In recent years, there’s been a rash of celebrity sitcom rewatch podcasts in which cast members from a show reunite to rewatch their entire series from the beginning one week at a time, regaling us with behind-the-scenes stories and reevaluating their work along the way. Some of these, like Office Ladies — hosted by The Office‘s Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey — predate the COVID-19 pandemic, but many more seemed to crop up during lockdown as actors suddenly found themselves stuck at home with a whole lot of time on their hands. Now, fans of New Girl can listen to Zooey Deschanel, Lamorne Morris and Hannah Simone revisit the series on Welcome to Our Show, while Veep diehards can get their weekly fix via Matt Walsh and Timothy Simons’s Second In Command. Those who grew up watching Saved By the Bell can even hear Mark-Paul Gosselaar relive it on Zack to the Future.
But even as a fan of most of these shows and the actors involved with them, rewatch podcasts have by and large failed to impress me. Hosting a podcast requires an entirely different skillset than acting on a television show, and it often is painfully apparent that being supremely talented at delivering punchlines doesn’t necessarily mean you’re equipped to speak in an engaging way for an hour off the top of your head. In some cases, the chemistry between former castmates that once lit up the screen has since evaporated, and it’s awkward to watch or listen to people we (perhaps unfairly) expect to be close friends in real life struggle to recreate the easy banter of their characters. And sometimes, to be frank, the podcasts are downright boring; particularly for long-running series, not every episode warrants a lengthy discussion, but the rewatch format doesn’t allow for skipping over the duds. No matter how much of a diehard fan you are of the source material, listening to the minutiae can often grow tiresome.
Just when I was ready to write off rewatch podcasts entirely, the gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia launched their own and proved that the format can actually be entertaining. Hosted by Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton (with writer Megan Ganz producing and chiming in occasionally), The Always Sunny Podcast launched back in January, and two months in, it’s already the best rewatch podcast out there by a wide margin.
Of course, the guys from It’s Always Sunny have a built-in advantage. Their show is the longest-running live action comedy series in American history. They’ve been collaborators on Sunny for 17 years now and friends for longer. They don’t just have a rapport — at this point they have their own language. Like the show itself, The Always Sunny podcast is peppered with inside jokes, recurring bits and some of the occasional bickering that happens when someone’s been in your life for two decades and you know you can say anything to them. Their dynamic is endlessly entertaining because it never feels forced; it’s obvious at all times that we’re watching three people who love each other’s company. And because they’re so involved with their show — creating it, writing it, producing it and starring in it — they can talk about it in a much more interesting way than someone whose years on a sitcom simply involved showing up, reading their lines and then going home.
But even though the behind-the-scenes tales (like one hilarious story involving an unnamed guest actor suffering from a particularly embarrassing bout of diarrhea during his audition for the show) and the insights into their creative process are compelling, what really helps The Always Sunny Podcast stand out from other similar podcasts is the fact that the guys often aren’t particularly concerned with discussing that week’s episode. Most of the time, they’ll use the episode’s main theme or plot point as a vague jumping-off point for their conversation and then just let it flow, allowing themselves to get sidetracked by various tangents. Instead of dwelling on minor details, we get to watch three real-life friends just shooting the shit. What’s better than that?
They’ve also, at times, shied away from the rewatch format entirely, like with “Rob Almost Fights Some Guy Outside a Hamburger Store” a 49-minute episode devoted completely to unpacking a heated encounter McElhenney had with someone outside an In-N-Out Burger. The story itself is relatively straightforward, but McElhenney asks Day and Howerton for their honest opinions on how he handled the situation and admits he’s second-guessing himself because confronting a stranger (who, for all he knew, could have had a gun in his car) in front of his children inadvertently put them in danger. It sparks a fascinating conversation about parenting, toxic masculinity and how tricky it can be to gauge when it’s appropriate to stand up and say something and when it’s best to simply walk away. “The Guys Take Some Calls” also deviates from the rewatch formula to delightful effect, as the trio tweet out a phone number and ask fans to call in and chat. Some fans have questions for them ready, but for the most part, it’s Howerton, Day and McElhenney doing their best talk-radio host impressions and chopping it up with the callers, asking them about their jobs.
The best episode of the podcast to date, however, came last week. What starts off as another goofy idea for a theme episode in which the guys and Ganz get drunk for St. Patrick’s Day quickly turns into a surprisingly emotional affair in which their love and admiration for each other is palpable. The episode was taped in the home McElhenney shares with his wife/Always Sunny costar Kaitlin Olson, and it feels jarringly intimate to watch the friends toss a few back next to a cozy fireplace while Day noodles on a guitar. Celebrity podcasts can often feel sterile when they’re made by people who are determined to maintain a certain public image, but the Sunny cast has never been concerned about anything other than authenticity. They’re willing to let us in on their deepest insecurities — the kind of raw, confessional stuff most of us used to whisper into the darkness at slumber parties — and as they get progressively liquored up during “Everybody Browns Out,” the candor becomes more striking. At one point, McElhenney proclaims that out of the three, he’s the one who’s closest to Ganz, jokingly telling Howerton that “because of your sociopathy, you’re keeping her at arm’s length.” Howerton’s demeanor shifts quickly, and his response is surprisingly earnest: “That’s not sociopathy, that’s growing up in an Air Force family where you moved around a lot and had to protect yourself,” he says. “That’s a whole thing. I hold everyone at arm’s length, and I don’t like that about myself.”
Eventually, they reach that very specific level of drunkenness where you feel compelled to tell your friends how much you love them, and when Olson comes downstairs and joins the party after putting her and McElhenney’s kids to bed, Ganz makes an especially touching confession. “I have to say because I’m drunk enough to be overly emotional, Kaitlin is the whole reason I got involved with any of you guys in the first place,” she says. “She’s the thing that made me keep watching Sunny. I in my life have had two major female comedy influences. One was Molly Shannon on SNL, and the other is Kaitlin Olson on Sunny. And the reason is because it’s so seldom you see a woman put comedy in front of everything else in their performance…I felt power through that, and I was like, ‘I want to be involved with whatever that is.’”
Olson is visibly moved. “You know I grew up like really hating myself,” she responds. “Like, had a tragic accident when I was in sixth grade, I was hideous through middle school and high school. I think that’s kind of out there. But I really always hated myself and definitely hated what I looked like. But I really looked up to Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner, because they would unapologetically just go for the character. They didn’t care what they looked like. It wasn’t about being a beautiful woman, it was about being just fucking funny. And when I would really dig in to characters I loved, when it came from the inside and you didn’t care what you looked like on the outside, that’s when you felt really funny and authentic.”
Day, who had been quietly strumming guitar and taking it all in, chimes in with a bit of excellent drunk philosophizing. “Comedy specifically helps us process our wounds,” he offers. “Like, we all are wounded people. We want to feel infallible, we want to feel great, but we’re wounded. We have our childhood insecurities” — here he pauses and gestures pointedly to Howerton — “and they create these wounds. And when someone leans into it and doesn’t fight against it, says, ‘I’m gonna lean into the thing that could be wounding, I’m gonna be willing to look embarrassing,’ when Will Ferrell takes his shirt off and runs around and he’s got a scar on his belly and he doesn’t seem to have the vanity to say, ‘Oh, I have to look perfect,’ it helps us feel better about our own imperfection.”
That’s true of more traditional forms of comedy, of course, but it’s also true of podcasts like these. To hear celebrities speak so frankly about their flaws is refreshing, and to listen to them be able to shake them off through laughter or talk through them with people who have been in their lives for two decades feels weirdly comforting.
The lovefest reaches its peak, however, when the episode winds down and Ganz asks a visibly inebriated Day to “play us out” with a song. He improvises a surprisingly sweet ode to their friendship and the show they’ve spent half their lives doing: “We came to be funny, but we searched for the truth/We told some yarns, got long in the tooth/But life’s just that way, if you’re lucky that is/I guess I’m just foolish for living in bliss/For I am happy, I guess that makes me awfully sunny, and that’s why we’re here/For we are sunny, even though we seem bleak sometimes it may appear/But we are sunny because we’re hopeful, in a way/And we’re honest with each other, and I guess that’s just the way we appear/We are sunny, in our way/And this will be what we’re known for ’til our very last days.” Watching Howerton in particular — who, remember, earlier in the evening was fretting over how few people he allows to get close to him — listen to the song feels like spying on a deeply private moment. He closes his eyes while Day is singing, shutting everything else out and smiling to himself about how good it is. When Day’s done, there’s not a dry eye in the house.
Sitcom rewatch podcasts can sometimes feel cold and academic, but The Always Sunny Podcast feels like we’ve been invited to join the gang. The love they have for each other is obvious (and surprisingly heartwarming!), and it’s what makes their podcast unlike any other out there. Would you rather listen to someone struggle for the umpteenth time to come up with a funny anecdote about a show they filmed years ago or watch three men get drunk and cry about their friendship? It’s not always sunny, but it is real and honest — and that’s why it’s so appealing.
You can find new episodes of the Always Sunny Podcast here every Monday.
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