Just last season, Dennis sized up the fake baby funeral the Gang set up to help Dee get out of being audited and declared “This is the darkest thing we’ve ever done.” That’s arguable—“Dennis And Dee Go On Welfare,” Dennis in “The Gang Buys A Boat” and everything involving poor Rickety Cricket jumped to mind as darker—and the première of the eighth season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia seems to take that “Sweet Dee Gets Audited” declaration as a challenge.
“Pop-Pop: The Final Solution,” like “Sweet Dee Gets Audited,” was written by Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, and Rob McElhenney. Maybe it’s because the co-creators have spent so much time with their characters, but episodes credited to the trio always seem to be more eager to top (bottom?) themselves, to keep the characters developing and moving forward… and by forward, I mean “downward.” (McElhenney, who has solo writing credit for “Welfare” and “Boat,” seems to be particularly motivated in that regard.) Since this episode calls (and even flashes) back to the first-season episode “The Gang Finds A Dead Guy,” it’s interesting to watch the two episodes back-to-back to see how much the show’s changed since 2005.
“Dead Guy” involves another fraudulent-funeral plot, as Mac and Dennis compete to ingratiate themselves with the hot granddaughter of a man who died at Paddy’s by pretending they knew him. It’s fairly messed up. However, in the early years of the show, the writers would usually start the characters at a point that’s not innocent, but not monstrous—Mac tries to get on the granddaughter’s good side by making her feel better with the exaggeration “He was a great man”—and then escalate the situation until they’re hiring hobos to play mourners and giving virtuosically insincere speeches at the funeral. There were steps. You could sort of see how the characters got from point A to point B, and usually somewhere along the way someone (usually Dee or Charlie) would say something like “This is wrong.”
Seven seasons later, Day, Howerton, and McElhenney aren’t bothering with point A. They go straight to Dennis and Dee trying to suss out whether they’ll feel bad about pulling the plug on their comatose Nazi grandfather by watching a dog get put down at the pound, and there are no comments from the peanut gallery about whether this is an okay thing to do. “I feel like we need to pick the dog, because we need to feel the full weight of the decision” is some dark shit. Even darker, the pound is staffed by Rickety Cricket, who now has a horrendous facial scar—Cricks:The Gang::Portrait:Dorian Gray—whose life is now ruined so completely that he literally pleads to be the one put out of his misery.
Okay, yes, they don’t go through with it, and even turn the dogs and Cricket loose. (When a doctor mentions later that there’s been a weird rash of stray-dog attacks, I like to think the culprit was the adorable basset hound.) But the twins’ hatred of their grandfather for being a card-carrying Nazi seems to be more about the card than the actual things the Nazis did. They don’t see anything weird about going straight from deciding to off Pop-Pop for being a Nazi (a reaction to watching their younger selves happily Heiling in hysterical home-video footage of White Power Summer Camp) to selecting an innocent animal to be killed. Further down that road, they totally accept the idea that turning over their life-or-death choice to The Only Lawyer In Philadelphia—who’s made it very clear that he will pull the plug if given the choice—is significantly different from choosing to euthanize their grandfather themselves. It dovetails well with Dee’s earlier “he was just following orders” defense of Pop-Pop: As long as they don’t actually say the word or give the command themselves, they’re not responsible.
The subplot in which Mac, Charlie, and Frank search for a painting by Adolf Hitler is mostly notable for Charlie accidentally getting braces and a conversation Mac and Charlie have about how Hitler got to be Hitler: Since he painted German Shepherds all the time, he must have had a cute little puppy that met an ill fate, and then snap! Evil! These characters clearly don’t think they’re bad people—why would Dee and Dennis care about the decision at all if they did?—because they think there’s a clear moment when people leap the fence into Badville. Harvey Dent gets hit in the face with a jar of acid, Hitler’s puppy dies, someone gives the word to kill someone. Even if they’ve been on a slow downward spiral for seven years, as long as they don’t remember any “Snap! Evil!” moments, the members of the Gang are gonna be okay with themselves.
As in “Dead Guy,” the episode ends with Nazi artifacts in flames. And after a very quick setup earlier when Mac name-drops Citizen Kane—as long as we’re on the theme of downward spirals—in reference to his hypothetical Ryan Gosling movie, the episode closes with the same brutal chords that accompany the final shots of a burning Rosebud. I just about died.
- Fat Mac has reverted to just Mac, which is addressed at the top of the episode in a way that suggests “and let us never speak of that again.” This means Mac once again fits in his duster.
- “I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that dog is very paralyzed now.”
- Through the whole Hitler-painting subplot, I was trying to remember the author of a short story I vaguely remembered about a collector of Hitler paintings with a twist ending. What was it, Bradbury? Nope—just a particularly literary-seeming episode of Justified.
- “It’s not a trap, Frank, it’s an empty trunk, and you fell into it like a Weeble-Wobble.”
- Though the idea that it’s Charlie’s turn to act as a visual marker for season eight is pretty funny (as was the idea of him at some point yelling “ERMAHGERD”), the braces are temporary.
- It’s hard to believe that, given his history with recreational inhalants, Charlie would be knocked out by mere nitrous that fast.
- “So then Hitler comes back from the past, he joins us on our adventure, and we go on a big caper together.” If this show ever starts doing Community-style theme episodes, I’m proposing this as an animated special.
- Dee seems to have gotten over her terror of old, sick people, as she’s fine with entering Pop-Pop’s unrealistically horrific hospital room.
- Those threat-assessment glasses don’t really go anywhere, do they?
- There weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to stretch my legs on this one, but I volunteered for Always Sunny because I live in Philly—in fact, I used to work at the alt-weekly that published Dennis’ NO RULES sex ad—and can probably bring some local trivia to the table, even though the show doesn’t shoot here much anymore. (The first few seasons, though, you practically couldn’t walk to Wawa without detouring around one of its shoots.) Anyway, hello. I’d like to put it out there from the start that I am terrible with grades.
- Pretty much anyone watching the show would feel fine describing most of the characters as very, very bad people, but using the word “evil” with them earlier felt weird to me. Thoughts?