It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: The Modern Seinfeld

There is no denying that Seinfeld has been one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. Beginning in 1989, Seinfeld chronicled the lives of four thirty-somethings in New York City, each of them despicable in their own ways. They are notorious for their lack of growth throughout their nine seasons on air, as they all continue to make selfish decisions through the finale.

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Still from Seinfeld, “The Outing” (Season 4, Episode 17, 1993)

The show’s other trademark was its mundane topics in each episode. Widely considered to be a “show about nothing,” Seinfeld tackled the everyday encounters in one’s life and showcased the social issues of the times differently than most through the bad behavior of the main characters. Despite the unlikability of Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander), and Kramer (Michael Richards), the show itself was an immeasurable hit and certainly a hard act to follow.

While not experiencing nearly the success nor critical acclaim of Seinfeld, a show does exist that captures the essence of the classic sitcom: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The shows are far from identical, but there is certainly a striking resemblance. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia may be Seinfeld on steroids– it’s characters are even worse people and it’s plots are much more confrontational.

Between Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Mac (Rob McElhenney), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and Frank (Danny DeVito), the characters on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia may be the most narcissistic, ignorant, and careless people to ever grace a television screen. They do, however, similarly to Seinfeld, use their completely horrific decisions to shed light on social issues that are prevalent.

Take each show’s attempt at addressing homosexuality for example. In the Seinfeld episode “The Outing,” Elaine convinces a reporter that Jerry and George are a homosexual couple, which the duo adamantly and repeatedly deny followed by “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” The show recognizes that the reactions from Jerry and George to people potentially thinking they are gay are inappropriate and not inclusive. They also, however, use their reactions as a reflection of society and a plea for change.

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Still from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, “Mac Fights Gay Marriage” (Season 6, Episode 1, 2010)

Contrarily, the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia episodes “Mac Fights Gay Marriage” is exactly what it sounds like. In an effort to bring light to the issues surrounding the legality of gay marriage, the show created an episode in which Mac fights it. The irony exists in Mac’s self-obsession and stupidity because, obvious to everyone aside from himself, it is all because a transvestite he likes chooses to marry another man. The actions of Jerry, George, and Mac all serve as examples viewers can learn from as how not to act.

From the surface, these two shows seem utterly incomparable based on the sheer success of Seinfeld and lack thereof for It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, as seen in number of both viewers and awards. If you look more closely at the messages, however, and the ways in which the shows get them across, you can see that there are many more similarities between them than you would expect.

Margaret Murray

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3 Responses to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: The Modern Seinfeld

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I think one of the things that makes these shows popular is that the despicability of the characters allow the audience to feel superior, and that is what makes them successful. Viewers can look at the characters and think “I would never do that” or “I would never end up like that.” However, I would argue that the point of these shows would be to show that anyone can do the things the characters do. The flaws these characters have are really flaws that the average person has at anytime, they are simply exaggerated for television, especially in Always Sunny.

    Tommy O’Haren

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I think this is a really interesting analysis- I would have never considered comparing these two shows because, like you said, Always Sunny may be Seinfeld on steroids, but I think you have a point about the characters sharing the same fatal flaws. I am a huge fan of the show myself, but I don’t think people like Always Sunny so much because they feel superior exactly, like Tommy proposes. I think they enjoy it because Mac, Charlie, Dee, and Dennis all say out loud the most outrageous, offensive thoughts the audience could ever conjure up. It’s like a form of catharsis, much like that found in Seinfeld. Less superiority, more comradery, I think. That sounds grim, but I think that honestly might be why these two shows were/have been on the air for so many seasons.

    Alyssa McAuliffe

  3. marymdalton says:

    Thoughtful post and excellent comments! I really should watch this show…so much TV (PEAK TV)…so little time…

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