In some ways, it’s silly to analyze a season of television as if it’s a variable, evolving creature. While the viewer experiences the illusion of time passing because we have to wait a whole week for a new installment, the truth is that every episode within a season is written and produced at roughly the same time. There’s no space for reaction and analysis, and the creative mindset that governs the first episode is the same as the one that governs the last.
What I wanted to say after watching “Mac Day,” the fifth episode of It’s Always Sunny’s ninth season, is that the gang re-discovered their roots, regained their footing and got back to the essentials in a fun, character-based episode. The truth, of course, is that it might have been written literally one day before or after last week’s very mediocre episode, but it still feels like the ship has been righted. Where three of this season’s previous shows have failed because the writing focused so much on a complex plot that it didn’t give the characters room to breathe, “Mac Day” was a back-to-basics study of what makes the gang so incredibly bizarre.
Mac Day is a 24-hour period of unexplained origin where the rest of the gang has to obey all his edicts. It starts in a dark room as Mac reads from the Bible and explains the structure of what’s to come—he’ll be cramming the seven days of God’s creation story into a single day. (For the record, “Charlie Day” involved hunting ghouls, of which he says they caught three and the rest of the gang says none.) The rules are that the gang has to obey, can’t complain, but will be allowed one exasperated scream into a special pillow each.
Mac’s plan takes an early detour, though, when he invites his cousin Country Mac (Sean William Scott, who is incredible) to join the festivities. The gang thinks this is a terrible development that will double the annoyance they already feel with Mac, but it turns out that Country Mac is the badass that City Mac has always wanted to be. When City Mac wants to trick people into thinking he jumped off a bridge, Country Mac actually takes the leap. When City Mac rails against homosexuality despite getting an erection every time the subject matter comes up, Country Mac is open about his sexuality, and manages to get a number from a group of bodybuilders. When City Mac gets knocked out of a karate bout in two kicks, Country Mac kicks the guy’s ass using only a beer can and his t-shirt.
The gang slowly falls in love with Country Mac, to the great exasperation of City Mac. It often seems like Mac gets short-changed as a straight man (of sorts, anyway…nobody is very normal in this universe), particularly because Dennis and Charlie are two of the funniest characters in TV history. But “Mac Day” gets to the heart of his insecurities and devolves to the point where the gang realizes not only that he’s pathetic, but has ruined certain cool concepts for them—God and karate, mostly—because of his annoying obsessions. After Country Mac convinces them that it’s cool to believe in a loving God, not one based on fear and wrath, they’re so hooked that they ask him to take Mac’s place in the group.
But after taking crazy risks the entire episode, the Country Mac saga comes to an end when he falls over on his motorcycle going about 10 mph and dies on impact with the ground. There’s nothing left but the eulogy, which Mac delivers with sanctimonious relish (Country Mac’s homosexuality means he’s in hell, of course) as the gang rolls their eyes and sulks at the reality of being stuck with the lesser cousin. Just as Mac is about to order them all to follow him to the country to dispose of the ashes (apparently they got a same-day cremation, since it’s still Mac Day), the clock hits midnight and Frank gleefully announces that it’s Frank Day. His first act? Dumping Country Mac’s ashes in the bar’s toilet.
In a drama, you want character insight so you can experience a deeper emotional reaction, positive or negative, to what they undergo. In a comedy, you want character insight so you can laugh harder. Dennis has his selfishness and vanity, Charlie has his darkness and stupidity, and Dee has her defensiveness. The more you know about the gang, the lower they drop in esteem, and the funnier they become. But Mac has often been a foil for the others, and what made “Mac Day” such a strong episode was that it exposed the pathetic cowardice and caution behind the masculine image he tries to cultivate. It’s the destruction of an ego, and it’s hilarious.