There is nobody out there quite like Danny DeVito. The veteran character actor/producer/director has built a nearly-fifty year career on both the stage and the screen, both big and small. In that time, the performer has provided audiences with a wide array of distinguished characters — all of which are distinctive in style but singular to their performer. It is through Danny DeVito's beloved role as Frank Reynolds in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia the one-of-a-kind actor has produced one of his most memorable, enduring and culturally-beloved performances to date.
Ever since his introduction in Season 2, Danny DeVito has fit beautifully into the warped, absurd genius of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He was the final piece of the dark, morbid puzzle. More than that, however, the actor was the key component that brought the sitcom to excellence. He filled out the ensemble in such an odd, unexpected way, providing the final bit of bleak brilliance needed to make the show extraordinary. Now, during its long-running string of excellence, It's Always Sunny has continued to excel in a multitude of different ways. Still, Danny DeVito's turn as Frank is key.
In addition to the stellar work of the whole ensemble, who have grown even more comfortable and emboldened with each respective season, and the perpetually strong writing, which continues to challenge the originally basic concept of Always Sunny in strange, yet exciting, new ways with each new season on FXX, Danny DeVito's extraordinary, tour-de-force performance as the perverse-yet-hilarious Frank Reynolds is one of DeVito's most standout performances — if it isn't his most identifiable. Throughout close to 20 years of television, Frank Reynolds evolved into one of DeVito's most revered, quotable and beloved roles. It's frankly (no pun intended) a blatant oversight for the Emmys to ignore the exceptional, fearless work of this hit show.
If anyone from the Emmy voting poll is reading this article (and if so... hi, how are you doing?), here are some great episodes from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's incredible 144 episode (and counting!) run on television that highlight why Danny DeVito's adorably sick turn as Frank Reynolds should be put on your ballot for next year's Emmy consideration. Because, after all, Always Sunny would not be the same without these great TV moments.
Season 11, Episode 6: "Being Frank"
During Season 11, the producers behind It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia gave audiences an answer to a question they might not have asked, "What is it like to live in the mind of Frank Reynolds?" The resulting episode, "Being Frank," is an entirely POV-lensed day-in-the-life of the eccentric whack-a-mole of an individual, and one that constantly feeds the viewers with strange slices of infrequent narration from Danny DeVito himself in character as Frank Reynolds — a man who is always in a constant state of interchangeable elation, disorientation, disillusion and horniness. The result is one of the most surreal, experimental episodes of Always Sunny yet, and a risk that paid off enormously, thanks to great camerawork and DeVito's performance.
Our bald, rotund, visually-impaired, and absurdly perverted character is a man of many mysteries. Whether it comes to his fluctuating wealth, gross habits, odd demeanor, or sometimes presence in the lives of our other main characters — all of whom are at least half his age — it's never entirely clear what Frank Reynolds is up to, or what he might do next. Not even Frank himself appears to really understand his own day-to-day activities. Particularly as this episode suggests that he is practically senile, not even remembering Dennis or Mac's names, and facing death at least twice during the day's activities, including a health scare at the hospital that's ignored and ultimately left undisclosed.
The result is a borderline depressing episode that is ultimately made hilarious through Frank's roll-and-run lifestyle and Danny DeVito's wonderful delivery when it comes to Frank's twisted, constantly changing inner thoughts. Frank's lack of awareness of the world around him, mixed with his run-ins with a variety of oddball characters who are arguably more messed-up than he is, results in a Hardcore Henry-esque bit of hopping around from location to location, constantly trying to get a handle on what's happening — while also looking out for his own best (and worst) interests.
The style of the episode is such a swift departure from what audience members would expect from any episode of television — let alone the latest episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia — and the shaky-cam, point-of-view perspective of the show might give a few queasy viewers motion sickness. That's not even taking into account the gross stuff that happens throughout the episode. Yet, through great direction, strong writing and, of course, the excellent, (mostly) voice-only performance from Danny DeVito at the core of this episode, the result is one of Always Sunny's best eps.
Season 6, Episode 13: "A Very Sunny Christmas"
If there's one moment of Always Sunny that people reference more than any other, it's the scene where Danny DeVito — naked to the world — worms his ways out of a couch during a Christmas party, as though he were birthed into the world for a second time, covered with sweat all over his body. It is such a bold, distinctive image, and one that you will never shake out of your head after you see it. No matter how hard you try. It, of course, wouldn't happen if it weren't for DeVito's unparalleled commitment to the bizarre antics of this cable television series.
The episode is notable for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it's twice the length of a normal episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It includes the iconic scene where Charlie attacks Santa Claus at the mall and a crude, yet lovely, stop-motion animation sequence featuring our main characters. But what really makes it click together is Danny DeVito's absurd dedication to this series, and how he is always willing to do what's expected of him for a laugh.
It's pretty well-known by now that Danny DeVito will do basically anything on the show. He rarely — if ever — says "no" to anything, even when the antics of the show continuously get increasingly absurd and extreme. It's that commitment to the bit which has allowed the team of writers to push themselves even harder with each season, putting our odd array of characters into even more demented experiences as the show continues forward.
It's getting to the point where I'm worried that Danny DeVito is going to get hurt doing something stupidly brilliant for the show. Still, it's thanks to episodes like this one that we have the opposite comfort of knowing that Always Sunny will probably always have something crazy up its sleeve — assuming, of course, that Danny DeVito continues to make himself a presence on the show. Though it's hard to know how he'll ever top this moment.
Season 9, Episode 7: "The Gang Gets Quarantined"
Danny DeVito is a madman. I believe that's fair to say; however, while we've seen several episodes of Frank Reynolds doing wild and bombastic activities, we have only seen one episode where our round little weirdo of a character has truly gone insane in the membrane. That episode is, of course, "The Gang Gets Quarantined." In it, the the gang finds themselves trapped in their own pub. Fearing for their own preservation and safety, Frank Reynolds really takes the whole thing to his head, and the character resorts to a few drastic measures — as you would expect with a character like Frank going nuts.
With Frank Reynolds shaving off all the hair on his body and soaking himself in vaseline during the course of the episode, Frank Reynolds is truly pushed to the brink of madness, and we're left to watch with glee and terror as he puts himself through trials of lunacy in order to keep himself from the dangers he perceives to be around him. Clearly, though, the whole thing's in his head.
As a result, as we're watching a hairless Frank Reynolds/Danny DeVito in an adult diaper, swimming on a disgusting floor in a pool of sanitizer, hoping that he can wash the demons away, we're given yet enough glimpse into the insane dedication that Danny DeVito provides for this nutso of a character.
One can't think of many other actors who would so willfully do even half the things Danny DeVito does for this part. Yet, DeVito does them all not only with his own brand of absurd, deranged wit, but with a flawless delivery and fearless execution that shows Mr. DeVito is truly a one-of-a-kind actor who is always willing to give his all, no matter what strange, demented ideas are soon at play. Whether or not he'll be pure, however, is left for debate.
Season 8, Episode 5: "The Gang Gets Analyzed"
Frank Reynolds is a bullish, outlandish character, and we rarely ever get to see his vulnerable side. Though he is clearly a man tortured with guilt, regret and a treasure trove of bad decisions in life (because nobody's life is going well if they've ended up at Paddy's Pub), he has an exceptional cockiness that tries to mask the pain and disappointment that can harvest himself him. But that changed during Season 8 with "The Gang Gets Analyzed."
After showing great reluctance and disgruntlement at the notion of therapy and psychoanalyzing, Frank Reynolds expectedly winds up revisiting tortured memories and haunted recollections when he's put in the hot seat, asked directly about the endurances and failures that have painted his life. In this episode, Frank finally puts his guard down, revealing his pains, his heartbreaks, his embarrassments and his insecurities in a stunning display.
This whole exchange is, of course, darkly hilarious. It wouldn't be Always Sunny if it weren't blistering hilarious. But it takes a truly great actor to sell the lines he's given in such a wretched, guilted manner. The show wouldn't be nearly what it is today without the fine — and often underrated — acting of its central cast, and Danny Devito, in particular, really sells the funny and the tragic of Frank Reynolds' whole demeanor in this inner-exploring episode.
While Danny DeVito is always good for a quick laugh with a dirty line or a wayward, off-color retort to spice up the show's antics, it's clear that the character works because of the efforts provided by Danny DeVito to flesh him out and turn his sick mind into something that's bordering on realistic. For as wild and demented as Frank can be as a character throughout the series, it's often a credit to Danny DeVito that the human is still seen inside.
Season 13, Episode 10: "Mac Finds His Pride"
The most recent episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia was a major turning point for the long-running series. After season upon season of character development, Mac (played by Rob McElhenney) was finally trying to find the strength to come out as a gay man to his imprisoned father. With the gang trying to capitalize on Mac's recent acknowledgement of his homosexuality for the city's annual pride parade, hoping to exploit him for their own personal and financial gain in true Always Sunny fashion, Frank is the man who is left to help Mac find his pride, but that's not an easy task.
As Frank takes Mac throughout various locations in the city that he believes will help a tortured Mac find his pride, something that Frank, in his blunt and old-fashioned ignorance admittedly does not understand, Mac makes it clear that he's wrestling with two sides of himself that are constantly at war: his life-long Catholicism and his persistent desire to be accepted and loved as a gay man. As Frank admits, the religion really fucked Mac up, big time.
Yet, that doesn't deter Mac or Frank from going to Mac's jailed father, another old-fashioned and hard-nosed individual who has rarely found love for his son, in order to let Mac reveal his true self to his patriarch. The first attempt fails, and Mac is left even more loss, confused and distraught as ever.
Ultimately, it's through Frank's confidence and unorthodox words of encouragement that Mac finds the inner strength to perform an elaborate, vulnerable, climatic and deeply personal choreographed dance number in front of his father and his fellow inmates, in a six-minute sequence that is undeniably one of the most beautiful, daring and cinematic sequences ever made for the series. There are no jokes, and there are no attempts to undermine the importance of this scene for one of our leads. There's no moment where the other shoe drops. It's all played straight. No pun intended.
It's a scene that truly needs to be seen to be believed. It's also one that will undeniably become one of the most essential sequences in this series.
While this scene is ultimately Mac's moment to shine, it's through Danny DeVito's surprisingly tender performance as Frank Reynolds in this scene that the message and the impact of the moment is felt so deeply. Through DeVito's eyes, we're laid witness to this extravagant moment of bravado and shocking revelation. The impeccably choreographed, wonderfully filmed and incredibly acting scene is made all the more sweeter and moving once we finally get to Frank's reaction, where it's revealed that this once-bigoted, ignorant man finally gets it, and he's moved to tears by this reveal of Mac's inner struggle and life-long desire to cast away his inner demons and be loved by God and his father for who he really is: a gay man.
In that moment, it's revealed that Frank Reynolds is Mac's true father figure, and while he wasn't able to find acceptance from his real incarcerated father, he finally earned the unadulterated love and respect of this father, and the older man who has always been there — even through doubts and reservations — in his adult life. While both actors are phenomenal in here, it does truly confirm that Danny DeVito's work on this show in unparalleled.
"Can I Offer You A Nice Emmy In This Trying Time?"
There are several other episodes in the series that can be used as celebration of Danny DeVito's strange, absurd, yet weirdly beautiful devotion to this equally strange, absurd and yet weirdly, beautifully devoted show. There's "The Gang Goes To The Jersey Shore" (Rum Ham!). There's 'Frank's Little Beauties." There's "The Gang Gives Frank An Intervention." There's "Charlie Work." There's "Dee Makes A Smut Film," which features Frank's delightful art collector caricature. And that's only naming a handful of literally a hundred-plus episodes one can choose from this long-running series.
Throughout the series, Danny DeVito has committed himself time-and-time again to the perverse role of Frank Reynolds. In fact, I feel like, similar to Robert Downey Jr's recently-concluded turn as Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that Danny DeVito has been playing this part for so long that there's a part of his real-life public persona who has basically become Frank Reynolds, if obviously to a much lesser extent, which might make people overlook just how good he has been throughout this series, as well as throughout his varied and very accomplished career.
While everyone plays to each other's strengths in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it's apparent that Danny DeVito was the key to the show's prolonged success. Having been introduced into the fold after the executives at FX were worried about the show's sustainability, it was revealed that Danny DeVito was the unexpectedly perfect candidate for the job, the one A-list talent who could be completely dirty and weird and gross in all the right ways that fit this show. Without Danny DeVito's commendable ability to do whatever it takes for the role, the show wouldn't last nearly as long. More importantly, it wouldn't be nearly as good, nor as consistently funny, as we know the show to be today. Bless you, Danny DeVito, for everything.
That's why I feel that Danny DeVito is well overdue for his Emmy recognition. Even in today's competitive television climate, there are few performances that are quite as instantly iconic as the one Danny DeVito gives in Always Sunny. No matter if you're a casual fan of the show, someone who watches every episode on repeat or have only seen the show in passing, there's at least a single moment of this series that you will remember for the long run, and there's a good chance that it involves Danny DeVito. In this late-stage performance, Danny DeVito continues to impress and surprise.
That's why, especially in this trying time, I believe it is imperative that the Emmys do what's best and finally give Danny DeVito his due. He deserves it.
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
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