TV Review: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S9/E2)
So here we go! The inaugural review of a television episode on Graphic Policy, and I can’t explain how pleased I am that it’s a review for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
For over eight seasons now It’s Always Sunny has offered viewers television without a hint of soul, emotion, or kindness. It’s truly a unique series, assuming that if it makes its characters horrible enough, everything is funny. Crack is funny. Hunting the homeless is funny. Finding a dumpster baby is funny. And the show is right. Thanks to the strength of the actors, It’s Always Sunny can find the humor in any situation. Every once in a while, though, the series tries to have a point, and this is one of those episodes. The Gang has something to say about gun control.
There are essentially two storylines and one runner in this episode, and it’s hard to qualify which is the A story and which is the B (it’s also hard to qualify Frank’s interviews as a runner, because they’re the impetus for the entire episode). But that’s just an interesting bit of television manipulation, structurally speaking, so I’ll breeze right past and discuss each storyline individually.
We’ll call the Mac and Charlie storyline the A story because I like it more. After seeing Frank give an interview on the television about getting mugged, they decide their streets and schools aren’t safe, so of course they go and offer their services to the local middle school (but not before putting on an amazing denim ensemble which makes them look like something out of a vaguely homoerotic 1980s action movie). They sit with the principle and offer their protective services, but of course the conversation soon devolves into bickering about which is more effective in protecting a school: a gun or a sword. (This also leads to my favorite line of the episode. Mac says, “Guns do not belong in schools. That’s why I brought a saber.”)
The pair then spends part of the rest of the episode standing outside of school grounds hassling students they deem suspicious (“We’ve got a sassmouth. Red flag!”) and debating which would win, sword or gun. The comedic timing between Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney is pitch perfect, and the subject matter absolutely ridiculous, but what really put it over the top for me was the location. They bicker and argue and Charlie fires his unloaded gun at Mac, the clicks of an empty chamber echoing, and then the camera pulls back to reveal kids playing on the playground and a school bus by the curb. It just blew me away, and reminded me once again of the show’s central conceit: there people are horrible and ignorant, but in the best way possible.
The B story is all about Dennis and De trying to buy a weapon to prove to Mac and Charlie how easy procuring a firearm really is. They want to get guns off of the street, you see. What I love most about this storyline is how quickly and easily Dennis and Dee change sides of the argument. They begin their story trying to make a point about society at large, about how anyone can walk off the street and buy a gun at Gunther’s Guns (which Frank was pimping on tv). But when they’re denied at the gun shop and then price gouged at a gun show, they have a change of heart. Not, of course, because they realize that guns are hard to get, but because they can’t get one. Regardless of the fact that Dennis is a person of interest in several felonies and Dee spent some time in an institution after setting her college roommate on fire, they feel insulted. It’s hard to give these characters fatal flaws because the characters are so ridiculous and awful, but if I had to assign them, Dennis and Dee’s fatal flaw would be narcissism. Their moral outrage loses out to their inherent sense of rightness and superiority, which in turn leads them down a path of anger and screaming and into the open arms of a shady gun dealer who steals $1500 from Dennis, and never delivers the AR-15 he promised.
Then at the end of the episode we come back to Frank, who tells them that he made up his story because he has a stake in Gunther’s Guns and was looking to scare folks into buying firearms so that he could make some quick cash. His runner acts as a lynchpin to the story, but that’s essentially the only place in the episode where the stories intersect, which is a little frustrating. It’s a similar topic, but the characters essentially go their separate ways after the cold open. It’s Always Sunny is at its best when all five characters are together and screaming over top of each other. After eight seasons, each actor knows exactly when to let another have a little bit more control. Each actor knows when to pull back and let another go off the rails. I’d have liked to see a little more of that. Each story was interesting and funny, but it’s always better when Charlie, Mac, Dennis, Dee, and Frank get into trouble together.
So at the end of the day, this episode is less about gun control (although they do try to make some valid points: “Government of today has no right telling us how to live our lives because the government 200 years ago already did.”) and more about how each character, and his/her neuroses, react to the idea of gun control, which is always a more fertile idea. This is an excellent episode of television, and probably one of the better episodes that It’s Always Sunny has ever done.
-The fact that Frank eats a sandwich on live television during his interviews bookends the episode is amazing. As soon as I saw him casually pull out that sandwich for the first time I knew it was going to be a great episode.
-The end of Mac and Charlie’s story is that when they realize they can’t be on school grounds to defend it, they decide to arm the kids themselves. They organize the kids and give a speech about what they hope to do. At the end, Charlie just says “Let’s have a little fun.” Of course, we then get a title card that says “Five Minutes Later” and then a cut to Charlie and Mac running out of Paddy’s and barricading the door, scratches all over their faces. I almost wish that we didn’t have that title card, and we have Charlie saying “Let’s have a little fun” and then we smash cut to the pair of them barricading the door. Although that’s a little predictable, I love a good smash cut.
Writers: Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney Director: Todd Biermann
Overall Score: 9