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13 years of ‘Sunny’

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This story contains spoilers of the season premiere and broader aspects of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” season 13.

After 13 seasons on air, one can expect a certain degree of transformation both from a TV show as a whole and from the characters themselves. For “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” luckily neither is true. The formula that has kept the show hilarious for so long is essentially to continue with what is known to work and change things sparingly.

The gang at Paddy’s Pub never learns from their mistakes and never grows into the adults they should be, making the past 12 seasons cohesive and incredibly impressive.

With that said, on Sept. 5, season 13 of “Always Sunny” aired on FXX with the first major shake-up in a decade. At the end of last season there was speculation surrounding writer and star Glenn Howerton’s plans to take a break from the show. Citing other projects including his starring role in NBC’s “A.P. Bio” and “personal reasons” for the departure, his character Dennis is nowhere to be found when the season premiere opens. “We ended up pushing our next season a year because we were all busy with separate projects,” star Kaitlin Olson told TV Guide back in April 2017.

In the season 12 finale, Dennis relocates to North Dakota to raise a child he had unknowingly fathered leaving the future of the gang unknown. For the next year and half, fans were left to wonder what would become of the gang at Paddy’s without an integral member.

The premiere episode, titled “The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again,” instead opens on an entirely new member of the ensemble played by Mindy Kaling. Very quickly it’s made obvious that the whole group is hyper-aware of Dennis’ absence with Mac (creator Rob McElhenney) introducing a strikingly similar-looking sex doll to fill his place.

Still, “Always Sunny” manages to control the focus and steer the narrative back to the most recent scheme to keep the story moving, instead of dwelling on Dennis or the lack thereof. Kaling plays a pivotal role as Cindy, a genuinely intelligent and rational person trying to close down a competing bar, with essentially no help from her cohorts.

For one of the first times, a relatively normal person is thrown into the mix, reflecting the group’s eccentricities compared to normal society. Kaling’s performance is strong in it’s own right and meshes surprisingly well with the rest of the cast, which is no small feat with characters that have been established expertly over the course of a decade.

But, in classic “Sunny” fashion, no changes are permanent. By the end of the episode, Dennis has returned and replaced his replacement sex doll and Cindy returning the show to it’s status quo. For anyone paying close attention this comes as no surprise. McElhenney confirmed that Howerton would be returning in some respect in early August at the Television Critics Association summer tour. “He’s in pretty much every episode,” he said.

While the hiatus was lengthy, the speculation about the shake-up also served as a way to get people more interested in a show many might have forgotten about. 13 seasons in and still consistently hilarious, “Always Sunny” didn’t need the publicity, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

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13 years of ‘Sunny’