Season eight of FX’s hit “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” kicked off on October 11th with the discovery that Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day) was in the possession of an original painting by Hitler while Dennis and Dee Reynolds (Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson) mulled over whether or not to pull the plug on its previous owner, their dying Nazi grandfather, Pop Pop. Sounds like things are just about normal for the gang at Paddy’s pub. Creators, and two of the stars of the show, Rob McElhenney and Howerton, discussed writing the heightened world of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia starting with that season-opening artwork.
Glenn Howerton: That painting was actually in Charlie’s apartment during the second season of the show. That was basically just set decoration in the second season. Interestingly enough, we actually were the ones that when we got into editing and we were watching the show—all the episodes of Season 2, that painting stood out to us so much, too much, it was too distracting. We actually said we never want to see that painting again. Take it down. Get rid of it because it’s just a shining, white, weird painting in the background of every Charlie’s apartment scene.
Rob McElhenney: We had so many fans and so many comments, asking about it. When we took it down, people were irate.
Howerton: Yes. They were like, what happened to that dog painting? We loved that dog painting. We kept thinking, the scenes aren’t supposed to be about a painting of a dog in the background. We just felt like it was too distracting, but we always wanted to bring it back in some way.
Another recently solved series mystery was the revelation of Mac’s real name.
From the last season finale, did you always know that ‘Mac’ was going to be Ronald McDonald, or is that something that just occurred to you? Will you have a similar revelation with The Waitress?
McElhenney: We’ve been talking about that for a while.
Howerton: We’ve been talking about what ‘Mac’s’ name is for a long time. I think we came up with the idea that his real name was Ronald MacDonald a while ago; like a couple years ago. We also thought it was so ridiculous we weren’t sure if we ever really wanted to reveal it or if we did that it would ever actually be that. So, we finally decided to do it. As far as The Waitress goes, we don’t have any plans as of now to ever tell anyone what her name is. Although she does have a name and we do know what it is.
The Waitress, played by Charlie Day’s real-life spouse Mary Elizabeth Ellis is one of several recurring characters that fans have seen develop (or in many cases, regress) over the past eight seasons. Among some favorites we saw in the eighth season premiere were Brian Unger’s The Lawyer and David Hornsby’s Rickety Cricket.
Was it more of a gradual development or was it just planned that you would start adding more supporting characters in the show, and open up what was a little more of an insular world with the three leads?
McElhenney: As we built out the show and built out the characters, we realized that what we were creating was a bit of an alternate universe. Certainly, the stakes are just as high as real life, but the results are a little bit different. These people—I was counting how many major car accidents my character has been in over the last seven years. I think I’ve had five or six head-on collisions. I don’t seem to have any—maybe some brain damage, but the character doesn’t seem to have any physical scars. Clearly, we’re creating a heightened reality. When we started joking about who else lives in this universe, who else lives in this world, it just made us laugh. That helped broaden our scope, which I think only adds to the comedy.
Howerton: Maybe more of a parallel universe that an alternate, a completely alternate one; slightly heightened reality, yes.
Asked what guest stars viewers can expect to see popping up in this alternate universe Philly, Howerton and McElhenney had some exciting names for the new season:
Howerton: We’ve got a really fun guest star role for Sean Combs this year; P. Diddy. I’m excited for people to see it. I think it’s very, very different from anything that, at least I’ve ever seen him do, on anything. We’re excited about that.
McElhenney: Guillermo del Toro.
McElhenney: Yes, Guillermo del Toro, the director, writer, producer is also, we found out, a big fan of the show. Charlie just did a movie with him [Pacific Rim] so he really wanted to do a guest star so we wrote him in this year, too. It’s really funny.
McElhenney and Howerton also offered some insight into their writing process for the show.
When you’re writing your episodes, do you have favorite teams that you guys like to work with? The gang is so often shifting alliances, even within one episode.
Howerton: We do try to keep tabs of that, actually, to a certain degree. We try to mix it up as much as possible, so that the same pairing isn’t happening all season long.
McElhenney: Sometimes we’ll find that, too. Where we’ll break three or four episodes in a row and realize that we have ‘Dee’ and ‘Frank’ together for those three or four episodes and we’ll realize that we’ve got to break them up a little bit.
Are there a certain set of criteria that do go in to breaking a story, that you find that you have to have a certain set of criteria?
Howerton: Most importantly, what we’re always talking about is, for as unbelievable as some of the storylines may seem, we have to believe that the characters believe that what they’re doing gets them what they want. That’s the most important aspect of breaking a story, so it doesn’t just feel like a series of funny events. That we really justify why these characters are acting the way that they do. That’s the major criteria that I follow. Of course, we like to tie things up and tie things together. That’s good story writing.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs every Thursday at 10pm on FX.