rob mcelhenney, kylie shea it's always sunny in philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Blew Our Collective Minds With This Stunning Dance Sequence

IASIP's 13th season finale gives us one of the best television episodes of the year.

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I watch FX’s flagship comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia for a variety of reasons: blisteringly funny performances, irreverent takes on social issues, and the comedic chemistry of its tightly knit cast. I do not watch it expecting to be moved to tears by an emotional ballet sequence, but that’s exactly what the show accomplished in its 13th season finale.

The episode “Mac Finds His Pride” starts the way most IASIP episodes do: with a scheme destined to backfire. The gang at Paddy’s Pub books a float for the Philly pride parade, and they want their resident gay man, Mac (Rob McElhenney), dancing on said float. When Frank (Danny Devito) goes to rally Mac for the job, he finds him despondent. “I don’t know where I fit in as a gay man, and it’s starting to get to me. I’m not feeling very proud.”

In an attempt to help Mac find his tribe, Frank takes him to a BDSM orgy and a drag queen bar, neither of which Mac connects to. Throughout the episode, Frank repeatedly tells Mac that he just “doesn’t get” homosexuality, and exhibits gay panic over men hitting on him. This is nothing new coming from the gang’s oldest and most bigoted member, and his claims are made even more ridiculous by his repeated (and disgusting) attempts to staunch a nosebleed that causes his entire head to swell up.

Mac’s repressed homosexuality has been a recurring joke since the show’s beginning, but the joke is never about being gay, but about his harsh Catholic upbringing and his repeated attempts to repress his true nature. The gang knows Mac is gay long before he does, and when he finally, quietly comes out in season 11, in “The Gang Goes to Hell,” it’s met with little to no reaction from his friends.

Mac tries to explain his inner turmoil to Frank by saying, “There’s like this storm inside of me, and it’s been raging my whole life, and I’m down on my knees, and I’m looking for answers, and then God comes down to me and it’s a very hot chick and she pulls me up and we start dancing.”

While struggling to find a place in the queer community, Mac realizes that he needs to come out to his jailbird dad. He visits his father in prison, but in trying to explain his grand plans for a coming out interpretive dance, his father thinks that Mac has impregnated a woman, and he’s going to be a grandfather. Mac then struggles with going back into the closet in order to please his dad. Ultimately, Frank convinces Mac to stop repressing his true self and come out to his father, which Mac does with a dance performance at his dad’s prison.

IASIP has featured dance numbers before, usually to disastrous and hilarious effect, like in “The Nightman Cometh.”

This isn’t that.

McElhenney and dancer Kylie Shea perform a modern ballet dance number, on a flooded stage, to Sigur Rós’s “Varúð.” Suddenly, McElhenney’s recent body transformation makes sense: He’s gotten so ripped because he’s been training for this athletic dance sequence.

The sequence is shocking because it’s brilliantly performed. We’re so used to seeing the gang fail that this moment of artistic grace and pure emotion becomes the most unexpected thing the show has ever done. The scene is cinematically shot, as the prisoners and Frank watch Mac’s performance in awe. The dance ends with McElhenney collapsed in his partner’s arms, weeping. Frank, with tears in his eyes, says, “Oh my God, I get it. I get it.”

McElhenney said of the episode, “We got a really overwhelming emotional response from the LGBTQ community last year. I took it seriously, and I felt it would be completely unexpected to have this much more emotionally resonant end to the season. You would expect that Mac would express himself through the art of contemporary dance and it go horribly wrong, until you realize that’s not the direction we’re taking.”

McElhenney trained for seven months to film the scene, and the work pays off. The sequence is bruising, emotional, and a daring departure from what IASIP normally does, giving us one of the best moments on television in 2018.

(via Vulture, image: FXX)

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Image of Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.