Is it possible to be simultaneously disappointed and delighted by the same episode of television? Judging from this long-anticipated return of the Gang’s in-every-way misguided attempt to film their own Lethal Weapon sequels, the answer is “Yup, sure is.” On the one hand: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s return to the comedic well of inept filmmaking, horrifyingly hilarious racial politics, and Danny DeVito sex noises pales in complexity to their first effort in “Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth.” On the other hand, it’s pretty damned funny.
As David Sims adroitly pointed out in his review of the Gang’s first foray into the world of, as Mac puts it this time out, “testosterone-driven, male-skewing action melodrama,” their attempt to capture the Riggs/Murtaugh magic was a jaw-droppingly sublime window into each member’s various depths of insensitivity, ignorance, and outright stupidity. The Gang’s collective arguments concerning, say, the appropriateness of Mac playing Rog in full blackface vs. Dennis playing him as a white dude (but with an affected “black guy” voice) were absolutely essential, not just as brilliant pieces of comic character deconstruction (which they most assuredly were), but as the underpinning to the fact that both of those things, and much, much worse were going to happen in Lethal Weapon 5.
The relentlessly heinous behavior of the Gang doesn’t devolve into shrill, cruel, yahoo-humor because their actions always boomerang back on them—either through immediate karmic comeuppance or an illumination of the characters’ inner flaws. Another show might make the spectacle of Mac, in full “black” body makeup, an emblem of its desire to be shocking for its own sake. Here, because the groundwork has been laid (in several layers), the joke becomes about the Gang’s narcissism and how their desires always trump what even they realize is a touchy area of racial politics. Mac and Dennis love Lethal Weapon and they both want to play both roles. And whatever tortuous rationalizations they have to follow in order to get them to do that thing will, indeed, be tortured.
In “The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6,” all that tedious rationalization has been settled (at least in the Gang’s minds), and so the episode is free to simply rear back and let fly with a new installment of the franchise, upping the ante with:
- Mac’s Murtaugh wearing basketball togs, playing shirtless volleyball, and going bare-assed (albeit stunt bare-assed) in the shower—making the “blackface” issue more of a “black everywhere” one.
- Dee (looking, in a white wedding dress, very much like Chang’s Drow costume from Community) joining him in the shoe-polish club as Rog’s daughter (who’s about to marry Riggs).
- Frank upping his Native American stereotypes to 11, as the resurrected Chief Lazarus plans to sink L.A. by doing an evil rain dance (he owns the nearby Indian reservation and an umbrella factory).
And on and on. Nearly all of it funny—the added wrinkle of Mac over-explaining the action because he’s perpetually confused by movies is a gag that keeps on giving. But, like most re-hashes, it’s neither as fresh (nor as awe-inspiringly appalling) as the original.
As Mac, Charlie, and Dennis shop their unfinished film around, we’re treated to the Gang’s conception of what a long-running buddy cop franchise should be. Some of it is right on the nose: I’m sure there’s at least one spec script out there where Riggs’ marriage to Murtaugh’s daughter is complicated by both Rog’s grumbling objections and a terrorist attack at the altar. Even Mac’s obsessive need to make sure no one misses anything is just exaggerated enough to properly satirize studios’ relentless dumbing-down of scripts. (Even the dimmest action fan won’t miss a big symbolic callback like “Rog, if you make this shot you will have redeemed yourself with the item you failed with in the beginning!”) They’ve got the enthusiasm and have internalized enough of the genre’s rhythms to produce something recognizable, it’s just that they are incapable of putting aside their own narcissism in order to craft a coherent narrative. Also: They’re pretty stupid.
In a way, it seems ungrateful to complain, as the entire episode seems like a little present to the fans. The whole enterprise is funny as hell; the running bit where Dee’s roles keep getting swallowed up in the editing lands every time. But to non-fans flipping channels, it might make It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia look like less than it is.
- Mac overenthusiastically saying “He can do them all!” to Dennis’ litany of his favorite acrobatic sex positions (reverse piledriver, seated scissors, wheelbarrow, reverse cowgirl) continues the theme of Mac’s unacknowledged homosexuality/crush on Dennis. (Not to mention the shower ’rasslin…)
- More Mac-position: “Riggs! What the hell are you doin’ here? Our relationship is strained.” Also: “Do I wanna see my ex-Special Forces ex-partner marry my baby girl daughter?” Extra points for “baby girl daughter.”
- Not much Charlie in this one, but he gets a big laugh when the police captain tries to recover from a blown line with, “Welcome back to the force Riggs...MURTAUGH!!!”
- “We also thank Martin for his lovely sax solo in lieu of vows.”
- “I think what’s happening here is you’re a woman and our demographic skews male.”
- The changing Paddy’s sign callback gag is funny, but predictable. As is the role switch, although Dennis’ “Our audience has come to expect that from us” saves it. (And wasn’t their last audience just a bar full of high-school kids?)
- I continue to applaud Dennis’ decision to play Riggs with Mel Gibson’s Australian accent.
- DeVito’s Chief Lazarus is essentially the Penguin by the end of the episode, while his evil scheme is suspiciously similar to Lex Luthor’s in the first Superman movie.
- As ever, when the Gang goes into moviemaking mode, the technical ineptitude always works for me. Favorites include: Mac constantly spiking the camera out of nervousness (and Dennis doing the same from annoyance), the cast desperately trying to ignore the stinging insect infestation Charlie and Frank let loose, and the way Dennis and Mac respond to “Lady Starship”—where Dennis’ “What the hell?!” is in character, but Mac’s is not.