It's Always Sunny on Seinfeld

As you all probably know by now, I have a very obsessive personality. I tend to fixate on certain things for medium-length bursts of time, finally neglecting my worn-out toys when shiny new ones come along and take their place. (Don't hate me, Michael Johns.)

If you've been paying attention, you probably already know that my newest obsession is the TV show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - oddly enough, a show that I practically had to be forced to watch because I had some crazy preconceived notion that it was just another crappy Seinfeld and/or Friends ripoff. It only took about 3 minutes in to the very first episode for me to realize how terribly wrong I was. And now I'm making it up to the show by watching it constantly (on FX, Hulu, DVDs, etc.) and blathering on about it to anyone who will listen.

Recently, I made the bold decision that it is the funniest sitcom ever. Yes, even funnier than Seinfeld. However, as soon as I made that decision, I felt uncomfortable about it because Seinfeld is probably much more clever. Sunny really does rely on R-rated crude humor and absurdity, whereas Seinfeld was all about funny PG-13 observations. For instance, I imagine that if Sunny had an episode like Seinfeld's "The Contest," there would be no "master of your domain" euphemisms. After all, they showed a bum jerking off in an alley in a recent episode. Of course, they didn't show "it," but the scene was so lacking in subtlety that they may as well have. So, on one hand, I have to give it to a show like Seinfeld for being able to hilariously tiptoe around such a raunchy topic. But, on the other hand, the characters on Sunny are more like real people in the way they speak and react, and their total lack of couth or a PC-filter makes them instantly relatable. Does that make them funnier? Uhhhh...I think so. But I'm not sure.

Since I'm still debating with myself over this subject, I figured I would talk to you, dear readers, about it, rather than just hashing it out with the voices in my head. All opinions are welcome.

Like any good obsession, this may be needlessly drawn out and complicated. I had been planning to pit the two shows against each other in a season-by-season smackdown, hoping that it would help me figure out which is the more consistently funny. However, like most of the grandiose blogging ideas I've conjured up when I should be working, that detailed comparison may never actually materialize. Either way, I thought I'd start small, by taking a look at how the respective casts measure up.

According to a recent episode of Sunny, every great gang is made up of three distinct types - the looks, the brains, and the wild card. Then, there is usually a useless chick, a nutjob, and some whipping boys and/or girls. I'll use those categories to start comparing.

The Looks
Jerry Seinfeld
(Jerry Seinfeld)
Now, Jerry isn't exactly a stud, but since he is the "leading man" of the show, this is really the only category in which he fits. (Plus, the guy did get laid a lot.) Like most guys who fall into this category, Jerry's very self-centered, extremely picky about women, and fairly insensitive. But with that standard-issue, high-pitched, stand-up comedian delivery, he manages to make even the rudest things sound funny.
Dennis Reynolds
(Glenn Howerton)
Dennis is a total dick. There's really no other way to say it. He's incredibly lazy, but his vanity has him convinced that he can cruise through life on the strength of his "Kennedy hair" and a body that was "sculpted to the proportions of Michelangelo's David." He's known to pop his shirt off at the most inopportune times.
While Dennis is the better-looking one, and I love him because he's such a dick, he gets edged out here for, well, being such a dick. He's hilarious, but sometimes he just reminds me too much of guys I've known, and then the laughter just turns to bitterness. Jerry may have ended up in jail for being a bad man, but he's Gandhi compared to Dennis. Not that "nicer" equals "funnier," but Jerry Seinfeld is the King of observational humor. I'm certainly not about to dethrone him.

The Brains
George Costanza
(Jason Alexander)
Again, calling George "the brains" might seem like a stretch, but what he lacks in common sense and book smarts is more than made up for with a brain full of inane ideas that never stop, and a penchant for ill-conceived schemes. Of course, we all know by now that George has a brilliant mind, but his obsession with sex has dumbed him down over the years. The smartest thing he ever did was to "do the opposite" of every impulse he ever had. Not sure why he never stuck with that.
(Rob McElhenny)
Mac might be even dumber than George. At least George was smart enough to know that he was always wrong. Mac would never "do the opposite," because he thinks he's totally "bad-ass." Pretty much everyone else knows he's an idiot though. His role as "the brains" came via self-appointment.
As much as I love Mac, George is one of the greatest characters in sitcom history. No one has ever portrayed a better mix of self-loathing and self-absorption quite like Jason Alexander in this role.

The Wild Card
Cosmo Kramer
(Michael Richards)
Everyone loves the K-man. He should be the most annoying person on Earth, but his eccentricity is so fascinating that you wish you had a friend like him. When you bust out a Kramerism on someone, rarely do they not know what you're talking about. Try it. Just walk up to a stranger and say, "These pretzels are making me thirsty." Or "Smell my arm." Or just "Giddyup." They'll know. And then they'll probably start a half-hour conversation with you about their favorite Seinfeld episode.
Charlie Kelly
(Charlie Day)
Charlie is a grungier version of Kramer. Charlie has a job, but lives in complete squalor, while that unemployed schlub, Kramer, is resting comfortably in his Upper East Side apartment. Charlie shares a fold-out couch with Frank (Danny DeVito), eats cat food, and pisses in a bucket so as to avoid the junkies who litter the hallway leading to his shared bathroom. He's also abortion survivor, and quite possibly an idiot savant. Despite all of this, he manages to remain amazingly upbeat. And while he's just as selfish as the other two guys, Charlie's got a sweet, lovable loser appeal.
As much as I enjoy Kramer's antics, this one goes to Charlie, hands down. You know how I mentioned before that George Costanza is one of the greatest sitcom characters ever? Well, Charlie Kelly is on that list too. I don't know where in the hell Charlie Day has been all my life, but I'm glad he's here now. This guy is so funny, I have actually laughed myself near the point of vomiting during some of his scenes. And the fact that he's just about the most adorable thing on two feet is the cherry on top. "Wild card, bitches!!"

The Useless Chick
Elaine Benes
(Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
Elaine is probably best known for her short temper, a habit of pushing people, a fondness for long skirts, and a wall of gorgeous hair. She is definitely a much more realistic "New York woman" than any of those pampered, slutty chicks from Sex and the City. Not to say that Elaine doesn't get around, but she'd probably tell you that most of her trips around the block weren't worth the effort. And her David Puddy is a better representation of the pickings out there than the fabulous Mr. Big or the ridiculously perfect Aidan Shaw.
Sweet Dee Reynolds
(Kaitlin Olson)
Poor Sweet Dee. She might be the voice of reason or the "conscience" of the group, which is scary considering that she's a horrible person too. But she seems like the one who could most be if she didn't spend all day drinking at the bar and hanging out with her dick brother, Dennis, she might actually have a decent life. Or maybe I just feel bad for her because the guys are always telling her that she looks like a giant bird.
Dee's great, but I've always felt a kinship with Elaine. There is one scene from an old episode where she gets stuck on a really crowded subway train that breaks down and then the power goes out. Her boiling anger as she just stands there gritting her teeth and screaming thoughts inside her head is one of my favorite scenes from any show. Aside from the power outage, I'm pretty sure I've lived that moment more than once.


The Loud, Fat Guy
(Wayne Knight)
Jerry's nemesis (for reasons unknown) who is always showing up to make life difficult.
Frank Reynolds
(Danny DeVito)
Dennis and Dee's dad, who found out he really isn't their dad, but probably really is Charlie's dad. He always carries a gun (for reasons unknown).
Newman's little outbursts get old after a while. I have to go with Frank here. It's Danny DeVito for cripes' sake! And he's got a gun!

The Other Useless Chick
Susan Ross
(Heidi Swedberg)
George's long-suffering fiancée who paid the ultimate price for George's penny-pinching ways.
The Waitress
(Mary Elizabeth Ellis)
A coffee shop waitress Charlie is obsessed with, who obsesses over Dennis and sleeps with just about every other guy in Philly but Charlie. No one seems to know her name except Charlie, although he's never actually said it.
Susan was never a very interesting character, so this one easily goes to The Waitress. I should probably be mad at Mary Elizabeth Ellis for having Charlie Day any time she wants (they're married off-screen), but she's too damn funny to hate.

So, that's 3 checks for the Seinfeld column and 3 checks for the Sunny column, which means...OH, come on! Dammit! I'm so glad I spent 40 hours writing up this summary (those HTML tables are NOT as easy as they look) to still not find a definitive answer. Great job, me.

Well, whatever. Maybe you fine TV-watching folks can break the tie. But I'm still leaning towards Sunny as my favorite sitcom in the history of history. Maybe it has something to do with scenes like the one below. Thank God for Hulu, because I have watched this episode (The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis) and, specifically, this scene an unhealthy number of times. To set up for anyone who hasn't seen the episode, Dennis, Mac, and Charlie decide to buy a bunch of gasoline so that they can sell it for profit when the prices inevitably rise. This is their attempt to get a bank loan, using their looks, brains, and, uh, wild cardedness.

Of course, Sunny's bar was set with the very first scene from the very first episode, The Gang Gets Racist. This clip shouldn't need much set-up.

And, finally, from Seinfeld, Elaine's aforementioned subway ordeal:


Newman OWNS Frank. It's very curious, I've seen about 9 or 10 episodes of this show and I've never seen the waitress.

I think Sunny is a hilarious show, and genuinely original, too. But it's just not fair to put it up against Seinfeld. Seinfeld wins handily. I don't think people will be watching reruns of Sunny in 10 years, but people will be watching Seinfeld until the Sun dies.
Some Guy said…
I have not yet checked out "Sunny...", but definitely will now. I've heard a lot of great things and your recommendation was the clincher.
Gifted Typist said…
Very nice comparison of the two shows. I will check out Sunny.

That dilemma between subtle innuendo humour/observation a la Seinfeld, and in-your-face humour is interesting.

I like the cleverly drawn dance-arounds. Writers in oppressive regimes are very good at this sort of thing. It forces them beyond cliche and into fascinating realms of layered meanings which can be so funny.

But sometimes the in-your-face stuff hits you because it's so honest and real. If you get a chance, check out Trailer Park Boys. It's based on a bunch of rowdies from my hometown of Dartmouth Nova Scotia. Many people believe the depictions are satirical exaggerations. But I know they are absolutely true and honest because I grew up with those people...

I would be interested to see your review on Little Britain in America. HAve you seen that?
katrocket said…
Your gorgeous HTML table has inspired me to watch this show. The first two clips are "no longer available", so what night is it on TV?
Dr Zibbs said…
Great post Beckeye. I'm love great comedy but when I rented Sunny I saw two episodes and I guess I couldnt identify with the characters. I'm going to give it another shot as everyone tells me I wouuld love it. As I refuse to pay for premium channels, I recently started renting Curb Your Enthusiam and frankily, it makes the jokes on Seinfeld look so completely forced that it's embarrassing. And for the record, I always thoough Jerry Seinfeld was one of the worst actors on a sitcom. Likeable and great lines but terrible actor.
Splotchy said…
Nice comparison!

I don't know which show I like more, but I'll agree with you that Charlie is one of the best sitcom characters.
Dale said…
I really have to track down this show because if you love it, there's a chance I will too and really, can we ever love enough? There's a table in there somewhere. For the loving.
Unknown said…
You have nailed Sunny, but I say it wins completely in comparison. The humor is crude, but the characters are fun as hell. I LOVED when Charlie dropped a single tear when he found out the waitress slept with DeVito.

I have the boxsets and will rewatch today.
The actor who plays Mac created the show with Charlie and is marrying Sweet Dee also.

Wow! I am soo impressed!Great post, well done. I love the way you ran down the comparison. Now I've got to see this show.

Having read that, I am by no means surprised that you have been nomimated on my blog. Come check it out and please share your favorites also!
Cormac Brown said…
"I tend to fixate on certain things for medium-length bursts of time, finally neglecting my worn-out toys when shiny new ones come along and take their place."

So that's why Michael DeLuise was lying there on the curbside...
Anonymous said…
Sunny is the winner, hands down. Subtlety and innuendo are overrated. When Dennis went to the gym last week and explained that he wanted to stay lean and muscular to keep that Christ on the cross look, I nearly shit my pants. Crucifixion has gotta be great for the abs.

Sunny is the best sitcom ever for all the worst reasons. In that sense, it reminds me a lot of All in the Family.
Unknown said…
"When Dennis went to the gym last week and explained that he wanted to stay lean and muscular to keep that Christ on the cross look, I nearly shit my pants. Crucifixion has gotta be great for the abs."


I almost did this week when Cricket asked why Charlie kept spitting in his mouth!

Crude, but amazingly on the button.

My sister STILL hates me for her seeing Devito's ass a few weeks back.

Anonymous said…
I think I am the only person on the planet who hated Seinfeld.

I've moved my blog to WordPress. here's the new URL (the old blog has a link, for now...):
Anonymous said…
I caught the "poop in the bed" episode and laughed my arse off. wound up watching all the episodes on demand had to offer. funny show
Some Guy said…
I just wanted to report back in. I am well into Season 2 and think this show is freaking hilarious! Charlie really steals the show in my opinion. Thanks again for the heads up, Beckeye!
Your beloved hulu hates Canadians apparently, giving a big fat message that I have to travel south of the 49th to watch those. Racist hulu!
Red said…
First, your new profile pic is amazing.

I tried to watch Always Sunny at the beginning of the second season and just couldn't get into it. Horrible people being horrible all the time just isn't that funny to me.

So, Seinfeld wins handily in my book...though I wouldn't call that the best comedy ever, either. The UK version of The Office or Roseanne would win that award from me.
Alice said…
i've apparently got to start watching this show now. i keep hearing how hilarious it is. i'm already watching waaaay more shows than i ever have (like... 8 or something! 10? I DON'T KNOW! IT'S SO MANY!) and the thought of adding another to the rotation makes me nervous.
LoraLoo said…
Fantastic post! I don't watch Sunny on a regular basis, but yeah... it's damn funny.

The clip of Elaine on the subway, a total classic.

P.S. - Yup, totally loving your new profile picture. :)
BeckEye said…
Fran - I will be watching reruns of Sunny until the mountains crumble and disappear into the sea.

Some Guy - I'm glad I got at least ONE person to watch the show, and I'm glad that you love it! Charlie is the best.

GT - I remember you telling me about Trailer Park Boys during our brunch meeting. I will have to keep an eye out for it. Never heard of the other one.

Kat - The table gets you guys every time. Sorry about those videos not being viewable in Canada. Not sure what they have against you Canucks.

Zibbs - You shouldn't really "identify" with the characters, because they're pretty horrible and selfish. But they're still cool enough that you'd wanna hang out with them. At least I would.

Splotchy - I don't trust people who don't like Charlie.

Dale - Next time you come to NYC, we won't go to the top or bottom of any rocks. I'll just bring the Sunny DVDs to your hotel and we'll get blasted and laugh and love. And there will be cheesecake.

JDC - I always feel bad for Charlie in that one! I laugh every time I see it, but then I feel bad for laughing. Also, Rob McElhenny and Kristin Olson got married last month.

Candy - Thanks! And thanks for stopping by. It was an honor to be nominated on your site. I always knew that saying stupid things would pay off one day.

Cormac - PETER. It was PETER DeLuise I was in love with. Sheesh.

JJ - Actually, the part that had me laughing the hardest was when Dennis casually went to his car, came back and switched out the gym trainer's CD for his Steve Winwood disc. That was him at his dick best!

JDC - I never needed to see DeVito's ass either.

CDW - Wow, really? Yeah, I don't know too many people who don't love the Sein.

Bluez - That's a really good one, and features my current favorite quote from the show. Charlie saying, "Oh, dude, there's so much wolf hair in our apartment right now." Out of context it's not that funny, but I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

Barbara - Maybe they don't like you because you try to spell their name Huuluu?

Red - Oh, you're so wrong. Horrible people being horrible all the time IS funny. As long as they're not being horrible to you. And since it's on TV, they're not, so just enjoy everyone else's fictitious misery.

Alice - If you have to bump another show for Sunny, it'll be worth it, I promise.

Lora - If you have Netflix, you can get seasons 1-3 now, so you should try to get caught up on it.
ÄsK AliCë said…
I have never seen Sunny and NOW I'll be trying to find it everywhere. I loved Seinfeld
Anonymous said…
Nothing gets old about Newman. It is still one of the great side characters on TV.

I may have to check this show out and see what's so great about it.
Claire said…
I haven't seen "It's Always Sunny", but I've seen every Seinfeld. I think that Seinfeld was revolutionary in that there was no attempt to make any of the characters "nice" or likable in any way. They were all likable, I think, but kind of in spite of themselves. I still love that show.
Anonymous said…
I fuckin love Always Sunny! best show on TV, and I love your comparison to Seinfeld. BRILLIANT!
SouthernBelle said…
Sunny wins hands down for me.

And so do you for this awesome blog post! you are now on my blogroll, you hilarious person!
Bar L. said…
Ok. I am going to watch this, you have me intrigued!
Holy crap this is six sides of brilliant. We may need to do a Sunny co-blog post together sometime.
JoeCommish said…
I can't put things on a "humor scale". I watched "Sunny" one time so far and I thought it was really funny. Something about the girl having a heart attack. Is it funnier than Seinfeld? A pie in the face? Someone falling off a bike? One of those horns that go
"AAAARRRROOOOOGGGGAAAAAHHHHHH!!!"? I just can't say, I'm FUNNY that way. If it makes me laugh, it's funny, that's all I know.
hinder34 said…
Excellent post about a great show. You can also download Seinfeld Episodes from here. This show was totally unique. Nothing has been done like it before, or since. While it was about nothing, it was really about everything--but the little things that no one thinks about, like giving your bank code to your fiancé. I also liked how this show was the last of the "non-fashion" shows.
Anonymous said…
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is Really entertaining Show.This Is My Favorite Comedy Show. I Really Love To Watch This Show.
Anonymous said…
Today I was searching some new episodes of The Office TV show. And I found this blog which is really interesting to read. Actually I am a huge fan of TV shows and both tv shows are my favorite. Thanks.