Would you believe it, fellow geeks, but here it is, a new year, the end of the United States of America, and the newest season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia? It’s a good start to the year, and let’s hope that this momentum can keep up (although, given certain other factors…) But that’s another story for another column!
Here we are, two episodes into the newest season, and Twelve seasons. That’s what we’re up to with Rob McElhenny’s brainchild show about five deadbeat sociopathic friends “running” a bar in Philadelphia, while continually coming up with multiple schemes–some for profit, some for challenge, some for the sheer thrill of “getting off”. Usually television shows tend to peak around their midway point (hell, even Sunny seemed sluggish and lacking energy in its tenth season, before rebounding spectacularly for its eleventh).
The premiere–appropriately, and tellingly enough, titled “The Gang Turns Black”–finds the gang reunited with Old Black Man from “Dennis And Mac Move To The Suburbs” (which happens to be one of my favorite episodes ever), imagining themselves as African Americans after being shocked by an electric blanket while watching “The Wiz”. They then wander around the city, trying to figure out a way to get back into their original bodies.
Oh, they also sing. A lot. The entire episode is fashioned after musicals (“The Wiz” is the most obvious reference, but also, apparently, the episode riffs off Hamilton as well. And before you ask, with my being in New York and all…no, I haven’t seen it. Tickets have been sold out for a decade, and it’s only been out about two years, so stop asking). Scott Bakula also makes an appearance, as Dee believes they need to figure out a way to “leap” back into their original bodies; Bakula plays himself, as an aging janitor. It’s the little touches like that, like how celebrities will completely demean themselves or play against type, that leaves me loving this show even after some of its lesser episodes.
This week’s episode, “The Gang Goes To A Water Park”, proved to be more in their usual, “classic” approach. The title says it all, but here the gang splits off, each with their own agenda and ulterior motives. Frank and Charlie split off to get on all the water rides, but zero in on a golden opportunity when they realize sick kids can cut to the head of the line; Frank exploits this by telling everyone he has AIDs (“Not the gay AIDs, but the good AIDS. I mean, not that there’s GOOD AIDs, but the vagina kind. Penis-in-vagina kind of AIDs.”)
Dee and Mac, meanwhile, spend the entire episode trapped inside a water slide designed for prepubescents, summarily getting more and more frustrated as more kids get piled in behind them, and Dee getting horribly sunburned and peed on. And finally, Denis schemes on his own, pretending to have a child so he can creep in on bored mothers; however, he meets his match in a precocious young girl who has schemes of her own, and he sets about to groom her in the fine art of sociopathy (and it IS an art, people! Why, it could even lead you to the White House one day!) Of the two, this is the more conventional, and finds the gang at their perverse best.
The fact that we are now on season twelve is a miracle in and of itself, and the fact that the show still remains this wonderfully fresh is praiseworthy. The gang has their infectious energy and complete disdain for each other and everyone else, and that alone is something to celebrate. Whereas last seasons experimented wildly with form and style (hell, there was an entire episode from Frank’s POV, shot in the first-person), of this season’s two aired episodes, “The Gang Goes To The Water Park” seems to succeed more than the premiere–which, again, is very well done–since the cast can bounce off each other more naturally.
The chemistry of the cast works best when there is no conceit to follow, when there’s no era or style to emulate, and when one can’t “feel” the script. Hopefully this season follows in the same vein of the last: a few experimental episodes are welcome, but let’s just keep the gang doing what they do so well.
3/5 AIDs Bood in the Pool.