‘Now social media will come down on you with the fury of a middle aged man who has accomplished nothing.’ — Dennis Reynolds
Here’s a thought experiment for you: think of a show. Any show. Now, has that show ever opened with a 70-year old man beginning his day by joyfully striding into a dive bar, all the while singing a nonexistent song to himself before casually whipping out a revolver and then a colossal bag of cocaine—complete with a bright green straw—and then going to happy numb nose town?
No? Then that show’s never gonna be as joyful an experience as It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
‘Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Nightmare’
I don’t know how they do it, but somehow these skillful bastards just keep making the horror seem fresh. After last week’s dip in energy, episode four of the twelfth season of It’s Always Sunny comes roaring out of the gate, coke-(and Wolf Cola)-fuelled, gnashing its teeth and rearing to go.
Wrapped into this twenty minute slice of wholesome Sunny goodness are, to name but a few marshmallows: Boko Haram, violent expulsions of nearly every possible bodily fluid, and the internet’s treatment of women in the public eye when they don’t conform to one exact template of acceptability.
So then the outrageous relevance and gross-out gonzo-ness is all present and correct, but that in and of itself isn’t enough to carry an episode of this show this late into its life cycle. No, it needs solid laughs, and it cries out for—at the risk of sounding like a broken record—some great character work. Happily, ‘Wolf Cola’ achieves both.
How? By following the tried and tested convention of breaking the Gang up and having them follow true, character-consistent impulses and goals.
When Frank, shortly after his inaugural bump of the day, finds out by way of the TV news that his previously-money-laundering-but-now-genuine-money-spinner scheme, Wolf Cola, isn’t generating income from being sold down in Boca Raton, but instead due to its bafflingly rapid and wholesale (and TV-friendly) adoption by terrorist group Boko Haram, he begins searching for an exit strategy before it all blows up in his face. Dennis and Dee, at first almost vibrating with glee at seeing Frank squirm, soon collapse down to his level when they find out that Frank had made them Wolf Cola executives, and thus inadvertently dammed them with him (it really is a wonderful sight to see the levels of selfishness on display here as first Dennis and then Dee find out their fates in sequence, and how they spend the moments before each revelation gloating that they personally remain unaffected before having that bubble popped). Dennis, taking control rapidly, figures a way to minimise the media fall-out: ‘We need to face this thing head on. And we need to do it right away. Because we only have…’
And then just the strangest little pause, where for a second we think, ‘That’s an odd bit of editing’, before it cuts to:
Boom! Dennis slamming down a countdown timer and announcing—in his ever aspirational, zeitgeist-savvy way—that they only have 24 hours to take control of the narrative before it runs away from them and internet trolls take it. And just as we’re about to remember the strange little pause, Dee herself addresses things in a deadpan way: ‘This is why we had to wait for you to go to Bed, Bath & Beyond?’
Cue Dennis: ‘Yes, bitch!’
Now, two things here:
1) That is another excellent and funny addition to Dennis’ need for pageantry. We absolutely believe that this guy would jog out of the bar, mid-point, in order to go to god knows how far to buy a dramatic countdown clock just to add flair to his delivery of that point. Once upon a time when the Gang were flush with cash and they decided to buy a boat Dennis set out on a florid speech to seal the deal. But Mac and Charlie pre-empted him and cut it short, much to his rage and frustration. This is a man who has his particular way of doing things, and damn any of those who might stand in his way. Speaking of which…
2) Of all the high-wire acts It’s Always Sunny is engaged in, there is almost none more impressive and deftly performed than the continuing miraculous feat of repeatedly calling Dee a bitch, and somehow still making it funny every time. Part of that is down to the situations they surround it with of course (not moving the dumpster; taking the Gang to a gin bar), but the other key ingredient there is Kaitlin Olson’s magical reactions to the insult. Ever wondered what indifference, anger, resignation, and contempt all looked like when stirred together in one pot? Well here’s your answer:
Someone get that woman a goddamn award.
MEANWHILE, IN MAC AND CHARLIE TOWN…
Splintering off from the Family Reynolds this week, Mac and Charlie indulge their entrepreneurial side. After finding out from Frank that their diabolical concoction, Fight Milk (‘For Bodyguards! By Bodyguards!’) has apparently taken off in a big way among the UFC community, Mac and Charlie decide to lean into this accidental success by going on a marketing and selling drive.
How? By barrelling into a UFC gym, blaring awful techno off a CD player, and intermittently imitating the sound of a cawing crow and shouting ‘Fight Milk!’
Here’s the thing about Mac and Charlie’s arc this week: it’s a delight. It’s funny, it feels true to their respective characters and bond, and it furthers the mythology of a product that—let’s be honest—our world is so much poorer for not having in it. Having said that, it doesn’t feel quite as substantial as what the Reynolds get up to—certainly it carries almost zero of the thematic weight of the episode—but in all honesty when you have real world UFC fighters appearing, actually using Fight Milk not as a genuine supplement but as a means of expelling bodily fluids and thus make weight for a fight, who needs thematic resonance.
Did I mention that one of the exchanges involves the fighters bent over a bucket and squatting on a toilet, respectively, and the following exchange happening in appreciation of Fight Milk:
‘They should give you guys the Nobel-…[ungodly bodily noises]. Ah, I just puked on my dick!’
‘[Weakly] Rock ‘n’ roll!’
Still not sold?
How about Mac’s Herculean struggle with his sexuality leading to THIS SERIES OF FACES:
In all honesty, Mac and Charlie’s arc sorta tapers off a bit after that. It still packs in a number of good gags, and the effortless-seeming flow of motivation and causality in their story is a credit to the writing, but in the face of the Reynolds clan going on live TV, trying to salvage their reputation, it just can’t help but take a back seat.
Yes indeed: Frank, Dee, and Dennis go and appear together live on a morning-style TV show to talk to a bland, affable host in an effort to minimise the damage of a notorious terrorist group endorsing their family business’ product. Dennis, as ever the man with the plan, has a strategy. The key is to apologise for nothing, refer to nothing in particular, and speak in platitudes, all the while assuaging the consumers’ shallow anxieties. Dennis, in the brief moments before Frank and Dee interfere with their own takes, flourishes in this environment. In the warm, comforting lights and instant reactions of 24 hour news, Dennis Reynolds, psychopath and manipulator, shines. And what a damming indictment of the medium that is.
Pretty soon, though, Frank and Dee do have their say too.
Dee, not heeding Dennis’ advice about how people will perceive a woman on television or what the message should be, butts in, and apologises profusely.
Frank, having announced his plans earlier of using the tactic of ‘softening’ Boko Haram’s image—
—launches into a series of false equivalencies and obfuscations.
Neither of these tactics go down well with the audiences at home, and the blowback is immediate—‘ugly ugly ugly ugly #idstillhititthough’ and ‘What did the troll just say?’ being just two reactions scrolling across the bottom of the screen—and pretty soon the 24 hour countdown is reset.
Let’s just go back to the cutting insight presented in this week’s episode though—that of the perception and treatment of women by the public and the media. The relevant exchanges are worth quoting in full. When the subject of what Dee will say in the interview first arises, Dennis kicks in with:
‘Dee, actually, you don’t say anything. But you do have a very important job. To say nothing, and stand behind me. You see, audiences are gonna trust me over you, because you’re a women, and, by definition, shrill.’
Dee shoots back, ‘No. Women identify with women in power.’
Dennis: ‘Oh, no, Dee. Women hate other women in power.’
Then Frank chimes in: ‘I’m threatened by ’em.’
Dennis: ‘Everyone is. Now, objectify yourself, and humanise me.’
If you’re still left reeling from such a harsh mirror suddenly being held up to our society, Dee’s treatment at the hands of the internet after she dares speak up on television socks you another in the face.
Dee: ‘Jesus Christ, I’m just getting eviscerated online. People calling me a bitch. Flat-chested bitch. Pretty much everybody wantin’ to rape me.’
This is dark, horrible, gut-twistingly true stuff, and no other show would dare portray it as frankly as Sunny. Just like in ‘The Gang Turns Black’, this show stands unflinching, refusing to turn away from the kind of world we live in.
In the end, despite another go around at the live TV circuit, the Reynolds do truly bungle their redemption efforts, but this time mostly thanks to the one person who was holding it together up until this point. Dennis, all slick, cynical professionalism, gets licked by a dog wandering about the studio and we learn that there is another phenomenon that can set him off. Unlike the klaxon sound in ‘The Gang Goes On Family Fight’ (or earlier, way back, and very briefly on ‘The Gang Dances Their Asses Off’) though, instead of disarming him this merely enrages him. We can see the catastrophe coming even as the wayward dog makes the first pass, and the inevitability of it all makes it all the more delicious. Sure enough a ridiculous, deranged Dennis tirade follows that also ends—much like the one by his sunken amphibious vehicle—with a deflated look of self-awareness.
Then we’re back in the bar for a brief coda and a snap ending. Thanks to its sensibilities and inherent rhythms, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia can get away with snap endings more than most shows—‘Sometimes things just sort of…end’—but in ‘Wolf Cola’ it works doubly effectively as another jab at the quick-fix, ADD-style reporting inherent to 24 hour ne-…
Sunny Obsessives Corner:
Another appearance of Frank’s unique two-handed point:
Hey, Rob McElhenny, you reckon you can make it through one episode without breaking? No? That’s fine, it’s pretty funny.
Holy shit, people do still actually drink in Paddy’s! Actual customers!
Petr Knava lives in London and plays music