be side-achingly funny even in its bleakest hours, to the point where its comparatively lighthearted B-plot (“Pickles will prevail!”) is nearly overshadowed by Dee’s unending quest to scam the United States government. (The “Scammr” license plate didn’t help.)
19. “Frank’s Back in Business” (Season 8, Episode 7)
The moment in which Dennis “gets off” near the end of this episode is sick and wonderful, a totally strange outcome of his, Mac, and Dee’s attempt to impersonate a visiting businessman and his associates who are the main shareholders of Frank’s (or, should we say, The Warthog’s) company he’s been tapped to rescue. Also notable: A few shocking and hilarious moments here that reveal Dennis’s dark depths.
18. “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award” (Season 9, Episode 3)
Basically an episode-long riff on the indignity of Always Sunny never winning any Emmys (for what it’s worth, it won a People’s Choice award in 2016, but we all know those don’t count). “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award” is way less annoying than that description sounds, as the gang visits a shinier, happier, more award-winning bar and tries to ape their crowd-pleasing style, concluding in an ultra-dark musical performance from Charlie and an unspeakably grotesque burlesque act courtesy of Frank and Artemis (you’ll never be able to un-hear the former yelling, “Pull the bottle out! Pull it out!” after watching this one).
17. “The Gang Buys a Boat” (Season 6, Episode 3)
I once saw someone on Twitter state that FX should create a spin-off channel airing this episode and this episode only — and I agree! “The Gang Buys a Boat” is the kind of throwaway concept that Always Sunny thrives on, as the gang tries (and fails, in a literal blaze of glory) to fix up a nasty-looking schooner they purchase from their “Dick Towel” profits (a callback from “Paddy’s Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens”). Dee demonstrates some terrible dance moves, Charlie dives for treasure, and Dennis’s predatory side is fully exposed as he tries to lure women onto the boat (a tactic that fails even worse in the later, and far inferior, season 11 episode “The Gang Goes to Hell”).
16. “Mac and Dennis Buy a Timeshare” (Season 9, Episode 4)
The gang has attempted myriad scams over the course of Always Sunny, but “Mac and Dennis Buy a Timeshare” finds them on the other side of the grifting world. Despite Mac and Dennis’s claim that they don’t “get got,” they most certainly do in this episode, and the title pretty much spells out how; meanwhile, Dee gets ensnared in an Herbalife-style pyramid scheme, which results in another entry in the gang’s many DIY attempts at crafting camcorder-filmed infomercials. Frank, meanwhile, is stuck in a coil. What does that mean, exactly? Nothing good, that’s for sure.
15. “Mac’s Big Break” (Season 6, Episode 4)
Is this episode’s B-plot funnier than its main plotline? It just might be: There’s a lot of humor to be found in Mac and Charlie’s quest to help the former become a “Philly sports legend” by way of winning a slapshot contest at a Flyers game, and the episode’s closing moments deliver on this ridiculous premise perfectly. But after watching this episode many, many times since its initial airing, I’ve come to appreciate Dennis and Dee’s aborted attempt to start their own podcast, pulling in a variety of secondary characters from the show’s previous seasons (Ben the soldier! Rickety Cricket! The waitress!), as well as more morning-radio sound effects than anyone should be allowed to have access to.
14. “The Gang Wrestles for the Troops” (Season 5, Episode 7)
Pour one out for late wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper, whose memorable Maniac character is introduced in this episode during which the gang attempts to put on a good-ol-fashioned wrestling show in support of the troops. Includes a memorable Artemis subplot (“Fine, then I’ll be Desert Grape”), as well as the introduction of Ben the soldier, whose first appearance gives us the indelible image of Frank solemnly saluting him while Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” blasts from a boombox. Who doesn’t love a good pair of jean shorts, too?
13. “Charlie Rules the World” (Season 8, Episode 8)
A heady episode of Always Sunny that also makes a mockery out of headiness — a bizarre discourse on the nature of reality that makes zero sense when held up to any level of scrutiny and is all the more funny for it. Dee’s admission about the mobile game that the gang finds themselves addicted to (“It’s like when I’m doing good in the game, I’m doing good in life”) is all too relatable to anyone who’s spent even an hour in a free-to-play wormhole. Meanwhile, Dennis’s obsession with finding out what reality really is yields a brilliantly strange outcome. And then there’s Frank’s strange obsession with becoming a Real Housewife, an easily overlooked but nonetheless hilarious wrinkle in this chaotic episode.
12. “Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack” (Season 4, Episode 10)
A classic episode that centers around a time-tested Always Sunny approach: Have each member of the gang seek self-betterment, only to miserably fail in their efforts. Even if you’ve never seen a single episode of Always Sunny, you’ve seen this episode in theory: Charlie’s “boxes of Pepe” meltdown yielded the most enduring meme Always Sunny was ever responsible for creating, the perfect image to express your wildest of conspiracy theories.
11. “Frank Reynolds’ Little Beauties” (Season 7, Episode 3)
Not that it wasn’t obvious before, but this is an episode that makes it painfully clear that there’s something seriously wrong with Frank — he literally enters its opening seconds with a busted nose! Things get darker from there, as he attempts to fulfill his obligations to put on a child beauty pageant (don’t ask) while desperately reassuring everyone that he’s not a pedophile (no, seriously, don’t ask). Lots of gems in this episode, especially the gang’s attempts to insert themselves into the pageant through various musical numbers. “Moms Stink” or the “Yankee Doodle Dandy” remix? You decide!
10. “The Nightman Cometh” (Season 4, Episode 13)
An episode so cherished by fans that the cast performed it live during a mini-tour in 2009, “The Nightman Cometh” is one of the show’s towering artistic achievements, as Charlie turns his song about “the Nightman” from “Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person” into a full-blown musical — all for the purpose of impressing the waitress, naturally. It’s an early taste of how much the gang loves pageantry and performance — 22 minutes of unbridled joy as they messily band together to bring Charlie’s musical dreams to life. Charlie’s final song in particular is oddly touching, even as it represents his worst tendencies. An endlessly rewatchable slice of heaven that’s earned all the fan adulation it’s accrued since.
9. “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore” (Season 7, Episode 2)
An absolute classic of an episode that begins with Frank burning Dennis and Dee’s old family photos in a trash can and ends with the gang getting the hell out of the Jersey Shore as quickly as possible, for fear of angel dust–smoking murderers on their trail. “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore” introduces a slice of essential Always Sunny iconography: “rum ham,” Frank’s alcohol-soaked porcine creation that’s eventually lost to sea … or so we think. Even without the rum ham, though, there’s a plethora of hilarious horrors in this episode, from Charlie drinking suntan lotion straight from the bottle to one of Dee’s braids getting ripped out of her damn scalp by a wayward amusement park ride mechanism. Plus, there’s a scene where Dennis throws up — and puke is always funny.
8. “The Gang Group Dates” (Season 10, Episode 2)
Some of the best Always Sunny episodes in recent seasons dive deep into Dennis’s pathological, nightmarish tendencies — his vaingloriousness and how it collides with his predatory tendencies. “The Gang Group Dates” is practically an operatic performance for Howerton, as a series of interactions using dating (and, most impactfully, rating) apps sends him down a destructive, obsessive rabbithole. The B-plots equally deliver here, as Frank, Mac, and Charlie unsuccessfully attempt to group-date women at Paddy’s and Dee tries to get revenge on one-night-stand-prone men but ends up eliciting the exact opposite reaction from what she wants.
7. “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” (Season 5, Episode 10)
One person has a plan, several others glom onto it unsuccessfully, and another person attempts to replicate it with no success whatsoever: This is the basic formula for so many Always Sunny episodes, and rarely is it employed so potently than in “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System,” which zeroes in on Dennis’s questionably effective method for manipulating people sexually and emotionally. Dennis’s system is cemented in this episode as canon, something he refers to in seasons to follow despite it almost literally never working in his favor — which speaks to his maniacal level of self-confidence.
6. “CharDee MacDennis: The Game of Games” (Season 7, Episode 7)
The Ringer recently named this episode, for all intents and purposes, Always Sunny’s finest half-hour. It’s not a crazy claim, and the fact that it isn’t holding the top spot on this list only speaks to how many strong episodes the show contains in its estimable history. This is the kind of chaotic, utterly unpredictable episode you need to see for yourself, but we’ll agree with The Ringer that “CharDee MacDennis: the Game of Games” does contain one of the funniest scenes in the show’s entire existence: When Frank, who’s in a dog cage (you’ll get it when you see it), asks to have his cage put on the bar so he can see what the gang’s up to, to which Dennis replies “Shut up, dog!” and throws a beer in his face. It triggers a deep laugh every time.
5. “The Gang Misses the Boat” (Season 10, Episode 6)
“What have we become?” Dennis asks in the beginning of this classic episode. “The Gang Misses the Boat” isn’t the only episode in which the gang briefly splinters for the sake of self-betterment — but it’s undoubtedly the best, as Dennis attempts to address his anger issues while Mac starts dating an angel-dust addict and Charlie and Dee (gasp!) fall in love. There are so many great one-liners and gags in this episode that it’s hard to keep track — my personal favorite moment is Dee and Charlie’s forays into “def poetry,” as well as Charlie revealing that he’s not allowed to order chicken at a restaurant “without the beak”. But, to keep it short and sweet, how can you not love an episode that triumphantly features the return of rum ham? Rum ham, indeed.
4. “Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs” (Season 11, Episode 5)
It’s the second-strongest bottle episode that Always Sunny has accomplished to date, as Mac and Dennis decamp to the suburbs on a bet from Frank that involves a shitload of money, a California king bed, and the threat of having to share a bed with an old man for an entire year. Watching Mac and Dennis push each other to the limits of sanity — an impressive feat, considering how little sanity they had left to begin with — is a hilarious sight to behold, and that’s before you find out what Mac does with their dog. A comedic stroke of psychosis that any city-dweller dreaming of more space — while also knowing at what cost that space can result in — will surely relate to.
3. “The Gang Gets Analyzed” (Season 8, Episode 5)
Always Sunny frequently finds comedic gold in deconstructing the numerous off-putting character traits that the gang’s made up of — which explains why this therapy-centric episode is easily one of the series’ best ever. The issue at the heart of “The Gang Gets Analyzed” is simple: Who’s going to do the dishes resulting from a recent dinner party? Of course, nothing is ever as simple as that, so the gang treats Dee’s therapist’s office as a literal revolving door (Dennis did tape over the lock, after all) as each member takes their turn on the proverbial couch and uncorks their mental brew. Mac’s predictably all over the place, Charlie’s hiding a pigeon, Dee’s doing a terrible Good Will Hunting impression, Dennis is reliably pathological, and Frank — well, Frank’s been unzipped, doc. Featuring one of the funniest credit sequences in the show’s history, as well as a few reveals (Frog Kid!) that take strong hold in the show’s canon in seasons to come.
2. “The Gang Recycles Their Trash” (Season 8, Episode 2)
There are multiple episodes throughout Always Sunny that riff on the show’s own meta-ness — its tendency to recycle plotlines and characters ad nauseam, offering only the slightest and most subtle tweaks to previous occurrences within the show. “The Gang Recycles Their Trash” is undoubtedly the most brilliant episode that does this, heading down multiple wormholes so meta that Dee notes at several points that even isolated lines of dialogue feel … familiar. Speaking of Dee: Episode writers Day, Howerton, and McElhenney bring back Dee’s blackface caricature Martina Martinez for this one, and despite the obvious meta-offensiveness of it all (the point, naturally, is that Dee’s a terrible person for thinking blackface is okay to begin with), it also serves as self-reflexive commentary on the show’s occasional capacity to go too far in leaning into its characters’ inherent awfulness. “The Gang Recycles Their Trash” is far from a starter Always Sunny episode — it’s plenty funny on its own, but deeply understanding the show’s complex mythologies enhances its effectiveness. That doesn’t make it any less of a dizzyingly hilarious achievement, though, as well as a testament to the show’s ability to keep things fresh eight seasons in — even while digging through its own trash.
1. “The Gang Dines Out” (Season 8, Episode 9)
What makes this bottle episode the finest Always Sunny episode to date? It’s all about the simplicity of its plotting: Mac and Dennis, enjoying their monthly dinner, find themselves at Guigino’s the same night as Charlie and Frank, who are celebrating their anniversary as roommates. Oh, and Dee’s there too, eating alone on a Groupon deal and desperately trying to find a way not to look so pathetic. The conflict between the two pairs explodes like a box full of fireworks, while Dee spirals endlessly in her attempts to find anyone who will provide her temporary companionship; toasts are made, troops are praised, unspeakable acts involving Chrissy Orlando and a trampoline are spoken of, and Frank — naturally — threatens to pinch off someone’s dick with a lobster claw.
“The Gang Dines Out” ends with a brilliant and literal crash, as well as the realization that these five dysfunctional, depraved, and utterly co-dependent miscreants not only deserve each other — they’re meant to be, whether it’s eating at the same table or laughing at the same cruel, harmful joke. It’s the most heartwarming episode in a show that has spent 12 seasons kicking and screaming at the mere notion of “heartwarming,” as well as a testament to the true nature of friendship. We’re lucky not to have the gang wreaking havoc in the real world, but we’d be lucky to have friends like them, too.