“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” returns for its eleventh season on FX. Over a decade has passed since the Paddy’s Pub gang’s mood-setting foray into horribleness, “The Gang Gets Racist.”
The show’s creators have taken advantage of its long-running success by making it weirder and meaner.
The uninitiated can start just about anywhere in the show’s 118-episode catalogue. There is no continuity between episodes other than the gang’s impulsiveness, inflated egos, and endless stagnation.
The only plot that needs following is this: Charlie, Mac, Dee, Dennis and Frank operate a dingy dive bar in Philadelphia. Every episode they come up with a horrible plan to make money or further their status, humiliate themselves trying to see it to fruition and fail.
No matter the outcome, the gang never, ever learns anything. No idea is degrading enough to inspire self-control, no resolution painful enough for growth or self-awareness.
The eleventh season premiere revisits one of the more disturbing relics of “Always Sunny,” “Chardee Macdennis,” the gang’s woeful team board game that eclipses even the most heated battle of Risk in its ability to ruin friendships.
However, calling whatever it is between the gang ‘friendship’ would imply anything resembling affection exists within the gang (codependency seems more apt a term).
“Chardee Macdennis” tasks its players with nonsensical trivia questions and puzzles, some of which are in equal parts opinionated and outdated.
An example of a typical question is “Who’s the most fun guy in Philadelphia to have a beer with?” Answer: “Bill Cosby.”
As the game progresses the challenges become more intense, beginning with physical endurance and ending on the highly personal infliction of “emotional battery and public humiliation.”
Frank Reynolds seizes an opportunity to inflict his own brand of pain by utilizing the ongoing mandatory drinking stipulation. He spikes the gang’s jello shots with tranquilizers and thrusts them into a Saw-inspired “Horror” level.
Charlie embodies a grotesque childlike innocence, like a bloodied Peter Pan but greater potential for self-destruction.
The second “Chardee Macdennis” chapter, in particular, puts him through the ringer.
Charlie swallows broken glass in one level and tears into the skin of his forearm with electrified tweezers in the next. Delirious from the latter challenge, he defecates his trousers.
For the final “emotional battery and self-humiliation,” Dee draws on Charlie’s unrequited love interest to berate him for a full sixty seconds to win the final round. As a reward, the winning team gets to burn the opposing team’s insignia.
It becomes clearer in the final stages of “Chardee Macdennis” what it was, exactly, that inspired the gang to construct such a painful procedure for their willing participation.
The game serves as a conduit for whatever resentment and nastiness they fail to inflict on each other in their scheming.
The waitress relishes the opportunity to do the same, which plays out in soft focus as Charlie rapidly loses consciousness.
“Always Sunny” is at its best when it sets the gang free to erode away each other’s sanity. Charlie comes out the definitive loser, but that’s only because “Chardee Macdennis” allows the profound label.
If there’s anything to be learned from the show, it’s this: as long as Paddy’s Pub is open for business, no one wins.