Certain aspects of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have become as predictable as the weather in the digital age: Mac (Rob McElhenney) always spends too much time talking about his body through thick and thin. Dee (Kaitlin Olson) always gets torn apart by her male co-stars in regards to her flip cup skills or bird-like features. Charlie (Charlie Day) always finds himself in cahoots with Frank (Danny DeVito) for some elaborate, nonsensical scheme. And Dennis (Glenn Howerton) is always there to make sense of all the madness and deliver the punchline.
In the first episode of the beloved sitcom’s 13th season, viewers are left to wonder: What is a joke without the punchline?
The final episode of Season 12 saw Dennis trading the bachelor lifestyle he enjoyed at Paddy’s Pub for a domestic life in North Dakota upon finding out he had a son. This new development in Dennis’s life coincided with Howerton’s decision to accept a starring role on NBC’s AP Bio.
The first episode of Season 13, which premiered on FXX on Sept. 5, attempts to fill a “Dennis-sized hole” with the comedic expertise of Mindy Kaling, who plays a consultant named Cindy with politically charged initiatives aimed at stimulating business in the ever-complacent Paddy’s Pub. “The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again” sees her plans constantly derailed by the gang’s preoccupation with Dennis’s temporary replacement: a strikingly realistic Dennis sex doll commissioned by Mac.
Dummy Dennis is dragged along with the gang for its business ventures and allows Dennis to deliver his quintessential snarky remarks from miles away—the sheer presence of the silent doll is enough to simulate Dennis’s snide comments, and although the gang doesn’t fill in the blanks, seasoned viewers can easily imagine Dennis insulting Dee’s appearance when she gets dolled up to seduce a bouncer or the relentless fat-shaming of Mac that would ensue despite the bartender’s shocking physical transformation.
Ingenious political commentaries have found their way into the outlandish humor of the show in the past, so fans might expect the gang to end up at a Trump rally or in some other outrageous setting based on the episode’s title. Cindy, however, introduces recycled digs to the bar: wine bottles labeled “liberal tears,” red hats donning the phrase “Make Paddy’s Great Again,” and eventually a plan to spread “fake news” about rival bar Murphy’s Pub. The use of tired political platitudes and constant reminders of Dennis create the illusion of an episode wasted, but provide a necessary build to the episode’s shocking twist end.
If viewers stopped watching before the last five minutes of the episode, they might make the assumption that Paddy’s could never be great in the post-Dennis era. The first episode of It’s Always Sunny Season 13 is hardly funny: All potentially humorous scenarios are left shaded by a Dennis-sized shadow. But after 12 successful seasons, viewers don’t come back just looking for comedy. The episode’s final scene reminds us that the bar doesn’t need gimmicks to be great—all Paddy’s Pub needs to shine is the original gang and its appalling antics.
Featured Image by FXX