“Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth” seems like an episode that’s destined for immediate cult status among Sunny fans. It’s actually an episode that does a lot: It wraps up the vague two-parter that began last week, it gets in some relatively timely jabs at the Juggalo subculture, which is enjoying its five minutes in the limelight post-Tila Tequila, and legendary straight man Dave Foley gets a little more to do this week as the put-upon principal.
But this episode will be most remembered for the magnificent extended Lethal Weapon 5 homage that takes up the last act, complete with Mac in blackface as Murtaugh (but only for the second half of the movie), Dennis putting on a heavy Australian accent as Riggs (and a deep, supposedly accurate “black guy voice” when he’s Murtaugh), Charlie plumbing new depths of sucking at acting, and Frank, dressed as an Indian chief, seemingly banging an actual prostitute in an extended, exquisitely horrifying sex scene.
I had to admire how the episode built to the reveal of Lethal Weapon 5 in an organic way: Dee wants to impress her drama students by taking them to Broadway and is forced to do the next best thing and take them to Paddy’s to watch a movie, just to cram some culture into those brains. Charlie, the janitor all the students call “Professor,” takes a Juggalo student under his wing despite not really knowing what a Juggalo is (“You have a posse, well, good!”), so he comes along, too. And back at the bar, the rest of the gang is debating whether Mac’s blackface turn in Lethal Weapon 5 is racist or not.
Dennis, Mac and Frank are all given separate opportunities to express different and diverse levels of racism. Mac doesn’t see what’s wrong with blackface, since it’s just an accurate portrayal. “I think it was in poor taste that you were doing Murtaugh in whiteface!” he tells Dennis. He gets probably the best line of the night when he says, “In the Lord of the Rings movies, Ian McKellen plays a wizard. Do you think he goes home at night and shoots lasers into his boyfriend’s asshole?” The levels of misunderstanding in that sentence are just wonderfully vast.
Frank, who’s on Mac’s side, to his chagrin, is obsessed with the role the lips play in the stereotyping of black people, producing a photo of Al Jolson to drive his point home. “The whole idea is getting the right color shoe polish,” he insists. He’s also very confused about James Earl Jones’ racial status, considering the guy that’s under Darth Vader’s mark in Return of the Jedi was white. What’s up with that! Man, between this and the extended Native American sex scene, there’s really nothing Danny DeVito won’t do on this show, is there?
Dennis, meanwhile, professes to be a non-racist but is just as bad as the rest of them, with his ridiculous “urban accent” that is deployed to imitate a disgruntled black actor dissatisfied with Lawrence Olivier’s performance as Othello. “What that white man doing?” The only way to resolve anything is to watch the whole movie, and Dee’s students make the perfect test crowd. Now, there are definitely some flaws in this episode: It’s too bad the issue of Charlie leaving the group doesn’t really get tied up properly, and for that matter, neither does the issue of who’s the better Murtaugh. But it really, really doesn’t matter. Because the whole final act of the episode is a tour-de-force of shitty filmmaking equaling the tour-de-force of shitty musicals that was “The Nightman Cometh.”
I don’t know what my favorite part of the whole thing was. Charlie’s epically bad line-reading was great to watch (“Turns out someone … tapped the tainted water supply! The person who just died was YOUR wife!”). Mac in blackface (looking much like Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, facial hair and all) had some nice touches of subtle racism, like him lecturing the chief, “You’re supposed to be a noble people,” or his kiss-off line, “That’s one FRIED turkey!” And all the little visual gags (Dee dumping the trash, Charlie’s fake arm being broken, the van driving up to run over the fake corpse, the change in signs over the Paddy’s sign to show a change in location) make the movie an eminently YouTubeable clip that I’m sure I’ll watch again and again.
But honestly, I think my favorite thing was Frank as the evil Indian Chief. The cultural ignorance on display was just breathtaking, even more so considering that the gang was so concerned about the blackface but completely unaware of whatever the hell Frank was doing. His sex scene was a masterpiece of can’t-look-away grossness, from his weirder-and-weirder groans (and orgasm face), his creepy fake-blind eye, and the 'actress' getting sick of it halfway through (“just finish already!”). “Kinda comes out of nowhere,” Dennis remarks in disgust. Absolutely.
- “Your belly’s so fat, it makes John Candy look like Lara Flynn Boyle!”
- The coda of Charlie offering an orange to everybody was just wonderful.
- Dave Foley is the master of the wearily stunned reaction. “I started mentoring one of the kids here.” “Really, that’s odd, because you’re a janitor.”
- Also: “Please don’t bathe the students.”