"High school isn't a very important place. When you're going you think it's a big deal, but when it's over, nobody really thinks it was great unless they're beered up."
- Stephen King, Carrie.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a polarizing show. Its fans consider it one of the best television comedies ever made; others can't stand it. It's gotten a mixed critical reception as well; Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn skewered the series in her review of the pilot, while Variety loved it. It has its high-profile champions and detractors. For my money, it's been the most consistent and hilarious television comedy of the 21st century. And if its most recent season (the 10th) is any indication, it's only getting better and better every year. That almost never happens.
|South Park aside, of course - that show's longevity and quality control standards are legendary, but that started last century, so Always Sunny is for my money the reigning 21st century champ.|
The show's undergone some structural changes over the years, but broadly it chronicles the misadventures of Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton), the co-owner of Patty's Pub in Philadelphia, PA; his sister Dee (Kaitlin Olson); other co-owner Mac (Rob McElhenney); one-time-co-owner/janitor Charlie (Charlie Day); and Frank, Charlie's roommate/ possible-biological-father/ former-Dad-to-Dee-and-Dennis, who joined the cast in Season 2.
Dennis summed up the show's m.o. pretty well in the season 7 episode "The Gang Gets Trapped:"
"We immediately escalate everything to a ten... somebody comes in with some preposterous plan or idea, then all of a sudden everyone's on the gas, nobody's on the brakes, nobody's thinking, everyone's just talking over each other with one idiotic idea after another."
Another vital theme of the show is that of perpetual adolescence, particularly when it comes to drinking and dating. The Gang still carries on not only like they're in high school/ early college, but in the high school/ early college of their own past (the late 80s/ early 90s). The show flourishes when this mutually-shared delusion is juxtaposed to reality, and their stubborn failure to learn from it.
Because of that, episodes that play this up, such as Season 5's "The Gang Reignites the Rivalry" ("Flip! Flip! Flip-a-delphia!") or Season 7's high school reunion two-parter ("aaa-aaaa-aaaa...!") always land twice with me: once just for being funny, twice for all the layers of irony and self-awareness. And of course, the Gang's chronic lack of self-awareness. Another such episode is today's selection:
|Season 1, Episode 3.|
The plot according to the Always Sunny wiki: "When Mac decides to make Patty's Pub a haven for underage drinking, it becomes high school all over again as Dee, Dennis, and Charlie get asked to the prom."
Not asked? Mac. "What's with that guy?"
|"I'm going to put on a goddamn clinic!"|
Let's start with Dee.
In the first two episodes, Kaitlin Olson plays Dee as the "straight" member of the Gang. She seems to have real-world concerns and gets after the others for being immature, i.e. the garden-variety female character of any commercial or low-hanging-fruit sitcom. Thankfully, they jettison all this almost immediately, and here, in the show's third episode, we meet the Sweet Dee we'll see thereafter: their equal in depravity.
|"You're as delusional as Mac and Charlie!"|
"Do not compare me to Mac and Charlie."
Her story arc involves Trey, the most popular guy in school who appears to have fallen head over heels with her.
"Are you living out some sad fantasy of yours? Going out with the most popular kid in high school?"
"I went out with tons of guys in high school."
"You wore that scoliosis back brace until you were 20 years old. You looked like a monster."
Dee's back brace - and her blocking out of having to wear it as a teenager, hence her high school nickname "The Aluminum Monster" - is a recurring theme of the series. And as it turns out, she is living out some sad fantasy of hers - also a recurring theme of the series.
The high-schoolers work on each of the Gang's psyche. Dennis, whose narcissism frequently borders on psychopathic, becomes (he all-too-easily believes) the object of fantasy for Tammy -
|played by future Asgardian warrior Jaime Alexander.|
Dennis is at first reluctant, not because she's only in high school but because Charlie and Mac have made him feel insecure when they tell him he only hooked up a lot in high school because he only went out with freshmen. As his self-image needs to be constantly propped up by Mac and Charlie, he's determined to resist her. Later, though, when he tells them she's 18, they give him the go-ahead.
|Of course, both Trey and Tammy are using Dee and Dennis only to make the other jealous - something neither of the Reynolds sibs even momentarily consider.|
Mac, as mentioned previously, wasn't asked, but he was planning on going stag, anyway.
"Dude, how old are you? You're a piece of crap."
"I'm not a piece of crap - you're a piece of crap!"
"I hate you."
So, three members of the Gang don't even end up going to the prom. Technically, I suppose, this is another peripheral-TV-prom episode, like last time, but one that very much utilizes all the familiar tropes (sex on prom night, being wasted, social anxiety, status, fear, etc.)
The only one who ends up actually at the prom is Charlie, whom we see in a quick pre-end-credits sequence, as Alphaville's "Forever Young" (of course) plays it out.
"For-ever young! I want to be
This last bit of business with solitary-Charlie swaying triumphantly is one of my favorite Charlie moments of the series. Always Sunny fans know just about every episode has a best-Charlie-moment-ever, but this one captures the essence of the character (and the episode) perfectly.