Finally. For all my bellyaching (pun... well, yeah, kinda intended) about the use of Fat Mac this season, in retrospect I actually think it's pretty brilliant to wait until the 10th episode to address the donut-inhaling elephant in the room. (I still wish he would have been given more to do in the last nine episodes.) For a show that doesn't particularly care about building up much episode-to-episode intrigue or suspense, the legend of Fat Mac has been a pretty central blank spot this season. I'm glad it's cleared up now, but more importantly, I'm glad it was funny. “How Mac Got Fat” felt like a good old-fashioned half hour of Sunny, complete with inhalants and the comedic stylings of Deandra Reynolds.
Timeline-wise, I'm not really sure where tonight's story-within-a-story fits in with the past two seasons, but I didn't care enough to be distracted by it. Mac's reason/excuse for getting fat as told to a priest in a confessional is every bit as convoluted and nonsensical as one would expect, and the fact that it was supposedly a byproduct of the gang's complacency in the face of success was a little too meta to ignore. (Rob McElhenney, as many of you know, has said he put on the weight in part to counteract the stereotype of sitcom actors getting better looking the more successful they are and the longer their shows are on the air.) According to Mac, after Paddy's experienced an inexplicable spike in business (this is all a flashback, so unfortunately it had nothing to do with Frank's viral marketing skills), the gang became convinced they had “tipped” and had to do everything to maintain the status quo in order to keep their success going. But this just led to everyone becoming extremely self-aware and attacking their respective schticks way too hard: Dee forcing her miserable comedy routine on customers, Dennis dying his hair and getting a chemical peel in order to maintain physical perfection. Dee's solution is to bring in “avatars” of themselves to act exactly as they would and run the bar while the real gang enjoys their newfound riches. Mac's avatar can fire off a perfect reverse curl (Mac: “I like that he says 'fire off,'”) but he's about twice his size in muscle mass, so Mac gets to work cultivating. Of course, by the time he's gained 50 pounds, the gang has dropped the avatar plan, leaving him with a massive belly and Type II Diabettis.
For the first time since this season's premiere, I really feel like we have Mac back. Someone in the comments made the observation last week that part of Fat Mac's new persona is his complete willingness to ditch the gang at the drop of a hat in the pursuit of food, which has undoubtedly contributed to him feeling so absent lately. Spending this much time with Mac, both in his current state (definitely the most disgusting we've seen him so far in a sweat stained, belly-baring wife beater) and his leaner, fitter days (when he still got excited about getting a “full pump” and hanging out with stray dogs under bridges) was great and more than welcome. There were so many great Mac moments tonight, from his borderline homoerotic fascination with his avatar (“Get to work, beefcake”) to his serial elimination of every part of the world except the United States as he planned his sailing expedition. Just seeing him cross out Africa before it was even explained what was going on was one of the best, most nonsensical laughs of the episode.
This may sound weird, but it was kind of a relief to see Dennis take a back seat this episode, not despite, but because of how strong Glenn Howerton has been throughout this season. It's the best non-problem in the world when a performer in your ensemble is as on fire as Howerton's been, but like previous seasons where I felt like Sunny was starting to just become The Charlie Show, it's great to be reminded that everyone in the cast is capable of great, episode-anchoring moments. I still loved this weird, shattered version of Dennis, (“Do I look foolish?” he whimpers after his freshly peeled face is revealed), and if this took place chronologically after last week's episode, it would be yet another brilliantly creepy step in the evolution of Dennis the Mass Murderer.
We also had some good, stupid Frank/Charlie scenes tonight; there's something about watching Danny DeVito smack Charlie Day repeatedly with a stick for no discernible reason that gives me the warm fuzzies. It's also been a long time since we've had a sofa bed scene; tonight we learned that the bed has a “crevice,” and that Charlie occasionally embeds himself in it as a form of stress relief. We also learn that Charlie's huffing habit, at least at the time of the flashback, was still going strong, and that Dennis had hopped aboard the as well. I guess it said something important and probably not-so-great about me when I did everything but audibly “aww” as everything devolved into the gang getting fucked up on Turpentine in the back room.
I hope that McElhenney continues to play a central role as a performer in these last few episodes this season; it made for one of the strongest, most balanced, and still totally silly episodes of the season. Who knows, maybe the priest's spell worked, and the ghost man in the sky who created us all and predetermines everything gives Skinny Mac back to us next week.
- “Dennis always tells me, 'Never let someone else's resistance keep you from getting what you want.'” Quote within a quote of the night, yes?
- The flashback was clearly filmed around season six (Dee's wearing her pregnancy concealing shirts again), so I'd be very interested to learn how early on they wrote this episode. It seems like it would have to be before they even started writing season seven, but I could be wrong.
- Dee's running commentary added a lot to the the map scene: “No Africa for you, huh?”
- “He's not going to replace my blood; he's just going to add to it to make me more virile.” This season's best cold-open conversation didn't even happen in the cold open.
- “Ohhh, Mac's the best, isn't he? Also, I'm pro-abortion, and I'm probably going straight to hell.”