Another Halloween episode! This time, Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, and Rob McElhenney (who have a running streak on co-writing credits in season eight so far) have opted for a full-on horror-movie-themed episode, rather than the Shakespearean costume-party comedy of errors that was “Who Got Dee Pregnant?” Both were a departure from the norm for the show, and both were pretty great.
Real quick, while we’re on the topic of theme episodes, doesn’t it seem like these guys got really, really into Community between the seventh and eighth seasons? They seem to have gotten a ton of new energy for taking Always Sunny to unexplored terrain from somewhere, anyway. It’s only the third episode, and already two out of three have been very different from the Gang’s usual adventures in ways that you don't usually see on TV.
(Right up front: I don’t enjoy horror movies, and when I can’t avoid watching one, I usually keep my eyes closed for about half of it. So I’m not very well-versed in the genre, and probably missed some things. Feel free to detail references to specific movies in the comments if you're more knowledgeable!)
It’s clear from the beginning that this is going to be different. The cold open’s disorienting strobe lights and camera work evoke The Blair Witch Project (…Right? Right?), then super-intense music cues replace the usual cheery theme song over credits written in blood. Here, and at several later points in the episode, you can’t help but think, “Oh, man, they clearly were having a grand old time shooting this one.” You can practically feel the glee through the screen, and the sense of fun pulled me along despite my general dislike for zombie anything. (That, and I was pretty sure nobody would actually be eviscerated, even on FX.)
After the credits, it seems that the Gang has kidnapped the crew of a cop procedural that takes itself very seriously, as the handheld camera tensely circles the interrogation room where everyone but Dee sits, looking shell-shocked and spattered with blood. (Surprisingly, the director, Richie Keen, is new to Always Sunny and has a resume suggesting less of a horror-film or Homicide ringer and more of someone who mostly shoots Demetri Martin gesturing at a whiteboard. Whatever—he does a skillful job here.) The camera work continues to be fun throughout, with the fast-forward of Liam emerging from the trunk and Dee’s not-quite-the-proper-speed 28 Days Later-seeming freakout. Though considering that Dee’s car getting wrecked and Mac and Charlie being unreliable narrators are kind of running gags, it wasn’t hard to guess her true motivations.
Along with the camera work and score (which continues to be straight horror-movie the whole time), the script has a really different tone to it — joke density drops to almost zero to set the mood. There’s not a single moment where the writers go for a laugh until almost three minutes in, when groom Liam McPoyle suddenly turns up right behind Dennis accompanied by a make-‘em-jump stinger straight out of Friday the 13th. Then it’s another no-jokes minute until a comically badly CGIed bat tags Frank, and he pays Dee $200 to suck bat-poison out of his head.
However, after this unfamiliar quasi-serious mood has had time to set in, we’re treated to the glory of a full McPoyle family gathering, with punch bowls of milk, a grim cellist and enough unibrows to rival Frida Kahlo’s entire body of work. The McPoyles get some epic family history in this—apparently their bloodline has been “pure” for a thousand years, but visionary Liam has decided to marry outside the family for the purpose of tainting the blood of others and taking over the world. (We discover this right after the horror, the horror of those 10 long seconds where we seem to be getting direct, sound-effect-rich evidence of the McPoyle brothers’ sexual relationship.)
And, of course, there’s the bath-salts-induced (ripped from the headlines!) seeming zombie apocalypse, which is pretty wonderful, from Margaret McPoyle foaming at the mouth and pointing to the weird contortionist lady dragging herself along the floor to the closing zoom into Dennis’ screaming mouth as Maureen Ponderosa shows up in her horrible kitten sweatshirt. It doesn’t matter that I’m not really a fan of the whole genre and probably missed a lot of things. What’s important is that the writers are fans, because this episode had more enthusiasm and energy than the show’s had in years.
- Hey, it’s Guillermo del Toro as the displeased patriarch of the McPoyle family, screaming “One of them babies tried to eat me! I ate him first! I ate him first!” Apparently, Charlie Day found out the director was a fan of the show while working with him on Pacific Rim, so they wrote him a guest role.
- “Are you doing the speech from Jaws? Are you doing Jaws?”
- Don’t you just stop having to pay alimony when your former spouse gets legally married to someone else? Why would Dennis need to get both Liam and Maureen to sign something? And does stabbing a hole in a document with a pen have legal weight as a signature?
- “Deez Nuts” is an excellent nickname.
- Liam, like Rickety Cricket, is now down one eye.