Whether you’re an avid fan, have seen the odd episode or just scrolled past it on Netflix, you’ve most probably heard of FX’s celebrated sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Premiering on FX back in 2005, IASIP began as the brainchild of the show’s producer, writer and lead cast member Rob McElhenney and has transformed into a cult TV show with a mass international following. The show follows ‘The Gang’, Mac, Charlie, Dennis and Dee, and later Danny DeVito as Frank, in their various escapades and exploits which tend to always result in comical failure. It is witty, ridiculous, satirical and just straight up genius, and the series 13 finale really demonstrated the boundaries that IASIP is willing to push.
For those who haven’t seen the show (you’re really missing out), I’ll set the scene. ‘The Gang’ are narcissistic, self-interested, scheming, sexist, offensive, outrageous and extremely problematic- but are hilarious for it. And I’m writing as a very PC liberal ‘snowflake’. The whole show is a satire of US society and mocks individuals who are of similar character. The premise is essentially that ‘The Gang’ never learn from their numerous mistakes or flawed opinions; in any episode, whenever you think the character has reached an arc and developed, it usually concludes with the revelation that they are exactly where they started and learned absolutely nothing from their journey. This is what allows the show to keep producing seasons; it never grows old because its characters simply never grow. It’s absolutely timeless and its longevity is sustained by the fans knowing that the main characters are awful and will never change, and if they did, the show would be ruined.
However, there is one exception to the lack of character development in IASIP; Mac (Rob McElhenney) and his sexuality. From the very first season, Mac’s sexuality has been left ambiguous. Despite him frequently sleeping with women, there are numerous references to his closeted attraction to men, challenged by his strong Christian beliefs. To no one’s surprise, Mac comes out as gay mid series 12, and has openly referred to himself as a gay man ever since. This revelation makes IASIP one of the very few popular TV shows with a homosexual protagonist, bringing it praise from the LGBT community which McElhenney has stated he wasn’t really expecting. The positive response inspired McElhenney to devote series 13’s finale to Mac’s difficulties as a gay man, culminating in a jaw-dropping dance performed as a way to explain his sexuality to his imprisoned father.
If you’ve ever seen IASIP, you’ll know that it is shot in a very low-quality 2005-esque style, as if it’s literally just been uploaded from a video camera. The series finale “Mac Finds His Pride” starts by following this style, luring viewers into a false sense of security that the episode is just going to be like every other preceding it. My friends and I were completely stunned by the finale’s last five minutes, in which the episode was transformed from a typical plot about ‘The Gang’ trying to capitalise on Philadelphia’s gay scene, into a stunningly emotional performance by Mac and professional dancer Kylie Shea, shot in a high quality cinematic style showing us that, for once, this is no time for comedy.
The dance narrates Mac’s battle with self-acceptance, his religion, but most of all his desire for approval from his father, who leaves Mac in tears on the stage after walking out mid-way through the performance. I cannot stress enough how unserious IASIP has been throughout its entire run, which really adds poignancy to the dance as it’s the first time we’ve seen truly heart-breaking emotions. Even though it’s filmed and acted in a completely different style to every episode prior, for some reason the performance simply works in IASIP, in a way which it wouldn’t in other comedies such as The Office or Arrested Development.
McElhenney is not a natural dancer, but, committed to the show and his fans, he undertook an incredibly physically demanding programme of fitness and dance training in order to provide him with the strength to support Shea. Despite his lacking natural ability, the unwavering support he provides on Shea magnifies her elegance and grace. There is complete trust between the pair on stage; it is passionate, jaw-dropping and unlike anything else I’ve ever seen in a sitcom.
Whilst it is seemingly problematic to have a straight actor present a gay character’s struggle, the show subtly breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges this by talking about how they’ve had to hire a straight man to pretend to be gay in their pub’s promotion. I couldn’t help but smile at this point- not only had McElhenney committed so much physical effort to the performance, but he also assured the fans that he fully understood the limits of his piece.
I cannot recommend watching his dance enough. Even if you don’t like the show, even if you’re not that into dancing, it is sincerely one of the most emotional and moving pieces of television you’ll ever see. I’ve watched it about ten times now and even my mum, who has never watched IASIP in her life, is fixated. The clip is available on YouTube to watch on its own, or you could dive into one of the greatest 21st Century TV series and watch the entire series on Netflix. You really won’t be disappointed.