When we last saw the gang from FX’s joyfully depraved comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, they were in rough shape. Illiterate Charlie was passed out on their bar’s floor after munching a few too many cough medicine-spiked brownies. Amoral playboy-wannabe Dennis and his tattooed buddy Mac each had a 25-pound keg hung around his neck. Lone female Sweet Dee was screaming in pain from a shattered knee, the victim of crazed ex-priest with a wooden stick and a mission. And along with their scheming head honcho Frank, they’d just lost ownership of Paddy’s Pub to a homeless guy.
Did their shenanigans earn them loyal fans? Yes. But had the Sunny gang gone too far? Was it time to lick their wounds and move on? Not a chance.
Earlier this week, EW.com broke news that the half-hour show will return to FX in the fall for a 13-episode fourth season. Series creator and co-star Rob McElhenney was kind enough to hop out of the writers room — where he, fellow exec producers Charlie Day (who plays Charlie) and Glenn Howerton (Dennis), and the rest of their team have just started hashing out new episodes — to kick us some insider knowledge about what we can expect from the new season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you’ve started up the new season. Take me through a typical day thus far.
ROB MCELHENNEY: Well, the first two days we started by just knocking around basic jumping-off points, like what we want to do episodes about and how we can execute it. We just sort of spit-fire, like, I want to do an episode about health care. Okay, I want to do an episode about the arms race. I want to do an episode about the housing market crisis. So we put up index cards. We wound up with 30 or 40 cards full of episode ideas, and then we start saying, ”Well, this one seems to make sense with this one. This one seems to make sense with this one.” And we start putting them together, and today we broke our first story scene-by-scene.
So had you been stockpiling ideas since last season? Do you walk in with a ton of stories you want to get done?
Not really. I try to put it out of my head because we work long hours on the show, because we write it and shoot it and cut it. So when we have time off, I like to take time off. That being said, once we start up — not to say that it’s easy — but because of the style of the show, and trying to find some sort of social relevance, it’s easy to open up a newspaper, see what’s in the news and say, ”I want to do an episode about that.”
I heard that the episode in season 3 where the gang finds a dumpster baby came about that way.
There’s nothing funny about a baby in a dumpster. The idea of it was so ludicrous to us that we thought, ”How can we spin this and put it into these people’s world in a way in which we can make light of a very serious situation?”
I think some people misunderstand what you’re trying to do. They think you’re trying to push the envelope or to think up outrageous things. But it seems like you guys are just sitting around going, ”What’d be funny?”
That’s right. We never try to push the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope, which we think is just lame. And you can see it coming a mile away. Anybody can be outrageous. There’s a certain subtlety we hope comes across. And our number one goal is to make people laugh.
So… have you been reading anything in the news?
Oh yeah, absolutely. To me there’s nothing more tragic right now then the subprime mortgage crisis. These people are losing their homes left and right. And we thought, ”How can we have these characters take advantage of that situation?”
The last thing I thought we’d be talking about is the subprime mortgage crisis.
That’s the thing. A lot of people think we’re just doing d–k jokes…. What we are doing is presenting both sides of the argument and poking fun and poking holes in all of them. Take on the abortion issue or the gun control issue — we hope it’s a comedic take, ultimately, but that it has some kind of social relevance.
Funny and true.
Funny and true. We’re going to do something with the tax rebates that everyone’s going to be getting this summer. We’re going to jump on it by giving out Paddy’s coupons, which are essentially $100 rebates that we mail to everybody and they can come in and use their Paddy’s dollars, but then we don’t redeem them at all. We force them to use American dollars.
Any other plot lines you can spill?
One thing we’re thinking about here is Dee [Kaitlin Olson] finds out she’s pregnant and wants to give the baby up a la Juno. So it’s all about trying to find the right couple, and then moving in with the couple and having the couple just basically pay all her bills and give her a car and a place to live and just taking advantage of the couple’s generosity.
What other stories have you been wanting to do?
I want to do an episode about how Dee winds up having what she thinks is a heart attack, and she ends up taking Lipitor, or some kind of heart attack medicine, and we all recognize that what we need to do is get medicated as quickly as possible for anything that ails us.
You guys are running out of drugs to get hooked on. Drug addiction seems like an ongoing Sunny theme, and it turns out to be actually hilarious. What else has worked really well in past episodes that you want to revisit?
Music really seems to work. We did an episode about a band last year.
Day Man has been huge, and we really want to take advantage of that. We’re really happy that people seem to dig that. We are thinking about doing a Day Man/Night Man rock opera, in the vein of Tommy. The whole show wouldn’t itself be a musical, but we’d perform a musical within the episode, so that way you can see us in between. Maybe it’s the story of how Day Man came to be the ruler of the universe.
How did he become the ruler of the universe?
We knew we wanted to have an episode about a band. So we started questioning, ”What is the kind of the music that this band plays?” The lyrics were written by a couple of our writers, as well as Charlie, to create ”Day Man, fighter of the Night Man, champion of the sun, master of karate and friendship for everyone.” And then the music was Charlie and Glenn Howerton and another buddy of ours, David Hornsby, who plays Rickety Cricket. He had the suggestion of putting in the voice from Flash Gordon. It goes, ”Flash… Ah-ahhhhhh!” That’s where Dennis [Howerton] got, ”Day Man… Ah-ahhhhhh!”
Who knew Charlie could play the piano so well?
He’s a musician. And believe me we’re going to exploit it as much as we can this year.
NEXT: ”We really want Frank degenerating even further.”