Through five episodes, everything has been on the up and up with the Sunny gang this season. A massive step up from disappointment of season 11, this year has already brought us two all timers and three episodes that all have incredible moments in their own right (See Part 1 for episodes 1-5).
But enough of my yappin, let’s see what the rest of the season has in store for us *Spoilers Ahead*:
“Hero or Hate Crime?”
Character development is something It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has tended to avoid for much of the show’s run. That the characters live in a state of arrested development is a huge aspect of the show’s watchability – The Gang’s static tendency providing the backbone to the show’s standalone episodic nature. Every now and then, however, we are treated to an episode that fleshes out something new about one, two, or all of The Gang, the biggest of which might be Mac’s potentially permanent outing in “Hero or Hate Crime?”
After a Rube Goldberg-ian series of events leads to Charlie saving Mac’s life from a falling piano, The Gang enters arbitration to determine who should be the rightful owner of the lottery ticket Mac was picking up at the time of the incident. See, Dee was the one who purchased the ticket, but she used Dennis’s money to pay for it. Frank, whose use of a gay slur caught Mac’s attention before the piano fell on him, believes he should get the ticket. Charlie, after hearing the slur, kicked Mac out of the way, thus saving his life and having his own claim on the ticket. Three separate arbitrators are sought to determine the owner of the ticket, which leads Mac to confront his most repressed feelings.
Mac’s sexuality has been one of the show’s longest running jokes, and while “The Gang Goes to Hell” was the first moment where he decided to accept this, the episode pulls its punch and returned him to his repressed nature. Here, however, Mac leaves the arbitration hearing, and thus the episode, as an openly gay man for the first time (“I think I’m out now. Yeah, I’m gay. Actually… it feels pretty good. See you guys.”). I was genuinely shocked that the show didn’t immediately reverse this decision, and as you’ll read below, the show maintaining this character change is even more surprising. I’m excited for Gay Mac, and I hope he’s here to stay.
Best Gag: A toss up between Mac’s exercise bike (the “Asspounder 4000” which features a spring-loaded, fist-topped dildo that shoots out of the bicycle seat) and Charlie’s logic behind intentionally stepping in dog poop to cover the smell of his cigarette smoking with Dee (“I was trying to cover up the smell of the skunk I let spray me, so that there would be no questions”).
Verdict: Great Episode
This is a much more traditional episode of the show, in which the focus is almost exclusively on the gang’s self-delusions and their ability to completely ruin someone else’s life. Here, Dee, after a one night stand with a male stripper causes him to realize he’s hit “rock bottom”, tries to instead prove that she’s his “rock” and the best thing that ever happened to him. Dennis, the five-star man that he believes he is, decides to become a male stripper himself with Charlie as “his boy.” Meanwhile, Frank and Mac play a Call of Duty-type virtual reality game that causes Mac to suffer mentally.
This is probably the weakest of the ten episodes this season, with the three plots failing to really coalesce into anything more than separate, moderately funny gags. The video game plotline goes essentially nowhere, and Dennis and Charlie’s stripping act fails to deliver anything close to the comedic levels of, say, the dance sequence in “The High School Reunion Part 2: The Gang’s Revenge.” The main plotline with Dee and her stripper beau is where the episode provides the vile, yet hilarious, catharsis, with Dee executing a sick and twisted plan to prove she isn’t really “rock bottom.”
Best Gag: probably a tie between Mac’s blissful reaction to the male stripper grinding on him and The Gang only knowing Channing Tatum as “GI Joe”.
Verdict: Middle of the Pack
“The Gang Tends Bar”
Sweet is rarely an adjective that gets used to describe The Gang from IASIP, and for good reason; these are five of the worst people in Philadelphia, and thus, the world. Every once in awhile, however, an episode shows us a side of The Gang that we aren’t often treated to – their genuine caring for each other. Last season’s “The Gang Goes to Hell” second episode had a moment like this, with the gang holding hands in union before potentially drowning to death (only to fight each other to be the first ones to be saved when salvation becomes a possibility).
“The Gang Tends Bar” provides even more emotional moments of bizarre kindness and tenderness in a way only IASIP can. After Paddy’s Pub gets overrun with customers for the first time in recent years on Valentine’s Day, Dennis pleads with the rest of the gang to help him run the bar. The Gang, however, wants nothing to do with this “beer for money scam”, and instead wants to investigate a crate in the back alley or hang out with Rickety Cricket in the bathroom while he smokes PCP. In the midst of all this, Dee is frustrated with Charlie for not showing any reaction or gratitude for the valentine she got him, and Charlie is fighting with Frank because Frank has been paying more attention to Jerry (the tapeworm he’s been infected with) than to him.
It isn’t until the end of the episode when everyone’s true, but dysfunctional, feelings are revealed. Charlie sings Dee a heartfelt love song despite his inability to rhyme even the simplest of words, and Frank gives himself a tapeworm in order to lose weight because he thought Charlie didn’t love him anymore (“you were fat as shit pal, but I loved you that way, Frank.”). It also turns out that the mystery crate in the alley is actually a gift for Dennis from Mac, who got him the one thing he’d always wanted.
Best Gag: this episode was rife with great jokes, from the “Yuck Puddle” to Charlie’s illiterate poetry (“You’re the sugar on the pound… carrot.”) to Mac’s delusion that he had “no outward signs of being gay, and that’s just the end of the story” before he came out, this episode was a riot.
Character Development Alert!: Dennis actually has feelings (“It’s because you assholes never got me anything. And I have feelings. Of course I have feelings. I have big feelings, okay?”)! And Mac is still out of the closet! Turns out Season 12 is showing that things can change, but still remain painfully the same.
Verdict: All-time great episode
“A Cricket’s Tale”
The past three season have provided multiple episodes that focus on a single character and what makes them tick (“The Gang Broke Dee”, “Mac Day”, “Charlie Work”, “Being Frank”). These episodes have been truly hit or miss, they’ve all focused on a member of The Gang, but have increasingly pushed the rest of The Gang to the sidelines. Insert “A Cricket’s Tale”, an entire episode devoted to Mathew Mara, aka Rickety Cricket, that centralizes the story on a tale of piss-stained redemption and pushes The Gang so far to the periphery that their rare appearances make this feel more like a backdoor pilot than an actual episode of IASIP.
After a chance encounter with his elderly, retiring father in a back alley (“gotta pay to spray”), Cricket is offered a chance to help run his family business and get off the streets. Throwing away his PCP in the Paddy’s restroom, he begins working at the Mara business and begins a rivalry with his brother Davy (played by A Christmas Story’s Scut Farkus himself, Zack Ward) and a budding relationship with Belle, a girl he meets on the loading dock. Intertwining with the plots of “PTSDee” and “The Gang Tends Bar”, Cricket eventually goes on a date with Belle and nearly saves his family’s company’s largest client.
I say “nearly” because the whole proceedings turn out to be a PCP addled dream and for Belle to be his father’s Golden Retriever. See, in reality, the PCP hits the edge of the garbage can in the Paddy’s restroom, and Matthew Mara never ceases to be Rickety Cricket. Cricket has often been described as The Gang’s “Portrait of Dorian Gray”, as every one of their schemes never physically affects them, but Cricket has never looked as far from Father Mara as he does today. It’s one of the meanest running jokes on the show, but nobody flips tragedy into comedy quite like the Sunny team.
Best Gag: The Disney references, by far. From a Beauty and the Beast dance scene between Cricket and Belle, to the spaghetti eating Lady and the Tramp bit, to Cricket’s Aladdin-like stealing a loaf of bread and parkour-ing (perfectly choreographed and performed by David Hornsby’s stunt coordinator/double) his way through the city of Philly, this episode was loaded with great Disney riffs. It even capped the opening bread chase with a shout of “street rat” to hammer the whole thing home.
Verdict: Good Episode
“Dennis’ Double Life”
Sunny has a long tradition of exceptional season finales. Even in weak years, the show always comes through at the end, including last season’s “The Gang Goes to Hell: Part 2”. It’s rare, however, for the show to end on any sort of cliffhanger or note of change, as The Gang almost always eschews development and long term arcs for their comfort zone of debauchery in Paddy’s Pub . “Dennis’ Double Life”, for the first time in the shows history, leaves the entire show in flux and the effects of this episode will likely be felt for the rest of the show’s run.
Dennis, having fathered a child with a woman in North Dakota after getting off the plane early in “The Gang Beats Boggs”, is forced to try and get out of this situation to try and prevent his baby momma from trying to get child support. As expected, this leads to a number of failed scenarios, including pretending to be Mac’s gay, but non-sexual, lover, having Frank try an Indecent Proposal scheme, as well as faking his own death. Meanwhile, Charlie decides that getting The Waitress knocked up is the perfect way to win her over. Dee, sidelined for much of the episode by The Gang for getting “too emotional” (which consists of each male member of the gang having an emotional breakdown and Dee trying to just get a word in), just wants her apartment to herself for the first time all season, only to have the rest of The Gang use it as their hideout from their troubles.
So, while this seems like a pretty bog standard setup for a Sunny episode, it takes a shocking turn towards the end that leaves the entire show on an unprecedented cliffhanger, particularly for Charlie and Dennis. See, Charlie actually begins a consensual relationship with The Waitress, the woman he’s been stalking for fifteen years, for the first time, and she is entirely game for having a baby with him. As for Dennis, as we learned in “The Gang Tends Bar”, he has really big feelings that appear to have been triggered by Brian jr. (his alias in North Dakota was Philadelphia-based pilot Brian LeFevre, a nugget from “Frank’s Back in Business”), causing him to leave Paddy’s to become a dad.
So what does this mean? Is Dennis gone from the show and moving to North Dakota? What is Charlie going to do now that he has The Waitress for a roommate? How is Mac going to handle Dennis’s departure given his repressed feelings for him? Will they find some way to retcon all of this in season 13? Who knows, but I’m excited to see how The Gang handles all of the huge changes we’ve seen this year.
Best Gag: Dennis attempting to fake his death and having A) his blood pack go off too early, B) the gunshot go off too late, C) nobody in The Gang remembers what name to call him, and D) everyone’s incredible bad acting made for an incredible scene that poor Mandy, Brian Jr’s mom, has to witness in disbelief.
Verdict: Great Episode that could very well be an All-Timer.
So there you have it, a pretty fantastic season overall and one of the best in years. Everything we got was, at the very least, pretty solid and we got treated to at least 3 episodes that will go down as some of the best the show has to offer, as well as multiple potential character changes that will reverberate throughout the rest of the series. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues to be one of the best comedies on TV, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next year, especially now that everything seems to have been turned on its head in a way that hasn’t happened since the introduction of Frank in season 2.