It has been an absolute blast compiling the results of each matchup of our ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ best episode tournament throughout the last few weeks, and finally, we’ve reached our championship. As voted on by you all, we are pitting Season 4 Episode 13, The Nightman Cometh, against Season 5 Episode 10, The D.E.N.N.I.S. System. The longevity of this show is truly remarkable. We are looking at an episode that aired on 11/20/2008 versus an episode that aired on 11/19/2009 to wear the crown. For a refresher on our methodology, check it out here. Otherwise, let’s look at the tale-of-the-tape and see who we think will come out on top.
The Nightman Cometh – Season 4, Episode 13. Original Airdate: 11/20/2008
The Nightman Cometh was the finale of the fourth season of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’ The fourth season helped move the show from the shadows of a cult TV show and more into the mainstream as a legitimate contender in the sitcom circuit. 2008 marked the gang’s first major award nomination of any kind, scoring nominations at the 2008 Satellite Awards for Best Series, Musical, or Comedy, and Danny Devito for Best Actor, Musical, or Comedy. The episode opens with an excited Charlie elated to share with his friends that he has finally completed his musical. Unimpressed with his reasoning, Mac demands to know, “Who versus? Who are we doing it versus?”
With the help of Artemis and her linguistic gifts (she added words), Charlie sets off to assigning the cast their roles and getting rehearsal underway. Typical gang hijinx ensues throughout, including a very important lesson on the importance of enunciation and the evils of gum chewing.
When opening night rolls around, nerves get the best of the gang and Charlie doesn’t help the situation. On the night of the performance, he decides that he will have a guest piano player (remember Gladys, her part is not complete in this article!) and he delays the start of the production until one specific patron has arrived.
As the show comes to a conclusion, we see who it was truly ‘versus’ when an unscripted musical number closes the show, with Charlie as the full-grown Dayman (and champion of the Nightman) requesting the hand of the homely character we’ve always known simply as The Waitress. She declines his proposal.
What I love most about this episode is it gives us a full view of the depths that Charlie will go to in pursuit of his dream girl. It also has the classic Always Sunny vibe, being written by Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, and Rob McElhenney (Charlie, Dennis, and Mac) and directed by long-time director and producer Matt Shakman.
The D.E.N.N.I.S. System – Season 5, Episode 10. Original Airdate: 11/19/2009
Almost one year to the date after Nightman Cometh aired, our other contender for top Always Sunny episode made its premiere. I’m not surprised to see it here; this episode showed us all something we only had gotten glimpses of thus far — the depths of Dennis Reynolds’ sociopathic tendencies. We open with Dennis playing the gang a voicemail from a chick “so in love with him she doesn’t even know it.” Despite Dee’s openly questioning as to how the voicemail could be taken as anything more than pure hatred, the rest of the gang are enamored and look to learn the secret of ways. Thus, he dives into the D.E.N.N.I.S. system.
That’s correct, he named his “method” of seduction after himself, which is definitely un-creepy. I put that in quotes because, as anyone reading this surely knows, it’s less a method of seduction and more a series of mental manipulations to toy with a person’s emotions. After laying out the steps, he has eager students ready to put it into action and a challenge from Dee to prove that the woman he’d D.E.N.N.I.S.’d was eager to get back with him.
It’s in seeing the gang attempt to implement the system that this episode truly shines. While Charlie just wants to find a better way to win over his true love, the waitress, seeing the rest of the gang’s depravity on full display is so memorable. Dee is convinced by the gang that her current fling, Ben the solider, is using the D.E.N.N.I.S. system on her, so she goes out of her way to prove how little she needs him as a man. Meanwhile, Mac and Frank reveal that they have their own systems in place. As an ecosystem predicated on Dennis’ system, Mac swoops in while they are reeling from Dennis, and Frank comes in to collect the scraps (we can argue the future of Mac’s character and his personal preferences another time, but I think him swimming in Dennis’ wake is very in line with his series arc).
Everything comes to a head with at the local carnival, where everyone is looking to validate their system. In an attempt to prove his previous lie true, Dennis brings his “Nana” to prove her existence to Caylee. Gladys honestly steals every scene she’s ever been in.
Caylee is there with Mac trying to make his move and Frank strolls through as Dr. Mantis Toboggan to get to the scraps ASAP, informing Dennis he has the AIDS “big time” in an attempt to send Caylee reeling over the edge. They are the worst people ever and I love them.
Everything devolves in perfect gang fashion. Charlie inadvertently gets Sweet Dee stabbed by a carnie with a key, triggering a Dennis tirade in which Caylee has seen through the facade and leaves the carnival with Ben the solider, who declares Dee a mean person.
This episode has a ton of moments that would fuel future story arcs and character evolutions. From the birth of Dr. Mantis Toboggan, a glimpse at the devolution of the Waitress, and establishing Ben as a romantic partner, there is none more impactful than our first/best glimpse of who Dennis truly is.
There is no easy answer, but I think one thing is clear, Gladys is the shit.
Featured Photo: FX