How ‘It’s Always Sunny’ Season 13 Deals With Its Dennis Shaped Hole
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has always been an outlier among sitcoms. Despite following many staples of a typical sitcom, such as maintaining the status quo, flawed but entertaining characters, and long unrequited love eventually leading into two unlikely characters getting together, the series always finds a way to subvert audience expectations. Unlike other sitcoms, the characters of It’s Always Sunny or The Gang, as they refer to themselves as never learn any lessons, grow as characters, or have hidden hearts of gold deep down. Not even Seinfeld’s characters, who are known for their jerkish behavior, can hold a light to terribleness that is The Gang. After eleven seasons of refusing to change, season twelve finally saw what looked like a real change with the character of Dennis breaking away from the group in order to move to North Dakota to raise his newly discovered son. The Season thirteen The Gang Makes Paddy's Great Again sees how the remaining members of The Gang deal with this loss.
Sunny isn’t the first sitcom to lose a main character and it deals with the loss of Dennis like how many sitcoms before it has by adding a new character. The Gang Makes Paddy's Great Again starts with Cindy, played by Mindy Kaling, leading off a successful scheme to attract liberals to Paddy’s Bar. It is quickly made clear that Cindy is just as devious and conniving as Dennis as she quickly relates a plan on how to take down the only bar that offers Paddy’s any competition. The remaining members of The Gang are quickly swept up by Cindy’s personality and actually seem to be on the road to success under her leadership. Cindy appears to possess all of Dennis’ manipulation talents and none of his flaws like his extreme ego that prevent his plans from succeeding. Also unlike Dennis, Cindy actually nurtures and encourages the other members of The Gang. She plays off their abilities and keeps them in line. She even manages to keep them focused and from turning on one another.
While Cindy seems like the perfect replacement to Dennis and the exact thing the gang needs to finally move on with their lives, anyone who's spent more than five minutes with The Gang knows good things don’t last for them. Despite everything going right, Mac can’t help but feel a Dennis shaped hole in his life and orders a life-sized Dennis dole to help fill the void. The rest of The Gang and Cindy are initially extremely weirded out, but The Gang starts turning around on the doll when they begin hearing it speak to them. Cindy is baffled that her plans are being undermined by the doll and demands the group pick between her and it. Once again, despite better judgment, The Gang spit in the face of change and decide they prefer things the way they were regardless of whether it’s better for them or not as Dennis makes his return, at least temporarily.
It’s an interesting move by Sunny to reject the easy solution of adding in an extremely similar substitute to Dennis and to instead double down on the show’s core stance on change by refusing to replace Dennis. It’s an admirable move, but it still doesn’t address how the show is going to deal with the Dennis issue. While Dennis is featured prominently in the second episode The Gang Escapes, he doesn’t appear at all in the third episode The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot, despite every other member of The Gang has a cameo. Even though it is possible Dennis could be featured in most episodes of season thirteen, it did seem like Dennis’ actor Glenn Howerton was genuine about not being able to be as present in the series. This is hinted at in The Gang Makes Paddy's Great Again, when Dennis says he’s only back for now. While the gang could always bring back the Dennis doll here and there before things got old, it’s certainly not a permanent solution. Of course, Glenn could just as easily appear in the most of the season and the whole thing could be the show once again subverting everyone’s expectations. Regardless, with or without Dennis, season thirteen of Sunny has managed to maintain its unique voice and humor.
All three episodes so far have seen The Gang tackling common industry trends like all female reboots of movies starring men, men’s reactions to women in positions of power and of course dealing with a loss of a major cast member. One of my favorite subversions this season though was the show’s take on Charlie and The Waitress’ relationship. After obsessing over, stalking and unsuccessfully wooing her for eleven seasons, Charlie finally gets together with The Waitress in season twelve. Unlike a normal sitcom, where unrequited love finally being returned results in a very happy and strong couple, Sunny once again flips a sitcom staple on its head by having Charlie immediately regret their relationship. Despite all his time spent obsessing over her, Charlie never bothered to actually get to know The Waitress. It’s not even clear if he knows her real name or not. Charlie is quickly annoyed by The Waitress’ constant phone calls and he does his best to avoid her. At one point he becomes so sick of her, he dumps the Dennis doll on her in hopes it will give her somebody to talk to so that she’ll leave him alone. Besides being extremely funny, the failure of Charlie and The Waitress’ relationship is pretty realistic and a great jab at the unhealthy relationships most sitcoms try to pass off as good.
Finally, despite the potential change in Dennis’ role in the series, one thing that isn’t changing about Sunny is its recurring jokes that only prior fans can fully enjoy. Call it a flaw or not, but Sunny knows how to keep the same joke funny, even after years of telling it. Whether it be Mac’s constant fluctuating weight, Dee’s role as the group’s punching bag or Frank whipping out his handgun, these jokes never seem to get old. Sunny also has a great cast of recurring characters and The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot sees plenty of fun returns. Even if no sitcom can last forever, It’s Always Sunny shows that even without one of its leads, it’s not going to go down with a fight. Anyone who’s worried about the frequency of Dennis’ appearances may want to wait to stream the series, as it still very unclear exactly how much Dennis will be in season thirteen. Otherwise, if that’s not a huge worry for you, season thirteen of Sunny is still just as wildly entertaining as any season before it, and I highly recommend tuning in now.