It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: can The Gang survive without Dennis?

The most sociopathic member is ominously absent from the new trailer

Earlier this week, the first trailer for It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s 13th Season was released – and it was disturbing. In one scene, Frank is trying to superglue is face back together. Another sees Mac lift Dee in the air by the crotch at a sexual harassment workshop. Same old, really.

Visceral, horrifying gags are what fans flock to Paddy’s Pub to, but there was a rather noticeable, er, hole left in that trailer – Dennis. Sure, we see Mac’s new sex-doll version of the dastardly Reynolds brother, but Glenn Howerton – the actor behind Dennis – was absent from the trailer, and by all accounts, looks set to sit out this entire series.

This wasn’t a huge shock, but remains particularly jarring when it’s presented to fans. Ever since the closure of Season 12, the Dennis/Glenn Howerton saga has continued to escalate. In the final episode of Season 12, Dennis learns that he has a secret love child, conceived during the ill-advised stopover in North Dakota when the gang try ties to beat Wade Boggs’ plane-drinking antics – and leaves the gang to go raise his kid.

Since, Howerton has been cagey about his involvement with the new series. Having seemingly left to take the lead in new TV comedy, AP Bio, he said that it was “partially a creative and personal decision” to take time away. In March 2017, he suggested that an “extended hiatus” was necessary to facilitate these projects; as a result, this series was delayed by a year. Last month, however, Rob McElhenney (Mac) said that Dennis would appear “in pretty much every episode”, though its entirely likely he could be referring to the creepy, albeit impressive, sex doll version. Maybe, its all a bit of misdirection.

Either way, a Dennis-less season is very much a real possibility and precautions seem to have been made. Mindy Kaling, star of The Mindy Project and The Office has been drafted in to play a new role, and maybe bring a bit of star power to this once-cult comedy. In the trailer, little is revealed of what kind of character she will play: her only line asking why on earth Mac has got the sex doll made of Dennis. A valid question, sure.

Depending how Kaling’s character fits in is less the concern, more can the group still function still survive without Dennis? The older Reynolds brother was/is the most deranged of the group. Not just in the physical sense, but in the sociopathic bullshit that’s become his calling card. Like in The DENNIS System, a cruel emotional framework he constructs to attract women, or the allegations that he is, in fact, a serial killer. In a gang of complete dickheads, Dennis is the biggest. And he’d probably be glad to hear that.

But his wiliness is key to the group’s dynamic, so if indeed he is absent from Season 13, how will the show fare without? It might be totally fine. As the show has progressed over a decade, it’s made strides to make episodes less about the characters, and more the concepts. Take Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy based around Charlie and Mac’s mothers, which sees the gang take a back seat to the bizarreness of the episode. Chardee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo, Charlie Work and The Gang Goes On Family Fight are excelled by individual gags, but remain hilarious purely for the situation. And we’re pretty sure that Frank (Danny DeVito) could up the grossness, should he really have to.

Season 13 has the chance to exploit those moments, but also explore some of the changes in the other characters’ lives. Like Mac’s sexual awakening, Charlie’s apparent broodiness and Frank trying to throw the ultimate party for the Philadelphia Eagles’ real-life Super Bowl win. All while having the opportunity to integrate Kaling’s character into The Gang – the first time they’ve tried to adjust the dynamic since Frank bowled his way in – there’s no lack of content. And that went alright, didn’t it?

In all honesty, it’s tricky speculating without having seen a jot of Season 13 outside of a 60-second teaser. The Gang could just be having us on, or indeed it could be the splintering of a formidable comedy troupe. Either way, we’re just glad to have the degenerate reprobates back, even if it’s not the full house.