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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia: "Mac and Dennis: Manhunters" and "The Gang Solves The Gas Crisis"

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Sunny is back!

In case you weren't here earlier this week, Noel interviewed Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day. Because the show has such a what-the-hell feel, it's amusing to hear the creators talk about craft and acting and character. But isn't that always the way? The more spontaneous it looks, the harder you have to work to make sure it comes out right. Because a guerrilla sensibility is fragile — there's no net. There are no conventions to fall back on except the ones you create yourself.

But enough about comedic philosophy. We're here for the funny. And there's some good funny here, especially in episode 2. So let's take the last bit first.

"The Gang Solves The Gas Crisis"

Mac decides that the reason that the trio of dudes isn't more effective as a team is that they aren't adhering to the tried-and-true fictional team paradigm: brains, looks, wildcard. As the brains, he comes up with a plan to get a bank loan, buy gas, and sell it for a profit. As the looks, Dennis creates a poster featuring busty women and a line graph to convince the presumably male loan officers to fund their scheme. And as the wildcard, Charlies looks and acts unpredictable. Meanwhile Dee comes up with a plan to frame Bruce for some crime and prevent him from giving away the inheritance money she considers to be rightfully hers to terrorists, and Frank brings his experience in covert ops and child safety equipment to the table as backup.

Here Sunny is playing to its strengths: using pop culture conventions to provide a jumping-off point for meta-riffs on their implausibility. My personal favorite part was the tossed-off idea of a spy van (aka rape van) with windows tinted on the inside. When the camera shoots a dim street from inside while Dee and Frank try to make out what's happening, the joke moves into silent movie territory, elevated out of the rapid-fire dialogue on which so much of Sunny's appeal rests.

But the bank pitch is an instant classic, with Dennis trying to seduce the loan officer by unbuttoning his shirt and then having Charlie and Mac both jump all over his play. "You can't pull a wildcard if my shirt's already off!" Dennis complains to Charlie, then suggests to Mac, "That should be a rule."

"Mac And Dennis: Manhunters"

The season premiere finds Mac and Charlie united in the belief that the only true sport is to hunt something that could hunt you back. Man is the only creature that fits the bill, so they lure Rickety Cricket down to the bar to be their target, load up on beer and camo, and sit on the street in a cardboard man-blind discussing the teabagging that will occur when they catch Cricket. Meanwhile, Frank has decided to teach Dee and Charlie a lesson for stealing venison out of his fridge; he tells them they've eaten human meat. But the two develop a craving for human flesh and start plotting to find more.

"Manhunters" is just a smidge too manic and not random enough to be Grade A premium corn-fed beef. It's overplanned — the sense of spontaneity that I mentioned above isn't the dominant note. Nevertheless, you can't underestimate the improvisational timing of the players. When Dee proposes a place to get human meat to Charlie — "The morgue. Now hear me out —" he cuts her off with "Sold." And you could extract the long discussions of how to raise the bar on the garden-variety teabaggings they've been giving to Cricket since they were kids, culminating of course in the evidence of both gorilla-masking and ink-teabagging each other, and put it in a tutorial to explain what Sunny is all about to a novice.

FX is going to do the whole two-at-a-time rollout again this season, and I hope somebody in the comments can explain the thinking behind this move. It's a 13-episode season, and last year it lasted all of two months. Why do we need our Sunny in hour-long packages? Personally, it's a bit too much for me; the flat-out pace is exhausting at an hour, but invigorating in shorter bursts. Did Dane Cook demand it?

I await your wisdom.

Grade: "Manhunters," B; "Gas Crisis," A-

Stray observations:

- Frank tends to conflate the plot of First Blood with his own past. "That's not the first time you've described your life in the ways of John Rambo," Dennis observes after Frank has described being hunted by cops after returning from the Nam.

- It's bad enough being a cannibal, but being a racist cannibal would really put a dent in your will to live.

- The gang finally gets their personae sorted out just before blowing up the rape van. If you're keeping score at home, Mac is the brains, Dennis is the looks, Charlie is the wildcard, Frank is the muscle, and Dee is the useless chick. (I don't remember there being that many Ghostbusters, and who was the looks in that outfit, Ernie Hudson?)

- "It's just like our normal lives, except at the end of it we get to put our nuts in some guy's mouth."