[This is a review of the season 11 premiere of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There will be SPOILERS.]
For 10 glorious seasons now, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been one of television comedy's true black sheep. Dark, depraved and even a little demented, Sunny's highly original voice and humor have certainly garnered the series a loyal following, but a small following at that -- and one that hasn't grown much over the last decade.
Two seasons back, the show illustrated its place in the industry perfectly and poignantly with the brilliantly meta episode 'The Gang Tries Desperately To Win an Award'. In that episode -- which provides a hilarious commentary on what it takes to play ball for critics and fans in the sitcom world -- its main characters try but fail to fit in with the crowd; and instead, declare that they are proud of what they do, they are good at what they do, and thus, have no real reason to conform. In a vastly different and much more subtle (possibly unconscious) way, the show made the same statement last night with its laugh-filled, fan-pleasing season 11 opener, 'Chardee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo'.
The first sign that this episode is only concerned with catering to current fans is the title, which must seem bizarre and nonsensical to those attempting to sit down with the Gang for the first time. Of course, for the already converted, this title card is a welcome sight, not just because their beloved Sunny is back, but also because it is returning with a sequel to a fan-favorite episode -- one that introduced us all to one of the Gang's most ingenious inventions, also known as "The Game of Games".
The mere premise of the episode already induces uncontrollable laughter for those who know what the unsuspecting are in for. And in last night's premiere, that group includes our unlucky Mattel rep (Andy Buckley), who approaches the owners of Paddy's looking for the next big thing in adult games. But oh, how the Gang can't wait to tell him just how "adult" their sick little game actually is.
As it turns out, the Gang would rather show him how the game works, by plopping him down in front of one of their poorly shot and edited instructional videos, which, of course, creates more confusion than understanding of the many nuances that go into a round of Chardee MacDennis. So, to actually learn how to play, the Mattel man suggests he get in on the game; an idea that is understandably met with some apprehension. After all, the Gang can get pretty competitive, so they vow to "try to keep their emotions in check."
Here, and once again, winks and nods like these play best to Sunny fans who are well aware of the Gang's past behavior and the degradation and humiliation that the game entails. However, there's also humor with universal appeal, and it mainly comes from the outsider's reactions to the Gang's borderline psychotic game-mode personas. Juxtaposing "normal" people against the antics of the Gang is a comedic technique the series often employs, and it works extremely well again here.
Curiously though, the Mattel rep begins to vibe on all the binge drinking and the insider nature of the game. And, he isn't as offended by ill-timed Cosby jokes, Frank's (Danny DeVito) "Four Fs" flag that resembles a Swastika or Dennis' (Glenn Howerton) disturbing version of love -- a sculpture of a woman's head in a freezer -- as one would have initially suspected. This eventually makes sense after it's revealed that he is actually working for Frank, who was then able to successfully implement his "horror" level to the game. This little twist is hilariously befitting of the show's characters, but still is a nice little surprise for Sunny followers. Plus, the Saw scenario Frank put together was incredibly funny, in addition to being well within his twisted mind's wheelhouse.
And it wouldn't have been a true game of Chardee MacDennis without Charlie's (Charlie Day) game piece and flag being destroyed right in front of him, courtesy of defending champions Dennis and Dee (Kaitlin Olson). To add insult to injury (literally, in this case), it was also perfectly fitting that his humiliating loss came right after he had awoken in the hospital, thinking that maybe, just maybe Team Thundercats had prevailed for the first time in Chardee MacDennis history.
Although, it didn't even attempt to attract new viewers, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's season 11 premiere succeeded in treating current fans with a half-hour full of laughs -- some new and some of the callback variety -- as well as a couple of fun surprises. Like Frank, the show may still be living on the fringe, but it -- along with its devoted viewers -- wouldn't have it any other way.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia season 11 continues next Wednesday with 'Frank Falls Out the Window' @10pm on FXX.
Photos: Patrick McElhenney/FX