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It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia finally returned to the airwaves after nearly a full year and a half of hiatus with an episode that many expected to kick off an era of minimal Dennis. The show was making headlines throughout hiatus all about actor Glenn Howerton focusing on his NBC comedy A.P. Bio and appearing on Always Sunny in a reduced capacity. A big question was how the Season 13 premiere would launch the season that would feature a lot less Dennis, and we finally have our answer: Always Sunny simply won't feature a lot less Dennis. There's still going to be plenty of him.
The episode's first version of Dennis wasn't actually played by an active Glenn Howerton, although it certainly looked a lot like him. Mac, desperately missing Dennis, ordered a custom Dennis sex doll with a gaping mouth... as one does. Naturally, the rest of the gang mocked him for the sex doll (and refused to acknowledge his newly-ripped body), but they soon began to hear the doll speak to them as Dennis would have, undermining new employee Cindy (Mindy Kaling) from turning things around at Paddy's. Cindy finally took a stand against the gang not throwing away the sex doll, at which point the real Dennis popped up, scaring the hell out of them and prompting Frank to draw his gun and fire off a couple wild shots... as he does.
After commenting on the creepiness of the sex doll, Dennis had this to say:
Well, anyway, I'm back. The real me. Let's not make a whole thing of it.
He did go on to clarify that he's back "for now," but all signs point toward plenty of Dennis is the thirteenth season. Either Always Sunny pulled off an epic prank for more than a year to convince fans that Glenn Howerton would have a relatively minor presence on the show in comparison to the previous twelve seasons or behind-the-scenes developments proved that Howerton would have more time for Always Sunny than he originally expected.
Personally, I'm a fan of the idea that the Always Sunny cast has spent 18 months deliberately underselling how much Glenn Howerton would appear in Season 13 just to pull one over on viewers. It would make for an epic twist that not all shows can pull off, especially now that we're in an era of social media and spoilers. Not a lot of shows in the fall TV lineup have premiered yet, and Always Sunny set a standard for starting off with a twist.
That said, fans who have been paying attention to some of the most eyebrow-raising comments about Glenn Howerton on Always Sunny Season 13 probably didn't have their minds altogether blown. Although FXX's description of Season 13 stated that Dennis would be raising his kid in a completely different state than Pennsylvania, we've known as far back as April (courtesy of Kaitlin Olson) that Howerton would appear in "some episodes." Charlie Day said that he "personally would not want to do the show" without Dennis around and Howerton still wanted to do the show.
The kicker came in August when Rob McElhenney revealed at the TCA summer press tour (via Variety) that Glenn Howerton would be in "pretty much every episode," with Charlie Day throwing in that he would be "in the majority of them." That news may not have made the rounds as much as the initial news of less Glenn Howerton, and the manner of Dennis' appearance in the Season 13 premiere undoubtedly took many viewers by surprise.
Always Sunny is off to a strong start now that it's proven that it can still pull off twists after more than a decade on the air. For new episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, tune in to FXX on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET.