TV and film have gotten a lot of good mileage out of the high school reunion trope over the years, mostly because few settings offer such a stark social heirarchy for adult characters to navigate, be they outsiders and rejects, or golden gods. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia has always been a show about outsiders, but what has consistently set it apart is how much it goes out of its way to assure us that its protagonists are outsiders for very, very good reasons. The main factor that keeps us rooting for them is the loyalty we've nurtured for them over the years. Oh, and the fact that the people they usually find themselves up against are even bigger assholes.
Tonight's finale was gratifying in so many ways. There was the return of Fatty Magoo, the one high school classmate of the gang's that was clearly missing from last week. She mostly just served as the object of Dee's failed attempt to belittle her way back into the cool kids club, but Judy Greer is such an amazing straight man to Kaitlin Olson at her most unhinged, and the whole exchange was pretty much perfect, even as it it devolved into Dee just screaming “MagooMagooMagooMagoo!” as Ingrid slips away. Even funnier, though, was Dee's realization immediately afterward how grotesque her behavior had just been. It's rare to have such sober self-awareness from these characters, so when it does happen, it always catches me off-guard in the best way possible. The return of the Aluminum Monster was a long time coming as well (though I could have done without the atomic wedgie scene that got us there; somehow, it's just not as funny with a thong and a girl). I loved how Dee's mania was immediately bridled as soon as she had it on; it really made it easier to understand how this poor girl who had spent her adolescence in that horrific contraption would kind of go bananas once she was freed from it.
I also wasn't necessarily expecting some logical peak to the Dennis Serial Killer thread, but if I was, those expectations were exceeded tenfold. In a season that, even in its weaker moments, has been a killer one for Glenn Howerton, the outburst in the gym was a grand finale with fireworks. Starting with his breakdown with Tim Murphy's Black Wife (“I was manipulating your feeble little brain into doing what I want – what I want!”) to his freakout in front of the whole class (“I am the golden god of this place, I reign supreme, I... I... I!”) and culminating with his crazed supply run in the parking lot (“TOOLS! TOOLS! I have to have my TOOLS!”), it was a bravura performance that, in a far more interesting, just world, would get Howerton an Emmy nod. This whole season, I had figured that keeping the more explicit details of Dennis' psychopathy in the background would always be far more funny than just laying them out in the open, but tonight, I was definitely proved wrong.
But I think what really warmed my heart, in the warped way that Sunny can pull that off from time to time, is how the gang united as one Freight Train of Revenge against the cool kids in the second half. We've had far too many episodes this season with the gang split up or otherwise compromised, and all I really wanted was to see them back together in full force, even if their ultimate failure was inevitable. Frank's big pep talk (Dennis: "That's the most coherent thing that's ever come out of your mouth!”) and the less-inspiring back half was a great little bit, as was Charlie's D.A.R.E.-counselor-style intro to the big dance routine. “Plan B” itself (complete with exaggerated creaks from the Aluminum Monster and a stunningly shirtless Fat Mac) was perhaps a little reminiscent of the fabulous pageant performance back in “Frank Reynolds' Little Beauties,” but I'm always a sucker for any time the gang puts on a show. I could see the smash cut back to reality coming from a mile away, but I almost didn't want it to. (I was dying at the shots of the suddenly elated classmates eating the routine up, but I knew this wasn't the kind of show where those absurd 180s occur; Sunny is pretty good about consistency in the gang's place in the world.) However, once I saw Mac bellowing, with sweat dripping off of his enormous belly, and Frank puking into a wine bucket, I knew I could put this finale down in the books as a major fucking success.
The rest of this season? Well, as you regular readers are probably far too aware, I'm still split on it, and I'm definitely apprehensive about Seasons 8 and 9. Will Sunny still be funny? Almost definitely; I still adore this show even though it hasn't been as consistent for me this time around, and I'll undoubtedly stick it out to the end. But with other projects cropping up and fewer and fewer scripts being written by the central McElhenney/Day/Howerton/Hornsby team with each passing season (only six out of 13 this season, as opposed to 12 out of 13 in season four), I just suspect that Sunny won't be getting the kind of care and attention from its creators that it did during its best years. That's entirely their right. After seven by and large successful seasons, I'm not the kind of viewer who needs constant reassurance that Mommy and Daddy still love them. I can't wait to see what kind of other funny shit the Sunny team comes up with down the road (though I'm still very much on the fence about what little I've seen and heard of Unsupervised), and as long as the gang continues to serve up a few solid laughs every week, I'll be a happy camper.
- No confirmation of the Waitress' real name tonight, so perhaps that Nicki Potnick business was just a tease?
- Speaking of the Waitress, her final act offer to “sleep with the next guy who talks to me” was great, though perhaps not the strongest of endings to the episode, since the whole Waitress/Charlie plot has kind of been on the backburner this whole season. Still, I loved how Jason Sudeikis literally jumped out of those bushes on cue. Poor Charlie.
- Fat Mac has changed his terminology ever-so-slightly: He is no longer “cultivating mass,” he has “tacked it on.”
- Charlie's dance intro was predictably rambling, but I laughed out loud with “Then later, kids dressed up in trench coats and shot each other at school, and that's not cool,” which was punctuated by a stern shake of the head from Dennis.
- Yeah, pretty much everything Dee said to Fatty Magoo was gold. “Carrying around a clipboard, huh? Dork!”
- I feel like I can't reiterate enough how amazing Glenn Howerton was tonight. “I like to bind. I like to be bound!”