On September 18th, the Paddy's Pub gang returns to FX for Season Four of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Dennis, Sweet Dee, Mac, Charlie, and Frank are all set to embark on a new series of misadventures that will see them tackling the raising price of gasoline, the American mortgage problem, the Health Care crisis, pedophilia, and the mystery of the Liberty Bell Crack. They will also be offering up The Nightman Cometh: A Musical. No topic is off limits, and no idea is too small in the hands of this exciting and very funny team of individuals. Created by and starring Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day, with co-stars Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito, the 2008 season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is shaping up to be one of its best, and it will surely please the huge hardcore fan base that this squawk box of comedians has accumulated at a rapid pace.
Earlier this week we were invited to the Los Angeles based set of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where Paddy's Pub resides. That's right, the reason it's always sunny at this historic Philadelphia landmark is because it rests in the comfortable Hollywood-based pocket of the Golden State. Every year, the gang takes one week off and flees for Philly, PA, where a number of location shots are captured and recorded to give it that authentic feel, but most of the action takes place just East of Culver City. Each season, the bar is broken down into tiny pieces and put in storage, until the next year, when a new location for the Pub has to be reestablished. It seems that Paddy's hasn't been shot on the same sound stage in the four years of its existence. And when we arrived to sip off some of its delicious menu, we were greeted with an Irish pub refurbished to look as though it had traveled back to the year 1776.
How did this happen? Well, in an upcoming season four episode entitled The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell, Dennis, Sweet Dee, Mac, and Charlie decide that Paddy's Pub should be included in Philadelphia's historic city walk tour. That way, historians interested in the city's past will have to stop in and get drunk along the way, stumbling as they check out real establishments of some historic significance. Though this dirty dive bar has absolutely no celebrated value whatsoever, the gang sets out to prove that their ancestors were responsible for cracking the Liberty Bell. As Rob McElhenney tells it, "We'd been wanting to do a flashback episode for a really long time. We just weren't sure how to get into it. We weren't sure what would be the most organic way. The story actually stemmed from us all going to Philly and taking a historical tour. We thought it would be interesting to try and make our bar a historical landmark. If we were part of the walking tour, people would have to come into the bar, and they would have to get drunk. We thought that might be a good way to do a flashback. This is the story of how Paddy's played a part in the American Revolution."
Milling about the redecorated pub, a group of old colonial types gathered around a thick oak table decorated with melting wicker candles and tin cups filled to the brim with mead. One of them produced a long feather ink pen, and began jotting down a number of declarations. Scrubbing the oak wood bar top from across the room, Deandra (distant cousin of Sweet Dee) spies this group of colonials hard at work, "Look at that. The Sons of Liberty. Patriots meeting in our bar. We are witnessing history." Dennis, wearing a tri-tip hat and fancy white Colonial button down shirt sneers at this observation, "I don't give a shit! Give me a flogging of ale, woman!" It is clear that these guys are having fun with this high concept episode. And the set decorators obviously had a great time renovating Paddy's. All of the furniture has been replaced with makeshift tables and chairs from the 1700s. A dirty old boar's head looms above the entrance, and a flock of dead hens hang over a barrel of grain alcohol. All of the beer bottles are dusty and label-less. Sawdust has been spread graciously across the entire floor of the bar. About making the pub look so fantastic, Rob explains, "It was all about making it look like Paddy's circa 1776. We had to make sure that it still looked like Paddy's. The ceiling is the same, the bricks are the same, the colors are all the same. Obviously, we took down the neon signs. The trick was figuring out how to light it. So we just lit everyone with candles. That seems to work pretty good."
One of the scenes we watch the gang rehearse finds Dennis and Mac trying to rewrite the Declaration of Independence. As they pen their decree, which states that no man is ever really created equal, Deandra sneaks up and stabs Dennis in the arm with a dagger. She is trying to kill her slave master and free herself. But as Dennis points out, "If you kill me, you will then be owned by MacDonald. And he shall not be as forgiving, as he will demand copious amounts of bottom sex." Mac shakes his head in agreement, "Yup, right in the cockle shute!" From this line, McElhenney ad-libs various different ass sex references. When asked if he thinks, 'Ride the Pooper' will actually make it into the final cut of the episode, Rob shakes his head, "Maybe! We'll have to see. Poopeth Shute. I like that one." Kaitlin Olson, who plays Dee, doesn't like the sound of that particular saying, though, "That one doesn't make any sense. That is a verb. You have to put it in a noun's place." Turning away from Rob, she explains, "He isn't very smart. I have to help him out with a lot of this stuff." McElhenney trades one of his trademark dopey grins for the remark, "She does."
In this particular episode, Olson is playing a witch and a slave. Why? Kaitlin asks in return, "Why not? Isn't that what you would guess? I'm actually a straight up broom witch. Dee was accused of being a witch by Dennis. And then I was in turn saved by Dennis, so now I'm his slave. Yet, he's still my brother." The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell is chock full of revisionist history. Rob explains, "We sort of mix up our knowledge a little bit. We are telling our story to a woman that is the head of the historical society in Philly. We kind of get our stories mixed together. It has sort of a Salem flavor to it. We also have a sort of Ichabod Crane thing going on."
Deandra's fate is sealed when Rickety Cricket's distant ancestor arrives out of the blue to rescue her. He buys her from Dennis, and promises to whisk her away from all the madness. Too bad Franklin is a lousy shot. Played by Danny DeVito, Frank's distant relative accidentally shoots Cricket's doppelganger in the head with a musket, exploding the pulpy thing like a ripe melon. It's a moment we get to witness behind the production facility, where the Special EFX team has rigged a dummy's head with sticky red goo. Cricket has sort of become like the Wile E. Coyote character of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but the gang is careful not to overuse his special presence, especially with an ever growing stable of reoccurring characters. McElhenney tells us, "I think he is only in two episodes this season. Maybe three. He is still a reoccurring character that is a lot of fun. I like that he was a young priest. In the second season, he was an upstanding member of society. Over the course of the last three seasons, he has gotten more and more destroyed by these people. Just coming in contact with them has ruined his life. But there has to be a masochistic nature in him, too. That he keeps seeking out these people. I guess we do sort of pull him in. He does end up being the butt of a lot of our jokes."
Charlie Day likes being able to pull and pick from past episodes, and he certainly likes to surprise audiences members with this rotating guest slate he's amassed, "I think that's the charm of any television series. When you know and love this world, and it exists within this little twenty-minute capsule. Seinfeld was like that. So is The Simpsons. Even Cheaters has all of their little lovable characters." Not only will we be seeing Rickety Cricket, we will also get a fresh episode featuring Margaret McPoyle. Sadly, the McPoyle Brothers won't be making an appearance; "The McPoyle Brothers are two of the biggest actors we know, so we couldn't peg them down this year." What about Stephen Collins? "He is also working. He has a show on Broadway. We wrote an episode for him, but he couldn't do it." That just means there will be more room for new, exciting characters that audiences haven't gotten a chance to fall in love with yet.
Most of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is shot in blocks. The first six episodes are already in the can. The last seven episodes will be finished shooting in another week's time. The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell is certainly one of the craziest adventures that the Paddy's Pub gang gets involved in this year. But don't worry, they haven't run out of big, controversial topics to explore. Not yet, anyway. Charlie Day doesn't think that they ever will, either, "One of the things I've always heard is, "What are these guys going to do when they run out of big topics?" I don't want to say that we have run out of them. Life is always making new ones up. And we are shinning a mirror on those things as they happen. This year we went after what is going on with the gas crisis in America. And what is going on with the mortgage crisis. I don't think we are every going to run out of taboo subjects. Something is always popping up in real life."
Glenn Howerton, who plays Dennis, continued the sentiment, "What we discovered when we finally ran out of some of these large themed, worldwide taboos like abortion, was that you can pretty much take it to the limit with any smaller subject. We are doing some very simply ideas. That's not to say we've completely run out of that type of thing. We are dealing with the gas situation this year. Water boarding. Torture. Its true." Other episodes will find Mac and Dee becoming addicted to human meat. There is also an episode that revolves around the mystery of "Who Pooped the Bed?" One smaller storyline has Glenn rather excited, "Charlie finds out that The Waitress is dating someone new. And the entire episode revolves around: Who is going to help him? Who is his best friend? The whole episode becomes about who is best friends with who. And who is best friends with Charlie."
Probably the most anticipated episode, for both the gang and the fans, is The Nightman Cometh: A Musical. They have essentially taken the very popular Nightman song from last season and given it its own stage production. Rob wants you to know, "We are going to beat this thing into the ground. Every character is getting involved. I'm the Nightman, bro!" Kaitlin agrees, "We are going to take it way too far. Until people stop honoring us with doing that song. So many bands have already done a cover." What about Danny DeVito and his devotion to the Ipecac Record Label? Did he get any of his musician friends involved? Howerton says that Danny has been pushing to get Mike Patton on the show in some capacity for awhile, "I know that Patton was willing to do it at one point. I don't know if that is still the case. We haven't got anything for him at this point. But I do want to have him on the show. I am a big fan of his." They did nail down one musician for a cameo in season four, though, as Rob explains, "We do have Rob Thomas on the show. He teams up with Sinbad the comedian. I run into them in a rehab facility. They have ruined their lives with drugs and alcohol. And Sinbad has made Rob Thomas his bitch in the rehab center. And he has now set out to make me his bitch."
Because the episodes are broken up and shot out of order, things can get a little hectic on set. Sometimes it's hard for the actors to remember where they last left off in a scene. Kaitlin Olson gets the worst of it, since she is not involved in the writing process, "It is very confusing. You have to know the script backwards and forwards, otherwise you will find yourself shooting something, and it's a continuation of something you shot two weeks ago. And you realize that you should have come into that last scene really angry. You should have been really pissed off. I have to constantly ask where I am at in the script, because months will go by between scenes. It is a little confusing. But every department feels that way. So I can ask wardrobe what just happened in the script. Or I can ask make-up. They are also constantly trying to keep up with where we are at."
With things being so jumbled up, it's hard to keep Danny DeVito around for the entire season's worth of shooting. But the gang is quick to accommodate his presence. Charlie believes that this fourth season contains some of the best material he has ever seen Danny DeVito perform, "He was great this year. Audiences will be really pleased to see some of the acting he has done. As writers, more than any other year, we just had a lot of fun with his character. I personally feel that it is some of Danny's best acting ever. Some of the stuff he has done on the show this year is outrageously funny. I was a big Taxi fan. And I love a lot of his movies. But I think we passed a lot of those things. Maybe that's just my own sense of humor. I think the fans will get a real kick out of Danny this year. I think we've really figured out a way to his strengths. One of my favorite scenes is where he and Dennis go to a swingers' party. And Danny is saying how these guys are an elite swingers' society. The audience will be expecting something out of Eyes Wide Shut. It turns out to be a bunch of sad old people around a buffet. Danny is just great in that scene."
As you can see, there is a lot of great stuff coming up on this season's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Be sure to catch the gang when they return to FX on September 18th. They will definitely be waiting for you.