I prefer IASIP when the gang is interacting with people outside their twisted circle, so the first episode of tonight's double feature is more my speed. "Dennis and Dee's Mom Is Dead" has the classic Sunny structure: theme and three variations. Here the premise is that the family fortune is up for grabs, but Mom's will bequeaths the money to the twin's real dad Bruce (a returning Stephen Collins) and the house to Dennis, leaving Dee and Frank completely out in the cold.
From this setup (punctuated by a chorus of profanity and willful misunderstanding of the very concept of death), the gang splits up to pursue seperate plans for getting the money. Dee and Frank pose as a couple to con Bruce into giving them the money for the dozens of orphans they plan to adopt.. Dennis and Mac, suddenly worried about dying friendless, try to recruit fitness-oriented dudes to their party mansion (nothing sexual). And Charlie becomes obsessed with Dee's middle-school heartbreak as revealed in her secret diary.
It's the fliers that Dennis, Mac, and Charlie dream up for their friend-recruitment plan that make the episode sing. Having rejected the classic beer-bottle shape, they go for a bicep cutout that's prone to, shall we say, misinterpretation. The resulting dick fliers, in the gesturing hands of the three overeager would-be socialities, are a classic comic prop for the TV-MA age. Only slightly less obscene is Frank's idea of a foolproof grift: disguising himself as Seamus, a "liberal yahoo" with a soul patch. From "what up!" penises to throwing toga'd frat boys off a roof, the heart of this episode is in the right place.
The wackiness of "The Gang Gets Held Hostage," which takes place entirely in the bar as three McPoyles train automatic weapons on our heroes, feels shriller and less light on its feet. As Frank crawls through the maze of heating ducts trying to find his hidden will, the rest plot to save themselves and throw each other in front of the firing squad. The ep's most felicitous sequence cuts from alliance to counter-alliance to doublecross without missing a beat. And I appreciate the disintegration of all concerned into sweatstained, brief-wearing desperadoes. But that very sustained anxiety makes the group, whom we ordinarily love for their quickchange transitions from delight to despair and back again, less fun to be around.
For a show that often stuffs the bulk of its best moments into the second act, however, it's worth noting that the best gag in "Hostage" -- in which a fall from the bar roof proves less dramatic than anticipated -- is the closing one.
Grades: "Mom" A, "Hostage" C+
- After the lukewarm milk and ubiquitous glaze of sweat in "Hostage," I felt less entertained than slightly nauseous.
- The will-reading scene in "Mom" contains some terrific ensemble shouting of non-sequiturs, including Frank berating the lawyer to "Tell that bitch it doesn't make sense!" and Dee's parting promise that "I will be in touch with her ... somehow."
- The elaborate fart-in-the-face joke in "Hostage" might be my kind of humor if it resulted in funny dialogue, or even some bemused juxtaposition with the hostage situation, but because it plays more like a stand-alone gag, I'm not feeling it.
- Why we love Dee: Seconds after hearing the will, she's in a catsuit blackening her face in preparation for a night of graverobbing to recover the jewels Mom was buried with. That's the kind of spunky impetuousness you just don't get on the broadcast networks.
- The McPoyles' demand for a reversible Planet Hollywood jacket has little chance of being met, given that Dan Ackroyd's never going to give up his.