I may have watched too much It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but it’s just not as much fun when the Gang isn’t inflicting pain on other people. Sure, sometimes when they fixate their destructive awfulness on only each other (“Chardee MacDennis: The Game Of Games,” this season’s “The Gang Broke Dee”), the results can be the dark stuff of transcendent cruelty, but that queasy tingle that stems from the ruin of innocents gives the best It’s Always Sunny episodes their comedic edge. Without that (or, in a pinch, the skewering of a controversial issue, taboo, or sacred cow), the episode in question needs to have an especially strong script and/or unique angle. Unfortunately, sticking Frank in some playground equipment in his underpants isn’t enough.
There’s more going on in “Mac And Dennis Buy A Timeshare” than that (for example, Mac and Dennis do in fact buy a timeshare, among other things) but with Frank stuck on his own and the rest of the Gang split down the middle, the episode, while consistently amusing, is too scattered to build up enough comic momentum. Even with Dee and Charlie creating one of the most humorously inept It’s Always Sunny films since Lethal Weapon 5.
The episode starts off in Paddy’s with Dee expounding enthusiastically, if shakily, on her newest money-making scheme, an Amway-meets-Scientology pyramid scam called Invigaron (there are magic berries and a sketchy stress meter). As often happens, the inciting incident of the episode splits the Gang into two teams, with Charlie, swept up into immediate panic by Dee’s suspect e-meter-like stress machine, following Dee into the wonderful, if poorly understood, world of Invigaron, while the dismissive Dennis and Mac march off to sit through the company’s pitch solely in order to walk away with the promised free golf clubs. There’s a lot to like here—the guys hold their incredulous silence for just the right beat after Dee’s nonsensical presentation before Charlie speaks for them all with a baffled “What’s happening?,” and, as ever, Charlie Day’s hairtrigger panic upon finding out that, according to Dee’s machine, his stress is “157 units” is deeply funny. It’s always a fear that Day, breaking out in movies and after eight-plus years on the show, will be unwilling or unable to tap into that special Charlie place where lives a simmering reservoir of unrestrained lunacy, but he continues to deliver. (There’s a glimmer of that when Charlie, asking Dee where he should put his feet while hooked up to the stress meter, says the line “I’m gonna put them on the stool” with an odd pride. Why is Charlie so proud? He’s Charlie.)
When Mac and Dennis try to scam their free golf clubs from the unctuous Invigaron rep (Tommy Dewey, deploying some of the amusing smarm he brought to the role of Mindy’s sleazy boyfriend on The Mindy Project), they are swayed, with surprising ease, into buying shares in the titular timeshare, despite their initial blatant disregard for the social contract in such situations. (“Save it bozo—we’re just here for the free golf clubs.” “We’re just gonna tune out for 20 minutes, so why don’t you give us a wave when you’re done.”) And their introduction of the episode’s catchphrase, harping on the idea of being “got” reaps its usual rewards: A reliable source of humor is always the Gang’s overly-familiar emphasis on such random words. (See the repetition of the word “coil” throughout.) The elastic nature of the Gang’s canniness is always in play, but here, as in the rest of the episode, the premise runs a little thin, with Mac and Dennis’ abrupt gullibility coming across more of a plot machination than a motivated action. It’s a quibble, but that’s what separates a decent episode from a great one.
Meanwhile Dee and Charlie’s attempt to rope some more suckers into their Invigaron scam net only callback guest stars Ben the Soldier (Travis Schuldt) and Roddy Piper’s deranged ex-wrestler The Maniac (whose enthusiastic misunderstanding of the Gang’s various pitches marks him as a character I wouldn’t mind seeing stick around). The pitch video they unveil is the comic centerpiece of the episode, with Dee unsuccessfully trying to edit out Charlie’s admittedly insane contributions (“You are way too hung up on the berries”), an expected number of abrupt cuts and failed attempts to interact with their projected backgrounds, and, best of all, Charlie’s eventual re-emergence (undisguised) as Andy, “proud owner of my own mountain where I’m a magical bead farmer!” The “inept infomercial” bit is usually gold, and Charlie and Dee’s effort here is just the right combination of too-slick and completely unhinged—with Charlie’s long, uncomfortable pause to the camera at one point, and his enthusiastic, “Liberty Bell”-scored explanation of the Invigaron plan as a pyramid scheme (complete with the captive Frank’s mercenary dissection of what a pyramid scheme is) vying with Dee’s inability to lean on an imaginary car and inexplicable lean-in of a money-toting alpaca for the most laugh-out-loud gag. (Plus, bonus “accidentally not deleted scenes” at the end from past episodes.) Neither fish bites (although The Maniac enjoys Charlie’s offer of free soup), despite Dee and Charlie’s consultation with Frank, who, for the entire episode, is caged inside a dangerous-looking playground feature.
It’s not a bad place for Frank to be stuck, frankly. (And here comes the hate, commenters!) Danny DeVito is a national treasure, and his willingness (and seeming eagerness) to take part in this show’s scabrous shenanigans marks him as a good sport of the highest order. But for me, a little Frank goes a long way (the Frank-centric “Frank’s Brother” proved the follies of putting him front-and-center), and this episode’s conceit uses him perfectly. For unexplained reasons, Frank is wedged, impossibly, in a cage-like metal playground prison in thankfully oversized tighty-whities throughout, occasionally visited like a business advice oracle by the rest of the Gang and then abandoned to his sweaty fate. Here, too, the show’s inexplicable punching of the word “coil” is never not funny (After Charlie’s initial “Why are you naked and stuck in a coil?!,” it’s the sort of running bit that works so well for the show, with the Gang fastening, immediately and energetically on one incongruous phrase, with each successive reappearance playing funnier and funnier. “You’re the sucker! You’re naked and you’re stuck in a coil!”)
Unfortunately. the Gang’s continuing decisions to leave Frank stuck in the coil are suitably mean-spirited, but not especially well-motivated. The Gang’s various horrible decisions are always funnier when they’ve got an underpinning of logic, no matter how selfish or otherwise awful the logic may be. Their stated fear that Frank may be running some sort of game on them from inside the coil lacks that logic (Frank had no knowledge of Invigaron, pre-coil) so their choice just makes their actions more random, and the joke less interesting.
The same goes for the Gang’s treatment of Ben. It’s also a relatively stress-free episode, ever the result when it’s the Gang being victimized (or simply victimizing each other) rather than inflicting themselves on innocent outsiders. Even their increasingly-reckless attempts to trigger Ben’s (non-existent) PTSD in order to get him to fall for their dueling scams only results in Ben uncomplainingly smiling through tandem home invasion attacks, complete with night vision goggles. The whole “exploitation of a war vet’s trauma” idea could be one of those scared cows that It’s Always Sunny likes to take a whack at, but it’s all pretty toothless this time out.
- Maybe it’s my claustrophobia talking, but director Dan Attias’ decision to never show the top of the coil really ratchets up the tension every time Frank is on the screen. My eyes wanted some confirmation that he could ever get out of the damned thing.
- Dennis: “So is that the only super power you get, surviving the winter? Because I’ve survived many winters without these berries.”
- Dennis’ assertion, “You won’t see us getting scammed!” cuts immediately to the title card “Mac And Dennis Buy A Time Share.” For as often as it’s employed, that title card juxtaposition gag almost always works. It might be the accompanying music cue.
- I could stand to see more of Charlie’s Frank impression.
- Another glimpse into the mind of Dennis Reynolds: “Mac, I think this guy just bent himself over a barrel here.” “He did?” “Yeah—for our pleasure.”
- Mac, falling again for the Invigaron rep’s manipulation: “Wait a second, he just subtly gestured to that document!”
- Dee’s assertion that, “It’s not a pyramid scheme, it’s a reverse funnel system!” leads Frank to explain,“Turn it upside down.” Dee and Charlie’s immediate, horrified realization is the biggest laugh in the episode.
- If you want to see what DeVito can do when not naked and drooling and covered in filth, I highly recommend his lovely, understated performance in Richard LaGravenese’s sleeper Living Out Loud.