Editor's note: Erin Ryan began writing for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia in 2018. In our five-part series, she chronicles her experience joining a comedy series in its 13th season.
The first few days in the Sunny room are pretty giddy. But once episodes start going from bonkers pitch on an index card to whiteboard full of beats, writing for Sunny feels more like a job. Sure, the gang has spent the last 12 seasons acting as the worst human beings in the world, which gives us as writers license to make just about any f—ed up thing in the world happen to them and not feel bad. But the plots still have to make a modicum of sense. Rules still exist in the world of Sunny.
Going from harebrained idea to semi-coherent episode of TV isn’t always easy. In fact, we got stuck sometimes. Some episodes had to be broken and rebroken. Some afternoons ended in frustration.
After one long day early on in breaking the episode where Mac (Rob McElhenney) comes out to his father, the small room I was working in reached a point where we were either stumped or exhausted. When Rob first pitched the idea for the show-stopping final scene in that episode, most of the writers didn’t "get" it at first, and that one was a hard one to break because we were trying to build to a very un-Sunny climax.
We tried a bunch of different places for Frank (Danny DeVito) to take Mac in his quest to get him to cheer up. We played with the idea of introducing a new character that changed Frank’s mind. The writer on that episode ultimately decided to, once again, torture Cricket (David Hornsby).
Going from harebrained idea to semi-coherent episode of TV isn’t always easy. In fact, we got stuck sometimes.
The Dennis doll in episode one came from a goofy, first-day pitch, but ended up being more complicated to execute than you might expect. Because the previous season had ended on a cliffhanger (and we knew how many episodes Glenn [Howerton] was available for when we started writing), we discussed playing with audience expectations about Dennis right away. (Hence, a doll that looks exactly like Dennis that the gang engages with in familial relations with, I guess.) On the heels of that pitch, we discovered that certain companies will, for a price, create a sex doll in the image and likeness of just about anybody. Company literature promised that their one-of-a-kind sex dolls would have the look and heft of a real person, with bonelike structures inside its skin, a custom-made face. Easy to clean, for obvious and disgusting reasons.
I later found out from one of the production company’s assistants that there was a problem with this. A custom-made Glenn Howerton sex doll would take months to build and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Plus, some fine print on the company website indicated that if they thought your custom doll design was marketable to a mass audience, they’d ask to mass produce it. Woof. So instead, the crew just had the props department build the Dennis doll that ultimately costarred in the season premiere. And that’s how the gang almost ended up with an actual sex doll of Glenn Howerton.
The bathroom debate episode came from a long, serious political discussion in the room that wasn’t directly related to anything we were working on, until it was. So did the #MeToo episode (there were a series of charts and graphs in the room break of the script that ended up being cut from the final episode but that were a lot of fun to write and even more fun to see). The all-female reboot of the Boggs episode came amid a lively conversation about all-female reboots in general.
Issues that regular people talk about—gay rights, feminism, sexual harassment, representation, racism, sexuality, guns, violence and politics—are issues that we talked about in the writers room. A lot of those found their way into this season. Every Sunny episode is kaleidoscope of high and low culture, and it’s due, in large part, to f—ing around.
Erin Ryan is a writer, podcaster, and political commentator who lives in Los Angeles. In addition to her work on Always Sunny, she hosts Crooked Media’s Hysteria and occasionally appears on Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It. She is currently working on Rob Mcelhenney and Charlie Day’s forthcoming Apple TV project. Her writing has been featured by The Daily Beast, The New York Times, Playboy, Runner's World, and other places. Erin was born and raised in Frederic, Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Norte Dame. In her free time, she sometimes sleeps.