In the lingo of the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia gang, that means the four friends are fired up with rage, passion and especially ignorance about the latest thorny topic to sweep through Paddy’s Pub. Last night, in the season’s second episode, that issue is gun control, and the man bringing the heat is the bar’s owner, Frank Reynolds (Danny Devito). Frank, a shameless instigator in full snake-oil-salesman mode, keeps popping up on local news shows to eat hoagies and extoll the virtues of owning multiple guns to fight off criminals who may—nay, will—attack at any moment.
The problem in the bar is that the camps are divided. Dee and Dennis think he’s wrong, and that guns—especially assault rifles—are too easily available for madmen with cruel intentions. Mac and Charlie, meanwhile, believe in Frank’s message that the only way to keep the streets safe is for everyone to own a firearm. The premise is set, and the two pairs go off on parallel missions. Dee and Dennis want to prove their point by showing how easy it will be for them to buy an assault rifle, but the first stop is fruitless when a gun shop flags them during the background check on the basis of past felonies. There’s also the fact that Dee was committed to an asylum, leading to the best exchange of the episode:
Store owner: You’ve been institutionalized.
Dee: Yeah, but it was against my will, so it doesn’t even count.
Dennis: That’s the only time it counts, Dee.
Their next stop, at a gun show, goes even worse when the private seller wants to charge them $3,000 for the same rifle, twice what the gun shop was asking. When Dennis threatens to just steal the gun, the rest of the gun show attendants draw their firearms until he leaves. As a last ditch effort, he and Dee try to buy the same rifle off the street, but the criminal they’re dealing with simply takes their $1,500 and walks away. They return to the bar defeated, ready to concede that firearms should be more readily available.
You can probably guess that Mac and Charlie quickly find themselves on the opposite trajectory. After offering their services at a middle school, the principal (Dave Foley, in a callback to the same man who lost his previous high school job in season six when he hired Charlie as a janitor and Charlie took several students back to Paddy’s Pub to screen a homemade movie called Lethal Weapon 6) attempts to keep them away from school property. While the two argue about the respective merits of Mac’s sword versus Charlie’s gun, they decide that they can’t infiltrate the school and will have to teach the kids to do it themselves. They bring them back to the pub for an instructional session, which quickly devolves into violence when the kids use sharpened pencils, protractors and various other school implements to attack each other. Mac and Charlie barely escape, and realize the disaster’s potential—”can you imagine if they had guns?” Mac asks. They return to the bar having reverted to Dee and Dennis’ original position, that weapons need to be off the street.
The gang reunites, still “hot,” but still very much opposed. That’s when Frank returns to tell them that he was only riling up the gun-buying public because he bought stock in the local gun shop. America, he explains, is divided into dupers and dupees. He’s a duper, the gang are the dupees. And the duper is already on to his next scam—convincing Philadelphia that their water supply is toxic so he can sell them filtration systems. The gang watches his last news appearance, still angry at his manipulation, but agreeing that they should probably buy a water filter.
The politics of “Gun Fever Too: Still Hot” are quintessential It’s Always Sunny. Both sides of a hot-button issue are explored, both sides are skewered and reduced to absurdities, and in the end a dishonest third party prevails. As I discussed in last week’s review, there’s no hope or optimism at the end, just the endless cycle of people being used by those who couldn’t give a damn for morality. So the philosophy remained consistent, which we shouldn’t take for granted. Where this episode struggled was in the structure, which was predictable from the opening scenes and offered very few surprises. As with the first episode of season nine, you got the sense the writers were more concerned with filling out a plot arc than really exploring the comedy created by the characters. Everything went from Point A to Point B to Point C in vaguely funny ways, but it wasn’t an episode that produced a lot of actual laughter.
The dialogue between Dennis and Dee above is an example of what makes the show so wonderful—they were in the gun shop together, but they still can’t help undermining one another—but those nuggets were few and far between. Instead, we got a lot of callbacks. The episode title itself is a reference to the season one gem when the gang decided to buy a gun for protection and immediately fell under the sway of its seductive power. That was a classic precisely because the gun was a means to an end; it helped explore the ongoing dynamic, rather than trying to create one. The sequel fails by comparison, and the reappearance of Dave Foley’s principal and Charlie’s uncle, the creepy lawyer, felt more like desperate crutches than genuine vehicles of good comedy.
By my count, that makes two near misses to start the new season, which will inevitably lead the pessimists to wonder if the aging sitcom has run out of steam. It’s too early to sound the panic alarm, but when the plots become mannered and lazy, and rely on recycled characters and themes, longtime fans like me can be pardoned for feeling a bit anxious. The vibe was too detached—nearly clinical in its plotting, actually—and It’s Always Sunny only takes off when events are raw and chaotic. And while guns may have made the gang “hot” last night, everything on the screen felt oddly cool.