LOS ANGELES – In an upcoming episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," the inseparable, insufferable gang who run Paddy's Tavern begin whining about how their bar has never won an award.
"We've alienated a lot of people," says one character in a rare moment of self-realization.
The episode is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that while the cable series kicks off its ninth season Wednesday, it's earned only one Emmy nomination — for stunt coordination.
"I didn't even realize when the nominations came out," said Kaitlin Olson, who, as the sweet, perpetually victimized Dee Reynolds, opens the season chain-smoking, guzzling whiskey and eating month-old cake she retrieved from the garbage. "I think a couple days later, I started seeing on Twitter what a shame it was that we weren't on there and I was like, 'Oh, right. It's a shame. Again.' "
It's easy to chalk up the yearly omission to the fact that "Sunny" may feature the most outrageous, offensive characters not living in a town called South Park. Over the course of nearly 100 episodes, the quintet has proved time and again that their individual self-interests trump family and friendship. They'll trample a sibling for the last cheesesteak sandwich.
Among their most serious transgressions: using an abortion rally to pick up women; exploiting a water stain resembling the Virgin Mary; kidnapping a critic who gave the bar a bad review; pretending to be disabled for the special treatment, and developing a craving for human meat.
But creator Rob McElhenney, who also writes and stars on the show, said he thinks that the continuing snubs have more to do with the fact that it took a while for the show to develop a significant audience, a task that was partly attained by enlisting Danny DeVito in the second season.
"By the time we became a little part of the national, at least, television consciousness, we were already in our fifth season, and by that point, any Emmy voter might be thinking, 'Well, that's not the new show. That's the old show,' " said McElhenney, who once put on 50 pounds just to create new story lines for his character, Mac. "Once you're in that category, it's really tough to push back in."
OK, but isn't it also possible that Hollywood isn't ready to throw a party for characters without a single moral gene in their bodies? The "Seinfeld" folks may not have been very likable, but at least they never ordered the Human Flesh burger at Monk's Diner.
Glenn Howerton, another cast member who also serves as a writer, said he thinks that the show's willingness to go to some dark places is part of its appeal. "These characters are representing some of the worst impulses that we all have," he said. "I think maybe that's why it works."
How long that formula will keep working is murky.
FX, which has just moved the series to its new sister station FXX, has renewed the series for 20 additional episodes, but network president John Landgraf sounded pessimistic when asked about the future beyond that, citing the show's escalating costs. While the series' grainy look may suggest that it's produced with pocket change, the truth is that ambitious story lines, pop-music soundtracks and DeVito's salary add up.
It's also possible that by the end of Season 10, the series will have run out of ideas. But don't bet on it, said Charlie Day, yet another of the show's writer/actors.
"We did an episode about guns in our very first season, so you think you can't do that again — except the world keeps having this hilariously insane conversation about it, so we're doing it again," Day said, referring to next week's episode, in which his character tries to land a job doing middle-school security. "We only do 10 episodes a season, so you really don't run the risk of burning out. We can come up with 10 good ideas."
And if none of those ideas leads to an invitation to TV's biggest night, well, that's just fine with DeVito, who already has an Emmy for his work on "Taxi."
"There's the traffic and then you've got to put on the suit," DeVito said. "It's really a pain."