It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has never been a show that takes anything or anyone too seriously. After all, one of the first episodes of the show featured one of the main characters pretending to have cancer in a convoluted attempt to get laid and in the 13 years since It’s Always Sunny has delighted in watching the Gang dive deeper and deeper into debauchery and depravity. Even in the brief moments where sincerity briefly existed, like Mac officially coming out last season, viewers know there is always a crass joke or cynical one-liner not too far behind.
But all of that changed with ‘Mac Finds His Pride’, as the show got unabashedly earnest for the first time and delivered a shockingly moving episode that proved why It’s Always Sunny remains relevant more than a decade after it premiered. As the title suggests, ‘Mac Finds His Pride’ focuses on Mac attempting to find his pride, acceptance, and place as a gay man with some help from Frank, who is really only interested because Paddy’s Pub has landed a spot in Philly’s Pride Parade and the Gang wants Mac to dance on the float as their token gay, complete with an extremely revealing outfit.
But Mac doesn’t feel like he belongs in the gay community and after Frank takes Mac to a gay bar that leaves Mac feeling more isolated than ever, Frank tells Mac he needs to come out to Luther, his father who is currently in prison. Mac’s relationship with his dad has always been complicated, as he has yearned for love from this confirmed psychopath and potential murderer who, in response, openly disdains and ignores his son. So when Mac first tries to tell his dad he is gay, it goes as poorly as one might expect, with Luther believing his son is telling him he is going to have a baby.
No matter how hard he tries, Mac can’t communicate how he is feeling with his words so he decides to take a different approach and with some help from Frank’s wallet, delivers a five-minute contemporary-dance number to Sigur Rós’s “Varúð” (with professional ballerina Kylie Shea). At first, the idea of Mac coming out to his dad by doing a five-minute dance number at a prison sounds like a goldmine for comedy on every conceivable level. But instead of falling back on its trademark snark, It’s Always Sunny plays the moment straight.
The dance is sincere, moving, and powerful, with Mac using movement to show the isolation he feels in a world where he’s never really found acceptance. As a viewer, you can feel that for the first time, Mac is getting to tell his dad and, by extension, the world who he really is. Sadly, this vulnerability and self-expression does not sway Mac’s bigoted father, as Luther walks out halfway through his son’s performance with a look of disgust on his face. However, Mac’s dance does connect with Frank, who is nearly brought to tears watching Mac finally embrace who he is. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what Luther or Frank think of Mac because he’s finally learned to accept and love himself and that’s more powerful than the shameful rejection of a withholding father.
In the grand scheme of the show, it is unlikely that ‘Mac Finds His Pride’ will really change much about It’s Always Sunny. When the show returns for season 14, Mac, Frank, and the rest of the Gang will surely be the same obnoxious assholes they’ve always been. But while the episode may not mark a new direction for the show, it proves that It’s Always Sunny is not stuck in the past. Like all of us, it’s growing and changing and while the idea of the show being anything other than offensive and irreverent may have seemed absurd 13 years ago, these days, its willingness to be earnest feels just right.