For a show that is known for being, at its worst, tone deaf, the season 14 premiere of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia contains pitch perfect moments of self-awareness. The episode follows Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Dennis (Glenn Howerton) as they attempt to orchestrate “meet-cutes” with people who rent out a room in their apartment through Airbnb. Mac’s complete investment in helping Dennis seduce women is both endearing and unexplained. His devotion to the basically nonexistent romantic nature of their plot makes Mac a more likeable character and almost has the viewer wishing the plan would work. As soon as you feel yourself adopting Mac’s rose-colored vision of his fake meet-cutes, Dennis slithers into the scene with all of his trademark sleaze.
Mac and Dennis welcome their tenant into their home only to discover within their first conversation that she is married. Mac eavesdrops on the couple and constructs an elaborate backstory about infidelity in the marriage from the few words he hears, which leads him to encourage both Dennis and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) to pursue them.
A high point in the episode is Mac’s plan to get the husband to meet Dee: He clogs the toilet while the husband is showering and plans to have him pick up a plunger at the hardware store, where Dee will be waiting. All goes according to plan until the tenant asks who clogged the toilet, as the only person it could have been was Mac. This exchange is not dwelled on or drawn out, which is what makes the scene so incredibly well-executed. Dee’s main scene in the hardware is a watered down version of her funniest moments in previous seasons. Dee’s irrelevance to the plot of the episode is noticeable, and her unsuccessful rom-com protagonist role feels played out and tired.
Charlie (Charlie Kelly) and Frank (Danny DeVito) have a similar scheme in progress, buzzing over the fact that two European women have rented out their “one-bedder” for the week, but then discover that “Alexis” and “Nikki” are two old Austrian men. The irony of Frank lamenting about how weird the situation is to his possible biological son and roommate, Charlie, while wearing clog-like shoes to bed is a stroke of genius placed in the episode. They half-heartedly cram into their sofa bed with the two men and go to sleep, in keeping with the “might as well” attitude that each member of the gang needs to cope with all of their antics. Charlie and Frank form an unlikely kinship with the two men, bonding over heating cheese on a radiator and cleaning their toes.
The best moments in the show come from the quick one-liners that reveal the self-awareness of It’s Always Sunny, a show that has been filled with politically incorrect and cruel humor since its premiere in 2005. While discussing the renters’ marriage with Dennis in Paddy’s Pub, the bar that the gang owns, Mac comes to the conclusion that the husband might be gay. Mac dismisses Dee from the plan and decides to take up the pursuit himself. Dennis says, “It might not play in middle America” but supports Mac’s decision. This line extends beyond the show and reflects on the entertainment industry itself. Many of the programs aired on television lean toward homogeneity rather than diversity when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity, for fear that it might not “play well.”
The show breaks the fourth wall again when Mac confronts the husband about his feelings and desire for them to be together, explaining that he knows about his marital issues. The husband says that he and his wife were not speaking about infidelity, but about their son who died of leukemia. Dennis and Mac share a look, and once the couple leaves their apartment, Dennis states that the outcome was “not comedic at all.” Mac says, in reference to Airbnb, “Do you think they will leave us a bad review?” This is a sly nod to the fact that Always Sunny constantly attempts to turn tragic or upsetting topics into a humorous plot line, which often leads to heavy criticism.
The beginning of the 14th season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has a different tone than previous seasons. It is self-aware and less provocative, relying on one-liners and facial expressions for laughs instead of the usual shock factor of its story lines. It hints at a slow departure from the depraved show it started out as.
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