It seems like just yesterday a show about a group of friends and their bar in Philadelphia starring four relatively unknowns premiered after the more buzzed about eating disorder comedy Starved on FX. And yet here we are, five seasons deep with the sixth season in full swing, and who can even remember the names of those fatties and upchuckers? Here’s are my picks for the ten best episodes, feel free to comment with your own list.
10. The Nightman Cometh
While some may rank this episode a lot higher than number 10, I feel like it doesn’t follow the form of a traditional Sunny episode, and while I certainly encourage experimentation (Especially sexually…Ladies?) the lack of a traditional structure I feel keeps them from hitting the right notes that make other episodes so painfully hilarious. Still, it’s a true original, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it. Plus, it spawned its own live stage show, which I have yet to be fortunate enough to catch in person (It’s featured on the extras of the Season 4 DVD).
9. The D.E.N.N.I.S. System
While it’s been common knowledge since the start that Dennis is considered the ladies man of the group, we’ve only seen glimpses of his process (see “The Gang Finds A Dead Guy” and “The Gang Dances Their Asses Off”). The methods to Dennis’ madness are finally broken down in “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System.” Say it with me now, people: Demonstrate value; Engage physically; Nurture dependence; Neglect emotionally; Inspire hope; Separate entirely. If that seems like too much work for you, there’s always the M.A.C. System (Move in after copulation) or emulate the feeding strategy of Dr. Mantis Tobagin.
8. Underage Drinking: A National Concern
From the start, one of the strengths of Sunny has been the writers’ ability to give equal story time and quality to each of the four (five starting in season 2) main characters. “Underage Drinking: A National Concern” is the first episode where this is achieved with near perfection, as we see both Dee and Dennis dealing with underage romance, Charlie reliving the glory days he never actually experienced, and Mac coming to terms with the fact that he might be an asshole. As Charlie would say, this is classic Sunny.
7. Dennis And Dee’s Mom Is Dead
One of Sunny’s longest unanswered questions is finally addressed in “Dennis And Dee’s Mom Is Dead,” which is: Do these guys have any other friends? The answer is of course a very obvious no. From handing out penis-shaped party fliers to pulling Jackass-style pranks on unsuspecting freshman, the episode takes a very weird turn when Charlie befriends an immigrant drifter named Ernesto and the two bond over the heartbreak that is Dee’s high school diary. The return of Bruce Mathis and Dee and Frank’s closest flirtation with emotional incest make this one of the most balanced episodes of the series.
6. Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass
“Rock, flag and eagle!” is all you need to say to sum up this episode’s greatness. And as if Charlie’s methed-up take on Lee Greenwood wasn’t enough, Mac, Dennis and Frank attempt to turn the bar in a freewheeling den of freedom, much like the bars in New Orleans. We get one of our first glimpses into Dennis’ sexual psyche (“We don’t want wild girls. We want good girls gone wild.”), and appearances by the McPoyle’s and Artemis.
5. The Gang Solves The Gas Crisis
Meta humor is always a gamble, but it pays off here when Mac, Dennis and Charlie finding themselves exploring the dynamics of their own “crew,” comparing themselves to Scooby Doo, The A Team, and the Ghostbusters at various points throughout the episode. Along the way Mac’s constant bossiness is challenged, Frank waterboards Dee, and Charlie finds his purpose in life: Wildcard, bitches!
4. The Gang Hits The Road
From the moment we learn that Mac, Dennis, Charlie and Frank are planning a road trip to the Grand Canyon, it should be obvious to any longtime viewer that (SPOILER ALERT) they’re not even gonna make out of Philly, much less 2,000 miles across the country. The constant starting and stopping in the gang’s quest to hit the road serves as the perfect metaphor for their lives, and we get a rare glimpse at Charlie and Dennis actually bonding, a rare occurrence since the strain on their friendship caused by Dennis banging the Waitress.
3. Mac and Charlie Die: Parts 1 & 2
It may be cheating to include two episodes as one, but one just doesn’t work without the other (and they both aired on the same day). After Mac’s dad is released from prison, Mac and Charlie decide the only logical way to stop him from killing them is to fake their own deaths. These two episodes are packed with so many classic Sunny moments that it’s amazing that they’re all contained in only two episodes: The orgy, the “Blaze of Glory” suicide tape, the homoerotic “Blaze of Glory” memorial tape, Charlie’s constant loss of teeth, poppers, the duster, the glory hole, and of course Keir O’Donnell as Dennis’ European roomate Jan, a character we can only hope will return one day for more Perfect Strangers-esque sexcapades.
2. Charlie Got Molested
While every season one episode showcased the creator’s eagerness to tackle traditionally taboo subject matter, no topic is more taboo than molestation. The first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm ended their first season on the subject, and with so many parallels that can be drawn between the two series (whimsical musical interludes; somewhat unlikeable protagonists; Kaitlin Olson), it only seems fitting that Sunny ended their first season the same way. “Charlie Got Molested” also introduced us to series favorites Ryan and Liam McPoyle, played with devious perfection by Nate Mooney and Jimmi Simpson, respectively, and brilliantly cast Saved By The Bell’s Dennis Haskins as the (wrongfully accused) molester in question.
1. Mac Bangs Dennis’ Mom
Motherf@#ker. There’s really nothing worse you can call a person. I mean, what kind of person (other than your father), would f@#k your mother? Mac would. Dennis would. Charlie would exploit the copulation for his own gains. Dee would go along for the ride just to get out of hard labor (aka “Charlie work”). A perfect storm of backstabbings, betrayals, and both figurative and literal screwing, nothing sums up this episode better than the lone tear that runs down Charlie’s cheek just before the credits roll.