After nearly a year away the Gang is back—and they’ve brought us a present in the form of another installment of the Paddy’s Pub sort-of board game, Chardee MacDennis. And, yes, their version of a good time is a mishmash of more rational games, alcohol abuse, and intermittent violence, and includes rounds called “Trivia, Puzzles, and Artistry,” “Physical Challenge, Pain, and Endurance,” and “Emotional Battery and Public Humiliation.” But Chardee MacDennis is nothing if not changeable, so Charlie, Dee, Mac, Dennis, and Frank have introduced, for this second go-round, a “spin the globe” segment (everyone must speak in the accent of the country they land on, regardless of whether or not Charlie and Mac have any idea how they speak in Brazil), a flag-raising ceremony (Frank’s “4 Fs” flag has an unfortunate Nazi vibe to it), and hitherto unseen games like “hands on a bird body” (contestants compete to see who can stand to touch Dee the longest), and “shits and ladders,” a.k.a. “chutes and splatters,” “poops and bladders” (everyone takes laxatives on a ladder and sees how long before, you know). And that’s before Frank—his suggestions for gameplay consistently rejected (“Those aren’t ideas so much as random acts of violence,” admonishes Dennis)—hijacks things in order to institute his Saw-inspired level four (“Horror”).
But fear not, Chardee MacDennis enthusiasts—as with It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia itself, while the game may change, the players ever remain the same. Which means that we’re in for an inventive night of comic cruelty, stupidity, and abuse, and that somebody (Charlie in this case) is going to wind up in a hospital bed (from blood loss and poisoning), and that the winners, should one call them that (Dee and Dennis’ Golden Geese team) will be insufferable (burning Charlie and Mac’s game flag in a hospital room). Ah, Sunny—it’s been too long.
“Chardee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo” (the subtitle being Frank’s unsanctioned addition to the name), does come out of the season 11 gate as something of a present to fans. Sure, anyone unwittingly stumbling into Sunny for the first time might be confused and somewhat horrified by the Gang’s toxic interactions. I have a feeling you’d have to be steeped in the characters’ tangled web of hatred to understand just why Charlie responding to Dee’s blocking of his resolution for game changes (Chardee MacDennis has a complicated arbitration process, apparently) with an abruptly furious, “Because you have no honor, you goddamn bitch!,” elicits belly laughs, for example. But they’d also have to concede that the constant awfulness is at least impeccably performed constant awfulness. Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, RobMcElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Danny DeVito are so comfortable in, yet committed to their characters, that watching them slip back into them for this 11th season is like watching the Harlem Globetrotters. They’re doing difficult, outrageous things that—thanks to talent, practice, and the sense that this is where they truly belong—look absurdly easy.
Apart from being a sequel to a popular episode, the premiere doesn’t go out of its way to stake out any new territory (horrific new minigames aside), and that’s a good thing. The only other new wrinkle is a sixth player, in the form of Andy Buckley’s Andy, a potential investor from the Mattel corporation whose respectable demeanor in looking for new, more adult board game fare “that’s out of the box” doesn’t prevent him from getting fully and good-naturedly into the booze-fueled, flailing swing of things. Buckley is a canny choice for the episode’s interloper, the actor’s innately decent yet sneakily untrustworthy button-down persona admitting all manner of possibilities for his presence. Now, when an outsider is pulled into the Gang’s orbit, there are only a few conceivable outcomes. For the even-keeled Andy, the episode deftly sets up that he could be just what he says he is (which would probably entail his humiliation, if not serious injury or death), or that he could be another in the long line of scammers and manipulators that have preyed on the Gang’s overreaching, ill-advised ambition (which would mean it’s the Gang that gets abused and humiliated). In the end, though, the fact that the genial Andy is an actor hired by Frank to get Frank’s ideas into Chardee MacDennis makes perfect sense for an episode about Chardee MacDennis.
As deftly as Sunny can handle the squirmy comedy that comes with the Gang inflicting themselves on the outside world, bottle episodes where their collective gifts for terribleness can prey only on each other is oddly liberating. And having Buckley’s Andy not be an antagonist so much as a willing participant keeps the stakes low as well. Buckley gives some of the same bemused glances askance at the Gang that his David Wallace threw at Michael Scott on The Office, but he—at least until Frank has everyone handcuffed to pipes in the basement, trying to dig the keys out of their forearms with tweezers attached to car batteries—is more or less having fun. (Buckley’s Andy launches enthusiastically into the accent portion of the game, breaking out a great comic Russian voice that’s especially endearing.)
As for the Gang themselves, Chardee MacDennis is both a great excuse for escalating, scabrous nonsense and a horrifying peek into their codependent, insular existence. Huddled in squalor, their brains working in concert, the Gang have produced an entertainment that’s an expression of all their malicious traits and barely suppressed neuroses (if not psychoses) in handy board game form. So, during stage one, the simple task of crafting a clay representation of “love” sees Mac lovingly sculpting a Cupid’s arrow that looks suspiciously like an enormous, veiny penis (“That’s the streak as it flies through the air,” protests Mac), and Dennis’ meticulously rendered woman’s head in a box adds to the show’s ever-mounting hints as to the depths of Dennis’ dark side. (“This is not a woman’s head in a box, you sick freak!,” he spits at the Gang’s horrified expressions, “This is a woman’s head in a freezer, and it’s supposed to represent the preservation of love forever and ever!”)
The Gang’s ever-shifting dynamic of abuse here sees the always-victorious Dee and Dennis teaming up to destroy the others, even as their own bubbling resentment against each other seeps through when Dennis hurls himself away during “hands on a bird body” because he can’t bear to touch his sister for one more second. (Sneakily, he’d glued his hand to her jacket, costing Andy the win.) And poor Charlie—after being the only one to actually try to dig for that nonexistent key (and succeeding only in grabbing hold of an arm bone, divesting himself of much of his blood, and pooping his pants)—is subjected to his greatest fear, as the Waitress is brought on by Dee to tell her just what she thinks of him, ultimately costing him the game. (It’s a testament to just how much the beleaguered Waitress wants to lay into Charlie that she allows herself to be dragged—literally, with a hood on her head—back into the Gang’s nonsense.)
Throughout the episode, everybody gets equal time to shine. Day and McElhenney always make the Charlie-Mac dynamic deliriously funny, their proximity to each other somehow making the pair collectively dumber. Tasked with performing Brazilian accents, they immediately adopt movie-stereotypical cholo voices. (“Got real racist with it, huh?,” marvels Dee.) And their literalism in the face of abstract concepts is always a laugh—even though they chose the team name The Thundercats, they had to change it to The Thundermen because, as Charlie explains, “We’re not cats, so...” Dee and Dennis’ utter contempt for each other only makes them stronger and more terrifying when they team up—the sheer, glinting delight Howerton and Olson bring to the Golden Geese’s evil scheming is a masterpiece of arch malevolence. It might be predictable that they’re only there to greet the waking Charlie in his hospital bed at episode’s end so that they can gloat over his humiliation, but it’s all the funnier for how inevitable it is. DeVito’s DeVito—Frank’s balder villainy is always best as a side dish rather than a main course. (I present his Nazi-esque flag and fond reminiscences of childhood games of ”Kick the Jew” as evidence.) But the reveal that his Saw plan is actually in keeping with the spirit of the board-game hybrid spirit of Chardee MacDennis (since he based it on Operation) is actually very clever—and, in DeVito’s Jigsaw-masked delivery, kind of absurdly chilling.
After ten seasons of what I maintain is one of the most difficult comic balancing acts on TV, that Sunny starts out by giving fans exactly what they want may seem like a safe play. But if “Chardee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo” is fanservice, it’s hilarious, exquisite fanservice, with enough energetic inventiveness to suggest that the Gang has another solid season in store for us.
- “Andy’s our guest, we shouldn’t be poking him with needles.” Because of Dee and Dennis’ past cheating, wine is now administered intravenously (chugging is performed by squeezing the bag). Andy is allowed to sit this one out, though.
- Mac and Charlie, helpfully explaining some Chardee MacDennis nuances: “All accents are dropped the minute someone is caught cheating.” “We have to be able to berate them in our native tongue to allow for maximum shame.”
- Speaking of accents, Dee’s inability to do a Philly accent is almost as funny as Dennis’ ability to do one.
- That some fine blood-loss gibberish from Charlie Day.
- “Want a game that lulls you into a sense of security but then surprises you with constant rule changes?”
- They’re still using that one VHS tape, their delightfully incompetent recorded pitch to the Mattel people preceded by a snatch of the Fight Milk commercial.
- And Frank is given away when Andy calls him “donkey brain,” which has apparently stuck as part of the Gang’s lexicon. Continuity is all on It’s Always Sunny. (See also: Wolf Cola voice message on Frank’s phone.)
- Dennis, after Andy finally breaks character at Frank’s terror basement additions and disparages Chardee MacDennis: “The game is fine—this does not represent us!”