“This is good—We’re all hot at the same time, and we should do somethin’ about it!”
Spoken by Mac at the start of tonight’s episode, “Gun Fever Too: Still Hot,” this quote should bring joy to the hearts of It’s Always Sunny fans, and abject terror to those of the people in the show’s fictional Philadelphia. There is nothing more hilariously destructive than the members of the Gang agreeing that something has to be done, as their combined, manic lunacy when focused on one specific issue, quest, or convoluted drinking game is a recipe for things to go just batshit insane. Make the issue at hand a controversial one, and the potential for a truly classic episode climbs even higher, with the layering of satirical levels on top of the Gang’s signature anarchy providing additional fuel for the show’s comedic bonfire. Tonight, the issue is gun control, and the script (written by Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Rob McElhenney) is brilliant satire, not so much of the gun issue itself, as much as it is a perfect encapsulation of the show’s central theme: Everyone is the absolute worst.
At the outset, Frank’s on TV, regaling a local newslady with the tale of his heroics chasing off a trio of muggers (“I don’t know if they wanted money, or they wanted something more sexual”), brandishing his two guns on-air (alongside the sandwich he brought with) and urging everyone in Philadelphia to head to a particular gun shop and arm themselves to the teeth. The Gang, watching at Paddy’s, is immediately up in arms (each member declaring him/herself “hot” in the sort of zippy, insular cross-talk the show excels at) before realizing their ire is split along team lines, with Dennis and Dee decrying how easy it is for anyone to get a gun, while Charlie and Mac are outraged the government wants to keep Philly from being the sort of Old West-style concealed carry haven they assert would create a peaceful paradise.
When McElhenney, Day, Howerton, and Kaitlin Olson are at the top of their collective game like they are here, the gathering momentum of their overlapping banter presages huge payoffs—the timing and the way they know to cede comic energy to each other at just the right levels is awe-inspiring. (Too bad we’ll never get the Robert Altman guest director gig with these four.) Having whipped each other into competing frenzies, each team fairly sprints off to prove their respective points, and succeed in proving only that they are not the people who should be making these particular points.
For Mac and Dennis, that means dressing in head-to-toe denim and forcing their services as deterrents at the local middle school, principal-ed, thankfully, by the great Dave Foley, reprising his beleaguered administrator role from season six. When Charlie and Mac get on a roll, their escalating passion (or “hotness,” in deference to the episode’s title) becomes a thing of loony beauty, their rapid-fire jabber feeding off itself to the exclusion of all else. Certainly of reason, as Dave Foley’s principal re-discovers here—his feeble protestations of common, human sense concerning Mac and Charlie’s plan to patrol his middle school brandishing a pistol and a samurai sword swept away by their implacable tsunami of enthusiastic nonsense. Foley is typically outstanding here, his outrage over the actions of two armed nutjobs in his office clearly tempered by the fact that (at least partly because of what said nutjobs have done to him in the past) he is a man bereft of all hope that sanity will win the day.
Dennis and Dee meanwhile, join the throng at the Frank-endorsed Gunther’s Guns to prove how ridiculously easy it is for anyone to buy deadly weaponry, employing sledgehammer irony on proprietor Gunther in the most obnoxious manner possible. (Dennis—“Now theoretically, would I be able to slaughter a room full of innocent people with that weapon?” Gunther—“Brother, that’d be on you.”) There’s satire going on here, both of obnoxious anti-gun zealots and of comedians with hacky, obvious jokes about guns (I’m quite certain I’ve heard someone use Dee’s exact, sarcasm-dripping “Because I neeeed that for my home protection.”). That Dee and Dennis’ frosting-thick mockery is almost immediately shot through with a creeping gun lust shouldn’t surprise anyone—what they care about is being right, and the fact that their terrifying criminal pasts keep preventing them from obtaining the most lethal assault rifle possible merely spurs them on to more desperate methods of getting their increasingly sweaty hands on one, leading them to successively-less legal, if equally unsuccessful venues.
It’s in these escalating follies that the cast’s talents fairly burst through, elevating both storylines to all-time classic status. Seriously, I don’t think any of the four have ever been better. Day and McElheney remain a peerless physical comedy team—Charlie nonchalantly demonstrating the ease with which his gun defeats Mac’s ninja skills is laugh out loud stuff, and Mac’s berating of one of the schoolkids he and Charlie have dragooned into their personal security force (“Don’t count beers Carlos. It’s not cool.”) is masterful exasperated underplaying. Howerton’s response to Gunther’s assertion that his background check has turned up “an extensive history of felonious behavior” is countered with signature Dennis equivocation, “I am merely a person of interest in most of those.” But, for the second outing in a row, it’s Olson who simply owns this episode. Her increasingly psychotic responses to her gun-purchasing plans being thwarted results in a series of outbursts as explosively funny as anything she’s ever done on the show. If season nine turns out to be the season of Sweet Dee, I wouldn’t be at all surprised, or disappointed—I laughed out loud at this episode more than any other in recent memory, most of it due to Olson.
In the end, of course, nothing is settled on the gun control front: Their various misadventures cause the teams to switch sides (“If only we could have met up two hours ago,” laments Mac), and the whole city-wide gun fever is revealed, unsurprisingly, to have been a mercenary scheme of Frank’s, a secret co-owner of Gunther’s. At its root, satire on It’s Always Sunny always rebounds back onto the Gang itself more than striking at the issues under assault—the point is always that these five people are the least capable of engaging the controversial issues the show brings up. They “get hot,” throw themselves with hyperbolic abandon into one side or another (or both, as here), reveal themselves as the worst people in the world, and leave everything in a shambles. Tonight’s episode is less about gun safety, school shootings, or the second amendment than, as ever, about how the Gang (whose members are merely the show’s exaggerated version of us all) is self-obsessed, absurdly quick to hot-button anger, and far too dumb to do anything but reveal its own destructive ineptitude.
It’s an overarching satire which renders any specific satire secondary to the show’s central conceit that people are just the pits. It’s a unifying philosophy that lends the Gang’s unending, lunatic shenanigans an air of timelessness—people are always going to be horrible. That It’s Always Sunny continues to find ways to make this thematic nihilism so damned funny is nothing short of a miracle.
- Downtrodden Foley, explaining why he’s now the principal of a middle school: “Well, I had tenure, so they couldn’t actually fire me. Which was of course their first choice, thanks to you.”
- Charlie reacts to Foley reaching into his desk (for his flask) by immediately dry-firing his thankfully unloaded gun at him about a dozen times.
- Mac and Charlie’s school protection plan yields big laughs, their over-the-top actions contrasting with the underplaying of their rapport together. Charlie’s “I’m gonna profile this guy really quick.” matched by Mac’s “A sassmouth? That’s a red flag.”
- Jeff Kober enlivens his role as a disreputable gun show seller with the easygoing sleazy menace he brought to his New Girl landlord.
- Charlie and Mac’s plan to arm school kids with sharp objects predictably goes awry. Charlie—“There’s a lot of score-settling going on in there!”