Nothing says funny like the insensitive and morally bankrupt dinguses of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia attempting to recreate the prescribed magic of a Hollywood rom-com. The season 14 premiere of FXX’s long-running comedy shows that even though the series is well into its old age (in TV years), the gang still has what it takes to make some of the best cringe-worthy comedy on any platform.
With ‘The Gang Gets Romantic,’ Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito, have their sights set on spoofing the structure of romantic comedies by trying to force one to happen as a way for Dennis (Howerton) to meet some ladies. In order to do this, Mac has devised an elaborate meet cute, in which he lists his and Dennis’s apartment on AirB&B and then pretends to have a scheduling mix-up, thereby putting Dennis and the unsuspecting woman/guest in the same room where, presumably, sparks will fly. It’s a trap — Dennis says as much — that’s not merely unethical, creepy, and totally misguided, but it also allows Mac (McElhenney) a chance to live out his meet cute/matchmaking dreams. However, when the guest, played by Brit Lower (Man Seeking Woman) books the place, she throws a wrench in the whole deal by bringing along her husband (Timm Sharp, Blunt Talk).
The premiere not only establishes that It’s Always Sunny still has plenty of ideas ready to go, it also demonstrates just how well versed the cast, writers, and directors are in creating a story for the quartet (and DeVito) that divides them up but still places them on a mostly parallel paths. Case in point: Charlie (Day) and Frank (DeVito) also plan to rent out their room in order to get a little romance going, though things are a little different. For starters, the two share a studio apartment and sleep together on a sofa bed. Those close quarters are essential to their plan, as Charlie and Frank post flyers at the bus station, hoping to attract a couple of European ladies who won’t mind sleeping four to a bed.
Both scenarios spring from a mutually absurd premise, but they play out very differently from one another. In a not unexpected development, Charlie and Frank find their houseguests are a pair of Austrian gentlemen, one of whom is into yodeling and the other persists in digging at his toe with some sort of strange spoon that inevitably beguiles Frank. Though the international foursome hits it off, the Austrians are out in the cold as soon as a pair of freewheeling women ask to rent the room, allowing Frank and Charlie the chance to live out their rom-com (okay, pornographic) dreams. Their success on the romantic (okay, orgy) front irks Dennis and Mac, who are getting nowhere with their planned meet cute, as Mac continually misreads the many signals the couple is giving off as they are apparently dealing with some pretty heavy personal circumstances.
‘The Gang Gets Romantic’ succeeds in part because of its self-aware deconstruction of the typical rom-com formula, but also because of how the episode filters that formula through the oblivious lens of It’s Always Sunny’s lead characters. In less than half an hour, the series manages to spoof Jerry Maguire (twice), Before Sunrise, Pretty Woman, and more. Moreover, the premiere also succeeds in having its comedy both ways by delivering a pair of cutting rom-com spoofs, while also allowing one of them to become surprisingly earnest, albeit in the most unorthodox manner possible.
Both Lower and Sharp bring a necessary counterbalance to the inanity of Mac and Dennis’s plan, and once Dee (Olson) gets involved, things go predictably off the rails. In other words, everyone here is playing to his or her strengths, and while ‘The Gang Gets Romantic’ doesn’t have the urgency of, say, last year’s ‘The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again,’ which sought not only to skewer a certain red-hat political machine but also answer the question of what would happen to Dennis after Howerton “left” the series due to his commitments on NBC’s canceled and then renewed-but-destinted-for-Peacock high school comedy A.P. Bio, but it nevertheless succeeds by delivering a somewhat familiar yet welcome back-to-basics season opener.
Most shows that are this long in the tooth have long since lost their edge, and while It’s Always Sunny may no longer be at the peak of its comedic potential, it still offers a winning comedy for anyone who can find FXX on their cable subscription.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues next Wednesday with ‘Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool’ @10pm on FXX.