After 13 seasons, a TV show can often get a little stale. But even as it treads familiar ground, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia has continued to evolve. Although the rest of the gang might have trouble with self-awareness, Rob McElhenney's character Mac came out recently. And while he struggles with his sexuality and what it might mean for him, his character is finally coming into his own. Nothing displays that more so than Mac's dance in the It's Always Sunny Season 13 finale. It was a rare profound moment for the show, as co-choreographer Leo Moctezuma explains to Bustle just before the season finale on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
Alison Faulk and Leo Moctezuma choreographed the dance and Bustle spoke to Moctezuma about the whole process. Moctezuma calls McElhenney an "amazing artist" and says how committed and involved the showrunner and actor was in every aspect — learning how to dance, casting his dance partner Kylie Shea (a "phenomenal, phenomenal all-around dancer," Moctezuma says), and giving feedback on the movement. Moctezuma also adds what a "dance fan" McElhenney became, excitedly watching videos of other dances, like from So You Think You Can Dance, for inspiration. "He was so specific on what he wanted," Moctezuma says. "He didn't want it to be funny. He wanted it to be real. And it's so unexpected for the show."
The choreographers worked with McElhenney two to three times a week for three to four months with the result being a sincere piece of art that conveys Mac's internal struggle. Not to mention a huge physical challenge for the actor. "There's a lot going on in the character's head and coming out to his dad. Just the push and pull of what someone who's coming out of the closet is going through, like 'Are they going to accept me?'" Moctezuma says. "The excitement, but then the being scared. The fun, but then the anger. There's so many different parts."
In "Mac Finds His Pride," Frank tries to get Mac to be confident in his sexuality so that he'll appear on Paddy's Pub's float in the Philly Pride parade. As always, Frank, Dee, and Charlie are coming from a selfish place in pushing Mac to come out to the entire city. They want a float in the parade, and they want it to attract an LGBTQ crowd to the pub.
The exhaustion of hiding your sexuality — it's tiresome, it's exhausting.
Mac's repressed sexuality has been a topic on It's Always Sunny for the duration of the series, often as a punchline. But when McElhenney's character officially came out to the gang last season, the tone started to change. That doesn't mean that all of a sudden Mac is totally ready to dance shirtless on the Paddy's Pride parade float — even if his character is now inexplicably, absurdly ripped. (Moctezuma notes that McElhenney "just looks like a Greek god in this episode.")
"I don't know where I fit in as a gay man and it's starting to get to me," an earnest Mac tells Frank. Danny DeVito's Frank thinks he's being supportive of Mac even as he continually tells him that he doesn't "get" his sexuality. Because (ignoring the fact that the Sunny gang doesn't have empathy for anyone) Frank, as a straight man, doesn't think he could — or should — ever comprehend what Mac is going through.
Frank then forces Mac to come out to his father Luther in prison. But Mac already has a plan of how he wants to tell his father, whom he has always desperately sought the approval of. "You don't know what's going on inside of me," Mac tells Frank. "The struggle to be who I am. I just want to show him, so that he can understand."
Mac has been planning to show his father how he feels during a visit to the prison, through a moving, rain-soaked dance. It demonstrates Mac's previously-described feelings of a storm raging inside of him as he searches for answers. A female angel (portrayed by professional dancer Shea) comes to him during the storm and helps him emerge as his true self.
Although McElhenney didn't need to do the dance all the way through for filming, Moctezuma says he suggested the actor try it — and that's when the piece became "magic." Moctezuma says how the effort to complete the physically-demanding choreography mirrored what Mac was going through emotionally. "The exhaustion of hiding your sexuality — it's tiresome, it's exhausting," Moctezuma says.
Midway through the dance, Mac stops dancing after his dad gets up and leaves. "He's doing this and then he looks up for his dad and his dad is gone," Moctezuma says. "We had the Kylie character be like, 'No you can do this. This is not for him anymore, this is for you. This is what you need to do for yourself.'"
Moctezuma calls the final lift where Mac holds Shea over his head, "The triumph, like, 'This is me.'" The result is something that Moctezuma believes will move the audience — especially as he saw firsthand how it emotionally impacted the people on set. "When they were shooting the other piece of the episode, the reaction shots, they had a big screen TV playing the dance. They shot [the actors] watching it for the first time, so all those reactions are real," Moctezuma says of the scene at the prison.
He and his fellow choreographer were also proud of the moment they created. "Alison and I know the routine, we know what's going to happen next. But every single time we had tears in our eyes," he says. The dance wasn't even initially set to be the final moment of Season 13, but McElhenney "texted us and told us that they decided to make that episode the season finale. We were in awe that the producers and everybody involved got touched that much that they were like, 'This needs to be the season finale.'"
Frank is also touched by Mac's dance and utters, "Oh my god, I get it" as the prisoners give Mac a standing ovation.
The cast of It's Always Sunny are allies of the LGBT community, as they have demonstrated by participating in pride parades over the years. But this is also very personal for McElhenney, who is married to costar Kaitlin Olson. As he told Decider during the Television Critics Association's 2018 summer tour, "I grew up in the LGBT community. I was raised by two women, and I have two brothers that are out."
"As much as I feel like I have a pretty good sense of what it's like to be in the community, I can't really know for sure and I don't know exactly what it's like to grow up like that," McElhenney added. Yet, through Mac's dance, he strives to give an example of what this experience is like for some people. And while people shouldn't need It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia to tell them that any form of bigotry or hate directed toward the LGBTQ community is unacceptable, the politically incorrect characters going this serious after 13 seasons proves that the world is still behind. If Frank and the Paddy's gang understands the importance of love and inclusivity, so should everyone.