While many It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans enjoy the show for its crude and inappropriate humour, very few actually know of the darker aspect.
It took me two years to finally piece it all together, and frankly (no pun intended), it ultimately brought me to tears. The main focus of this entire piece is on Charlie Kelly and his life.
Before you start saying “it’s just a TV show; no need to get analytical,” understand that this is not a crucial, need to know thing, but it helps you understand and sympathize with Charlie a bit more. Face it, Charlie is one of the most beloved characters of It’s Always Sunny, but behind that goofy smile and his crazy antics, there’s a past so dark, you may need a tissue–or two.
Charlie makes references, however small, throughout all eleven seasons that seem trivial and unimportant.
Things most people don’t pick up on, because unless we’re watching some sort of crime drama, no one really cares about a character’s background or life. Very rarely does any show, especially a crass comedy like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, open its audience up to the background of their characters, especially with a past like Charlie’s. So where do we start?
Charlie Kelly is uneducated, poor, and makes terrible life choices (like many, many people) but I feel they created his character so we could see the contrast between him and perhaps a child. Charlie is basically a man-child, and it shows frequently with his actions. While he strives to do his best and keep the gang on their feet, he fights his personal demons that not even the gang knows about.
He’s repressed memories of a childhood trauma that is vaguely mentioned throughout the seasons. The first, and blatantly obvious hint at childhood trauma is when he writes “The Nightman Cometh.”
“But the Nightman Cometh is funny.” Indeed it is, but once I am finished with this you will understand why this show is as funny as it is depressing. Charlie states that he wrote the play just to write a play, and in a way, I feel as if he still has these memories repressed, hence he writes a play. The Nightman Cometh is a metaphor for Charlie’s life, from the waitress to the “troll toll” which will come into play later.
While the gang jokes around about the Nightman/Boy “rape scene,” it is clear Charlie’s rage is much more than him being irritated with the gang. It may seem innocent, but I feel this is where he realizes his repressed memories and it begins to eat away at him.
In the episode “Sweet Dee Is Dating A Retarded Person,” Charlie is found in his apartment, high on paint fumes writing a song. It’s not obvious (until later) when he mentions handsome hands. We’re meant to think this is funny, but once I get more in depth, you’ll see why it’s tragic.
In a later season, Charlie is seen speaking with his mother. While he asks to stay with her, she mentions she had sublet his room to Uncle Jack. He explains to her after she says she needs money that she owns the apartment and doesn’t need it. She replies again with “I need money.” Seems innocent enough until Uncle Jack refers to the past and brings up wrestling to Charlie. He is overwhelmingly interested in sharing a room with Charlie, yet again.
“So, your point is?” Remember how uncle Jack is obsessed with hands, especially his own. Remember Charlie mentioning handsome hands in the original Dayman song? Remember the Troll Toll and how Frank conveniently mistakes “boys soul” with “boy’s hole”? Uncle Jack is the Nightman. Charlie’s mother is the troll. Charlie is that little boy who becomes the Dayman.
Uncle Jack paid Charlie’s mother to let him stay with her and Charlie when Charlie was a child. Charlie was molested for years by Uncle Jack, all while his mother knew and continued to accept money from Charlie’s “uncle.” My initial thought was that while Frank and Bonnie did have sex, I have an inkling Uncle Jack was Bonnie’s boyfriend at one time, and that he may be Charlie’s father. We are pointed in the direction of Frank being Charlie’s dad, but something tells me he isn’t.
Back to Charlie:
Charlie has been a victim of sexual abuse for many years as a child, and while his personality seems quirky and innocent enough, many of his issues stem from the prior abuse. He shows signs of an abuse victim (wanting to be accepted by his peers, drug abuse, self-destructive behaviour, being obsessive and clingy to others) but that isn’t where it ends.
Charlie’s obsession with the waitress may seem innocent, and I believe his intentions are innocent. However, because of his past abuse, he has this overwhelming love and attachment to a woman he will never have. Charlie wants to be loved. He wants approval and acceptance of those around him. He doesn’t care if the attention is bad or good; so long as someone notices him. Notice that while he does stalk the waitress, all of his intentions to love her are childish. He has no thoughts of explicit sex with her, which is shown in a later season when the gang gets caught up in a store robbery.
Charlie’s mind is like that of a child, as stated earlier. He has this deep yearning to be a child again since he was robbed of his childhood. We, as viewers, assume that Charlie is just dumb, when in fact, the child-like state he remains in is his way of coping from the trauma of the past, and that in itself is truly tragic. Victims of sexual assault, especially those who are assaulted as children, never really grow up. They like to, subconsciously, stay in that childish state to hang onto what was lost. This leads me more into believing that Charlie was in fact, sexually assaulted as a child.
While we continue to laugh at the quirky jokes, a part of anyone who reads this will sympathize more with Charlie than ever before. Charlie is by far, out of every person in the gang, the most innocent, and to be honest, when I made my initial discovery and put the pieces together, it brought me to tears.
Please remember that while the show itself is hilarious, sexual assault is more common than anyone would like to admit, and it has adverse effects on the victims.
Stay sunny, turkeys.
Season 12 will be airing January 2017 on FX.