It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Review: "The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award" (Episode 9.03)
This is the space on PasteMagazine.com where I’m supposed to write a serious, insightful review on the merits and shortcomings of “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award,” last night’s episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s my job, and I like doing it, and it’s a worthy endeavor, and all that. But there’s one small problem here clouding my professionalism, and I can’t quite shake it…
Charlie Kelly wrote a song.
CHARLIE KELLY WROTE A SONG!
Wait, no, that’s not quite right…CHARLIE KELLY WROTE TWO SONGS AHHHHHHHH!
(passes out from excitement)
One of this show’s open secrets is that the biggest loser on a show full of losers—the “King of the Rats” himself—is a really, really talented musician. Most famously, he wrote the play Dayman, a horrifying coming-of-age story about a truly disturbed young man overcoming his own demons. That, of course, included the classic title song “Dayman,” which Dennis helped him compose as Charlie recovered from a bout of huffing spray paint through a sock. It’s one of the best moments in It’s Always Sunny history (I die each time I hear Charlie’s panicky laugh as he says, “what is goinnnng on up here?”), and it overshadows one of my favorite moments, from the end of the play, when Charlie descends from the rafters in a yellow suit and white top hat and asks the waitress for her hand in marriage:
That voice? TALENT. I’m not sure what you call that vocal technique at the end, but I’m getting a definite image of a creepy leading man from the 1920s in a musical called something like “A Daffodil for Daisy” that hasn’t been performed in 80 years. You have to admire the waitress’ resolve; the temptation to run away screaming must have been high.
But that’s not all for the Charlie Kelly musical oeuvre. There’s also “Nightman,” sung in a vaguely Dylan-esque voice as a chronicle of some psycho-sexual nightmare, and an improvised patriotic song that I’m pretty sure I’ve heard on roughly five different truck commercials since. This talent makes sense when you consider that Charlie Day, the actor, came from a musical family (his father was a professor of music theory) and is a songwriter himself. To me, he needs a spinoff show to showcase more of his ability, and I’m seeing it as a darker—much darker—version of Glee.
Getting back to last night’s episode, the title tells the story; the gang is obsessed by the quest to win an award for Paddy’s Pub. They feel they’ve been snubbed in the past, and for the first time in Season Nine, the ingredients that make this show so hysterical are back. Rather than acting out some bizarre gun control plot, or pulling an elaborate prank on Dee, we’re back to seeing real interaction between the group I’ve taken to calling the Loathsome Foursome. They try to play it casual, but they grow more embittered and aggressive as they butt heads with the restaurant establishment in the city. More and more, they feel like politics is keeping their pub from being nominated, when the truth is that, well…Paddy’s is kind of a shit hole.
Also, they’ve never paid the $10 entry fee to earn a nomination. The man in charge at the restaurant and bar association tells them that he’s sent them the entry form every year, and it usually comes back covered with “fecal matter, urine and racial slurs.” The gang laughs, and the odyssey begins. They visit an anodyne corporate bar whose waiters interact in sitcommy banalities (it’s called “Sudz”), and then decide to mimic them and host an industry night for the restaurant bigwigs.
In the meantime, Charlie decides he going to win the “best song” category, even though it’s not a category, and composes a piano theme song in the Randy Newman tradition, right down to a brilliant copy of Newman’s voice. A selection of lyrics:
Oh they say the world’s your oyster
man but oysters ain’t for me
you’re the belle of the ball
but you ain’t my cup of tea
they always vote you best in show
but this dog he disagrees
cuz I like life at Paddy’s pub
The gang congratulates him on not using any “spider or rape” references, but Frank locks him in the cellar so he won’t embarrass them. At the industry night, though, they manage to embarrass themselves—Mac is too aggressive, Dee is too loud, Frank gets caught performing an odd sexual act in a back room—and at the peak of the chaos, Charlie breaks through the floorboards, his nose dotted with the telltale spot of gray spray paint; he’s been huffing again. And he’s got a new piano song for everyone in attendance. The gang hopes it’ll lighten the mood, but Charlie’s got a new idea:
There’s a spider (spider, spider)
It’s deep in my soul (soul, soul)
He’s lived here for years he just won’t let go
He’s laying around
He’s got a new bite
And now he’s ready…to fighttttt
And stand up for what he loves
I don’t need your trophies or your gold
I just want to tell you all
Go fuck yourselves
Day’s voice is a powerful instrument here, with beautiful falsetto and sustained cries that would make Freddie Mercury proud. The guests are horrified, and in an excellent callback, the gang chases them out the door by marching forward in phalanx of rage and proud inferiority, spitting all the way. It’s them against the world again, and they’re fiercely pleased to be back in the permanent prison of their own making.
Any good It’s Always Sunny episode presents a few questions: What is the gang’s new obsession? How will they undermine themselves? How will they release their selfish havoc on the world and hurt others? How will they confront touchy topics, like race, in a way that lays bare our PC hypocrisies and makes us uncomfortable? How will they justify their actions, blame the world and continue on as spiritually deformed beings? What new realms of cruelty and selfishness and psychological terror will they descend to?
They hit each of these beats perfectly last night, and produced a near-classic. And to those essential questions, I’d like to add one more that I hope becomes a permanent part of the show’s repertoire: What will Charlie sing?