Generally, television shows seem to hit their peak somewhere around the fifth season. This is when they stop getting better and start that gradual slide downward. We see it with everything from crime dramas to hospital shows, but especially with sitcoms. If you’ve ever watched the later seasons of Roseanne, you know exactly what I mean. However, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia doesn’t seem to peak. It’s finished its tenth season now, and has been renewed for at least two more, and the writing is still getting better with each new episode.
"The Gang Dines Out,” from the eighth season, is a prime example of this. This episode came out after the normal peak for a television show, but it perfectly represents what the show is, has been, and continues to be about. It’s Always Sunny follows a group of friends who own a dive bar in Philadelphia, and their over-the-top, selfish endeavors cause constant turmoil amongst each other as well as any innocent passerby that happens to be in the immediate vicinity.
For example, in “The Gang Dines Out,” the members of the Gang end up at one of the nicest restaurants in Philly for different reasons on the same night. Mac and Dennis are out for their monthly dinner, Frank and Charlie are celebrating an anniversary of living together in squalor, and Dee is dining alone in order to take advantage of a Groupon. This results in psychological warfare when a feud breaks out among the dining parties. Each group thinks that the other should be the one to come to their table and “pay tribute.”
They end up insulting each other through various means: Dennis sends a single glass of red wine to Frank and Charlie’s table, when there are two of them and they already have cocktails. Frank buys a shot of Sambuca for everyone in the restaurant other than Dennis and Mac, and when he toasts a dining veteran with the Sambuca, he announces to the restaurant that Mac and Dennis don’t want to support the troops.
These petty, passive-aggressive insults are shot and acted flawlessly, along with the show’s usual fast paced, tongue-in-cheek writing. Dennis’ haughty tone as he orders the red wine for Frank and Charlie has exactly the right hint of self-absorbed anger, and his response, “Was it?” when Mac says that it was a nice gesture conveys his pride in the act perfectly.
Meanwhile, Dee is lonely on the other end of the restaurant where she is eager to use her Groupon, but would also like to have someone to sit with - and perhaps join in on the rest of the Gang’s poisoned fun. This is executed particularly well. Following the running joke within the show about how useless and inconsequential to the group dynamic Dee is, none of the others even notice she’s eating there. She’s getting up to just as much trouble as they are, but they don’t pay her a bit of mind as she tries to con people into sitting with her and persistently refuses to order.
Her refusal to order is certainly a thorn in the waiter’s side, but it’s not the only one. In fact, the narrative of the waiter is one of the best aspects of the episode. It’s not rare for It’s Always Sunny to introduce a bit part that holds more of the comedy than our usual protagonist, but it is rare for the genre. It’s Always Sunny has become famous for this, and often these bit roles become much more. Frank, played by Danny Divito, is one of the main characters, and he was only supposed to be in season two. In true Sunny fashion, the waiter’s trials in dealing with this split off group of narcissists makes the episode one of the best the show has put out.