Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia: “The Gang Gets Trapped”

Illustration for article titled It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia: “The Gang Gets Trapped”

A couple episodes back I said that Sunny is one of those shows that can tell you exactly what the joke is, sometimes even spoiling a joke before it happens, and still have it be funny. But what happens when the writers aren't as generous with plot information, forcing us to play catchup throughout an episode? And what happens when 90 percent of it is done in a whisper?

First, let's just get this out of the way: This episode was bizarre. In fact, the more I think about it, the less convinced I am that the withholding of information was intentional, rather than just the product of some awkward editing of an overlong script. We didn't really get a reveal of any sort at the ending, aside from the fact that the family whose home the gang has broken into is Asian. In fact, there wasn't really much more going on that what had already been laid out. It's very possible that I'm tired and crazy, but with all the secretive talk about artifacts and allusions to the ill-begotten scheme that had landed the gang in the situation we found them in at the beginning of the episode, I was really hoping for more of a surprise when they finally made their escape.

So here's what happened in “The Gang Gets Trapped”: The gang has read something in the newspaper about a family who bought a rare vase at an auction, which incensed them enough to formulate an Indiana Jones-inspired mission to steal it and give it back to a museum. Dee, Dennis, and Frank break into the house while Mac and Charlie stand lookout, but the wife returns home before they can retrieve the “artifact.” While trapped inside, it becomes clear that the wife is preparing to run away with her lover and daughter, but before they leave, her husband returns. A fight nearly breaks out, but then everyone decides to sit down and talk it over. At that point the gang attempts to leave the house, figuring that they won't be caught since they've somehow gone this long without being discovered. They see the family, the family sees them, and Frank breaks the vase. The end.

The most frustrating thing about “The Gang Gets Trapped” is that it wasn't even entirely unfunny, though it certainly was below average, even for this season. Even the bit about the imported leather store in Arizona, which I dismissed the first time as generic random-ness, got a laugh out of me by the fourth time it was brought up. (“How are we not supposed to fantasize about opening imported leather shops in Arizona?”) But without any certain context for what's actually going on, even reliable bits like Dennis' full-blown loathing of Dee (“Dee, you gangly uncoordinated bitch, I am not going to get hog-tied because of your lack of grace”) felt unmoored. And the whole infidelity subplot with the unseen family was a complete dead end.

I can see how the decision to deal with the aftermath of another one of the gang's bad ideas could be an interesting variation on the exceedingly simple Sunny formula of “pitch bad idea, bad idea snowballs, innocent people and/or the gang get screwed over, roll credits,” especially given Dennis' oh-so-meta criticism of that formula in the cold open. But I still think I would have preferred to see the undoubtedly idiotic conversation at Paddy's that preceded the episode, including Dennis' “very persuasive” speech in which he nominated himself to lead the mission by virtue of his stealth and grace. (“I will be in and out like a demon's whisper.”) Just a minute or two of exposition at the top of the episode would have helped this episode by a mile.

Sunny can pull off mystery, (though that word is probably way too strong for this episode), but it only works when one or more of the gang is just as clueless as to what's going on as we are. (See: “Mac Is A Serial Killer,” “Who Got Dee Pregnant?”) So much of the show's humor relies on the audience being able to see ten steps ahead of the gang when they can't, and when we try catch up with the gang mid-scheme, we lose that. Plus, I'm sorry, but it just doesn't feel like Sunny when everyone's whispering.


Stray observations:

  • I watched this episode again after writing most of this recap and enjoyed it a bit more, maybe half a grade point. Still, I want to keep these reviews based on first impressions, so the B- still stands.
  • “The vase is not cursed. It's from the 1800s. It was a time of science.”
  • “How have we not been caught at this point?” Season seven just might be remembered as the most meta season in Sunny's run.
  • Charlie has apparently never seen anyone wearing cowboy boots before, which makes me wonder what kind of shoes Hoss Bonaventure wore.