The main thing you have to know about “Mac and Dennis Buy a Timeshare” is that Frank (Danny Devito) spends the entire episode stuck inside a coil at a children’s playground. He made in the journey in the middle of the night after some unspecified dreams, and told Charlie not to come along. Now he’s trapped wearing nothing but his tighty-whiteys- though there’s nothing really “tighty” about them—and the whole thing is as disturbing and perverse and hilarious as it sounds. The gang doesn’t know why he’s there, he won’t explain (“How does anything happen? Move past it!”), and we never learn. His entire conflict is the attempt to get out before the kids come on Saturday, but of course “Frank mostly naked in a playground surrounded by children” is this episode’s version of “Chekhov’s gun,” and it is going to be fired.
The rest of the proceedings, unfortunately, are pretty lackluster. It starts with Dee trying to hawk something called “Abani Berry,” which comes with energy gels and shakes and is clearly the vehicle of a pyramid scheme. Dennis and Mac mock her, but they visit the parent company in order to get a free set of golf clubs, and are roped into buying a time share. While Dee and Charlie try to get rid of their berry products, Dennis and Mac do the same with the remaining weeks of the time share, and the format looks largely the same as the season’s second episode, when the foursome split into groups of two in order to prove a point about gun control.
This being It’s Always Sunny, they all fail. Ben the soldier returns as the victim they’re trying to dupe (their main tactic is to try to trigger his PTSD, which is a non-starter since he was a computer programmer who never saw any action), and when he won’t buy in, they all get tangled up with an old wrestler named Maniac. Maniac actually does have PTSD, and it turns he’s also the Abani Berry company’s best salesman. He steals Dee and Charlie’s berry supplies, which leads Mac and Dennis to believe they’re selling product, and so they agree to sell the timeshare for Maniac’s stolen Abani. He’s running a pyramid scheme on them, but they’re too dumb to see it.
There are a few funny bits interspersed throughout the (semi-exhausting) plot, as when Dee’s promotional video gets hijacked by Charlie pretending to be a mystical man on a mountain who brews up batches of berry, or when Charlie panics because a “stress-meter” gives him a reading of 157 units (nobody seems to know what the units represent), or when Dennis and Mac speculate as to why Frank is stuck. “Is it a sexual thing?” asks Mac, and Dennis later guesses that he just wanted to “pound off in the night.” We’ll never know the answer, at least this week, but we get the promised ending in the last shot, when Frank is surrounded by oblivious children and their parents as he shouts to them for help.
On the whole, though, the narrative is too mechanical and predictable, which are words we normally don’t use in the same sentence as the Paddy’s Pub gang. And while knowing the end result isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker in this universe—if they didn’t screw up, it wouldn’t be funny—there’s a point at which too much focus is given to what happens, rather than how it happens. It’s a theme we’ve visited before in Season Nine, and the departure with last week’s excellent riff on the gang’s repeated Emmy snubs proved to be a temporary lull in the string of minor disappointments.
When the best jokes involve catch phrases like Dennis and Mac’s “we don’t get got, we get,” or inventing alternative names for pyramid schemes (“reverse funnel system” was the best), the comedy can’t help but feel dead. I miss the darkness that defines the show, and the ugly forays into the selfish, cruel side of human nature. In comedy, playing dumb successfully is one of the most difficult feats to pull off, and the It’s Always Sunny gang are among the best. Paradoxically, their stupidity is laced with a mean intelligence, and there’s genius behind their schemes until their own limitations cause it to unravel.
But the ease with which they all fell for the reverse funnel systems this week felt unearned, as though the smart had been ripped away, leaving only the dumb. Sure, we can expect them to make fools of themselves in the end, but they raise the stakes by virtue of base cunning. Remember Season Five’s D.E.N.N.I.S system, which was used to cultivate dependence in women as a means of seduction? Sure, Dennis failed in the end, but not before we were duly horrified by his willingness to manipulate people for his own gain. That’s the element that made the ensuing disasters so funny; it was a kind of relief, maybe, or at least a proper comeuppance that revealed the futility behind his coldness. But falling for a pyramid scheme within a few lines of dialogue is just silly, and not particularly inspired. When you take away the sinister foundation, all you’re left with is a collapsing pyramid scheme of stupidity. It represents a step backward for a great show, and if the vicious spirit behind the writing has disappeared, I’d rather just see Danny Devito ranting in his underwear.