'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' returns: 6 things we learned from visiting the Philly set

The 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' crew shot the 12th season premiere, called 'The Gang Turns Black," on Market Street in July.

Wednesday's episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia isn't just it's 12th season premiere — it's also the first episode the FXX show shot in Philadelphia in two years. We told you about our visit to its Market Street set back in July but were generally sworn to secrecy about plot points.

But now that the show premieres at 10 p.m. Wednesday, we’ll let slip a few more details about what we saw this summer.

1. Wednesday's episode could be a controversial one

The season premiere, “The Gang Turns Black,” is a racially charged body-swapping musical. The Gang “turns black” after being shocked by an electric blanket, and they have to “learn the rules” of their new identities. That’s a lot for one episode, but It’s Always Sunny has played with racial taboos before: characters have gone in blackface; the very first episode of the series was called “The Gang Gets Racist.”

The idea for this episode came about when cocreators Rob McElhenney (the St. Joe’s Prep grad who plays Mac) and Charlie Day (who plays Charlie) were joking about body-swapping movies, and wanted to do their own version of the genre through the lens of the gang as African Americans in Philadelphia.

Even Glenn Howerton, cocreator of the show, who also plays cocksure Dennis, was skeptical. “You want to make an episode where we turn into black people? I know we’ve done some crazy s—, but how are we going to make sense of that?” Howerton said when episode cowriters Day and McElhenney pitched him the idea. “But then we did figure out a way to justify even in the context of our crazy world.”

“Every time I get these scripts, I’m always excited to see the social commentary,” Kaitlin Olsen, who plays Dee Reynolds, said later. “They’re always about something."

Here’s the teaser for the episode: 

2. Charlie Day doesn't think It's Always Sunny is offensive

McElhenney and the rest of the writers’ barometer for how offensive an episode can be is a gut feeling. “I think it’s when the joke is on somebody else, and not on us, on our characters,” is when they go too far, McElhenney said.

“I would argue we haven’t done a single offensive thing in the history of the show,” Day said. “I think anyone who is offended by it isn’t paying attention to what the show is. It surprises me how often our rep is that the show is potentially offensive. The commentary is on these bad characters.”

“The characters can be homophobic, misogynistic, racist, but the show can’t be those things,” McElhenney said. “There’s a very big difference and our fans understand that.”

“The world keeps giving us things to talk about,” Day said.

Camera icon patrick mCelhenney / FXX
AJ Hudson as Black Charlie, Farley Jackson as Black Frank, Leslie Miller as Black Dee, Anthony Hill as Black Mac in the 12th season premiere of 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.'

3. This season plays with time

It’s not surprising that It’s Always Sunny wants to shock its audience out of the gate. It’s been on for 12 seasons and it needs to say fresh. But Howerton says that doesn’t just come in the form of shocking plots, but in structure as well.

“There are some time shifts this season,” Howerton said. “There’s some stuff in this season we’ve never done before.” An example? One episode will focus on David Hornsby’s constantly battered down Rickety Cricket that the gang appears in, but tells the story of another episode from Cricket’s perspective.

“We’re trying to experiment, to try something new,” Howerton said. “We never want to break the format up so much that show changes; we just want to try new things. Keep it interesting for ourselves and never get to the point where people can predict what will happen."

4. Could this be another Dayman?

Day wrote all the music after the script wasn’t working as a straight story. “There’s something inherently more interesting about something being sung. It’s bizarrely something we get away with — I’m not sure why,” Day said.

5. Howerton is actually a little freaked out about filming on location in Philly

Howerton told us that while he wishes the show had more of the Philadelphia feel that comes with shooting on location, there are also drawbacks to filming outside of L.A., where he’s one of thousand actors just trying to do their jobs.

“It throws me a little bit. I get really intimidated by it. It’s almost because I know I’m a regular dude … it feels very strange to be treated like a big deal. I’m just a dude. I put too much pressure on myself to live up to people’s expectations,” Howerton said.

He added, “Here’s what I don’t like about getting recognized: I was in New York the other day and I was in an elevator, going up to this rooftop bar situation. I asked a guy a fairly benign question, like 'Is it raining up there?' and he was kind of an a— to me. I gave it back to him, but then he figured out who I was, and he was the nicest guy in the world.”

Olsen chimed in: “The moral of the story is that everyone should treat you badly, even if they know who you are.”

6. The hardest thing for the It’s Always Sunny crew to recreate while shooting in L.A.?

“There are no rowhomes,” Day said. “Not a lot of brick, on account of the earthquakes,” McElehnney added.

McElhenney then showed his true Philadelphia colors by stating that he believes Philadelphia is much more beautiful than Los Angeles. “Everything is green and old; the architecture is so rich. And the history!" McElhenney said of Philadelphia. "In L.A., everything is hot and dry.”

Bonus: Danny DeVito does not like to be interviewed.

DeVito sat down with us for about two minutes and immediately starting talking about how much he liked Bernie Sanders. Then, he was called back to the set. "I just got rescued!" he said with glee, escaping the rest of our questions.