Pulling the Gang out of their native habitat is a risky proposition. Tone is so important to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, as is environment. The Gang is a product of Philadelphia (or at least the show’s grimy simulacrum thereof), with Paddy’s as the epicenter of that world’s awfulness, so if the show is going to lift the Gang out of that milieu, it has to be done carefully. You know, like biological waste.
“The Gang Hits The Slopes” does not do this carefully, instead simply plunking Dee, Dennis, Mac, and Charlie on top of a Pennsylvania mountain and turning them loose in a 1980s ski movie goof that’s as consistently amusing (and occasionally hilarious) as it is sort of disposable. For the third episode in a row kicking off season eleven, Sunny essentially just plays around, which isn’t a problem, really. Funny is funny, and the episode is funny, so there’s nothing to complain about there. The only real problem with “The Gang Hits The Slopes” is that Sunny is specifically funny. This episode makes the show more generic than is sustainable, if It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is going to remain one of the most singular sitcoms in TV history. Still, we do get this:
She’ll be a fitting reward for me after I win the big race. ‘Til then—Tatiana, I want you to clean yourself. For I will enter you hard, and deep, and it will last for as long or as short as I please. But you will be clean. Only when you are clean will you know my power.
That’s some prime Dennis Reynolds, even if, in print, you can’t see the faraway look in his eyes by the end of the speech, or hear the incomparably arch Dennis madness throughout. (If anyone could have made the 50 Shades Of Grey movie watchable it’d be Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds as Christian Grey.) If the episode is content to throw the Gang into a 30-years-too-late version of Ski School, then at least they’re still themselves.
Speaking of Ski School, that’s 80s teen comedy leading also-ran Dean Cameron as “local free spirit” Dave Drisko, shaggily slobby ski rental dude at the Poconos resort the Gang immediately starts busting up with their various movie-based conceptions of appropriate aprés-ski behavior. Cameron (slacker ski bum hero of both Ski Schools, plus Summer School, and the TV-friendly Spicoli on the Fast Times series) might be an accomplished character actor at this point, but he’s great here revisiting his youth, his fifty-ish party animal embodying just how creepy 80s-movie hijinks are, even with him resurrecting his dopey goofball persona. When the Gang splits down the middle as usual, this time at the revelation that Frank—arriving by limo—intends to tear down the existing resort in favor of one for “millionaires to plow their trophy whores,” Mac and Dee tag along with Drisko, and the classic 1980s “slobs vs. snobs” dynamic is off and running.
As Dee and Mac discover that Drisko and his somehow even-sadder roomies in the former ski bum party house are aging, broke, alcoholic, and pathetically clinging to their former glory, Dennis latches onto Frank’s plan, embracing his own Billy Zabka (complete with a quartet of mannequin-like Swiss skier henchmen). Charlie, caught in the middle as ever, is swayed over to the snobs, largely because Mac and Dee don’t care enough to recruit him. Charlie’s more guileless madness often makes him function as the Gang’s moral compass (God help us), and here he drifts from one team to the other, before setting out on his own once he recognizes that Dennis’ bodysuited alpha-jerk plan to win the big ski race is as nonsensical as Dee and Mac’s conflicted attempts to join in with Drisko’s Porky’s-style “pranks.” (Rob McElhenney delivers some prime Mac cluelessness, trying to overcome his suspicions of Drisko’s plan to stick his dick in the holes he’s drilled in the women’s shower: “Okay, so it’s a prank if you don’t want to see it, but he shows it anyway?”)
Charlie, confused as to why the ubiquitous resort PA announcer keeps hyping up only the Gang’s stories (“He knows my name? He knows my name!,” he rants as he storms out of Dennis’ monomaniacal pep talk), ends up running across the aforementioned Tatiana in the outdoor hot tub. (Frank had brought her in from Bulgaria to entertain investors with her land’s finest caviar.) What follows is easily the most explicit sex scene in Sunny history, as the topless Tatiana (Natasha Alam) urges Charlie to abandon both his clothes and his questioning of the Gang’s “it’s the mountain!” anything-goes philosophy. As Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” blasts on the soundtrack, we’re treated to the fully-nude sight of Charlie and Tatiana in a variety of positions—one atop a bearskin rug—before they collapse in post-coital bliss while Charlie blasts out some riffs on a saxophone. Like Dee, Dennis, and Mac’s expert ski moves at the beginning of the episode, this scene epitomizes the inessential nature of “The Gang Hits The Slopes.” Funny and impeccably performed (the way Charlie keeps glancing around in delight and amazement even while athletically sexing up Tatiana is hilarious), each sequence is so over-the-top that I was sure the episode would be revealed to be just someone’s dream. (I had a vision of Charlie lying unconscious in the filthy snow in the gutter outside Paddy’s, half-remembered VHS teen sex comedies running through his head.)
But, nope—Dee, Dennis, and Mac (duster swirling in the alpine air) are world-class skiers. And Charlie is a sex machine (once he peels off his dirty, jacuzzi-drenched clothes). Sure, there’s some course correction in the end—Dennis eats it on a mogul, shattering his ankles (but winning the big race by dragging his broken body over the finish line), and Tatiana turns out to be a hooker, hired by Frank as part of his real plan to frack the mountain while everyone’s distracted. As fun as this episode’s referential jokes are, the only way to enjoy it is to forget that the the show is based on the premise that the Gang isn’t good at things. And the fact that Charlie’s traditionally so freaked out at the prospect of leaving Philly that he has to be knocked unconscious first (apart from being bad at skiing, he never mentions any of his usual discomfort). And that, after the first season anyway, Charlie’s standing as a sexual being—never mind the sex-montage animal seen here—has always been tied to his status as some sort of feral manchild with only a rudimentary concept of what sex entails.
It’s been an odd start to this season. All three episodes have been good, one even great. But each has been marked by a lack of the rigorous comic adventurousness that’s set It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia apart. In a very real sense, I could call this my least favorite episode of the series—and yet it was really funny. And while that’s a testament to how talented this cast is and how inherently compelling the show’s world is, Sunny really needs to stop playing to the crowd and get back to the sort of inventive awfulness that’s its true blackly comic engine.
- As Drisko’s roomies, that’s Kevin Farley (character actor and Chris’ brother) as Turkey, and former 80s refugee Courtney Gains (Hardbodies, Can’t Buy Me Love) as Roach.
- Charlie immediately starts eating Frank’s model of the proposed luxury resort. To be fair, Frank may have, in fact, told him it was made of candy. Dennis, in full visionary mode, suggests extending the presentation with another: “I’d like to get a visual on that banquet, and we may as well make it candy.”
- I may have laughed hardest at Mac’s gleefully uncomprehending “I don’t know! I don’t know!” to Charlie’s question, “What does that have to do with Frank and Dennis?” when Drisko is pulling his Porky’s prank.
- Even Dee and Mac start reevaluating Drisko’s coolness, as he rips some party girls’ tops off at their party. Mac: “Oh my God, you can’t do that! Although they don’t seem to mind.” (As revealed later, Frank hired them, too.)
- Charlie, resisting Dennis’ entreaties to join his evil ski team: “Uh, look, I don’t get anything that’s happening, so I’m out, you know what I mean? Maybe we should drink some beer, eat some snow…”
- Charlie, moral compass: “Where I’m from jamming your dick through a hole in the wall is a felony, it’s assault.” Indeed, as Drisko is revealed to be the mountain’s infamous sexual predator. (Plus, bald.)
- Dee: “I’d also like to remove myself from the sexual predator team.”
- Charlie’s big Winger speech (Stripes and Community versions): “No, Dennis. I’m gonna race for everyone. I’m gonna race for the people. See, last night Tatiana taught me all about Communism. Cold, hard winters. Gross soups. She also taught me a lot about sex. Sweet sex, amazing sex—a lotta sex. Jacuzzi sex, Dennis! [Flashback to quick montage of sex scenes.] It was amazing. So I get it now. I like the mountain, I understand the rules, and I am gonna shred.”