Okay, so, this one might be a little higher on the list than it should be upon repeated viewings, but, frankly, I refuse to apologize. Make your own list if you don’t agree. This is a great show, a great episode, and people should watch it.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a show about the worst people in the world. People said that about Seinfeld when it aired, but this takes it to a level that Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld probably would never have imagined possible. Actually, without shows like Seinfeld, where we don’t particularly think the protagonists are supposed to be “good people,” this show would have died immediately. Instead, it’s carried on for more than a decade. Ultimately, the “Gang” only stays together because no other human beings would ever tolerate their behavior, which is why they tend to spend most of their time in the disgusting bar that they co-own and operate, Paddy’s Pub.
The characters are, in ascending order of awful: Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day), the illiterate, glue-sniffing, stalker Janitor; Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson), the wanna-be starlet without talent who also is constantly physically violent and an occasional off-screen arsonist; Ronald “Mac” McDonald (Rob McElhenney), the idiotic Christian fundamentalist wanna-be tough-guy (which is why he hides his homosexuality for most of the series) who will betray his friends instantly if it benefits him; Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito), the perverted, disgusting, millionaire ex-businessman who basically is driven by nothing but his own id (because he’s rich enough to avoid real consequences); and Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton). Dennis Reynolds is a psychopath. He manipulates people just to prove he can, believes himself to be a “golden god,” threatens people constantly, and, to top those already great qualities, is a consummate liar, almost certainly an outright rapist, and probably a serial killer.
The show relies on being the anti-sitcom in order to thrive, and it does so with 3 different running themes: 1) The characters are aware of how sitcom tropes usually go, try to use it to their advantage to “game the system,” and fail miserably. This level of somewhat self-awareness makes it more entertaining because it gives us something to measure against. 2) The characters are slowly becoming weirder and weirder, a process usually called “Flanderization” on a sitcom, after Ned Flanders of The Simpsons. Unlike most shows, however, this Sunny not only has characters point it out, but actually makes it clear why it’s happening. The Gang are all alcoholics who dabble in other substances, have serious mental and physical health issues they refuse to address, and, most importantly, they never actually suffer true repercussions for their actions so they have no motive to do anything but get worse. 3) The gang are literally poisoning all the people they interact with. Charlie’s obsession, the Waitress, loses jobs throughout the series. Matthew “Rickety Cricket” Mara starts off as a priest, but by the most recent season he is homeless, severely burned, addicted to all the drugs out there, and has been in more than one dog orgy. Unlike other series where the supporting cast maintains their status, the guests in this show frequently take the punishment which the cast deserves, and more, bringing them down to their level.
This episode manages to show exactly how toxic the Gang is through a beloved family pastime, playing a board game. For those of you who had siblings, you may be recalling some fights over monopoly or, God forbid, Risk that almost escalated to violence or verbal abuse. This episode takes that feeling and ratchets it up to eleven. It is revealed that, when they have nothing else to do, the Gang created a game many years ago that they play, called “CharDee MacDennis.” In this episode, they decide to play another round.
CharDee MacDennis is exactly the kind of game that these crazy *ssholes would create. First, you have to drink the whole time, going from beer to wine to liquor. Second, the levels are “mind” which involves answering questions, creating art, solving puzzles, or just getting random cards that break the game (such as “take the money from everyone’s pockets” or “Dennis and Dee go straight to level two.”). The questions are not actual trivia questions, they’re just opinions they wrote in the 90s (such as: What’s the greatest band in the world? Chumbawumba). The second level is “Body,” which involves physical challenges that are actually dangerous or painful. The third is “Spirit,” which allows the Gang to emotionally abuse each other that it has driven them to be suicidal in the past.
Cheating is encouraged and is not severely punished, but for breaking minute rules of formal play, players are punished with literally potentially lethal consequences. Basically, it encourages dishonestly, while allowing everyone to inflict punishments on everyone else for tiny mistakes. Yes, this is a game that is crafted just to hurt all the people involved, literally on every level.
In this episode, Frank is the audience surrogate, as he is the only person who has never played the game before. Because Frank is a terrible person, as opposed to being horrified, he’s often fairly excited or interested in the game, which allows the audience to overlook the fact that most people playing this game would probably die just for alcohol poisoning. As a kicker, Dennis and Dee’s team has never lost a game, something they lord over Charlie and Mac, and later Frank.
This episode both shows us how terrible the current Gang is, but also gives us a vision of the past Gang, because they’re the ones who decided to undertake creating a massive over-the-top game in order to abuse each other. There are only two game pieces because they didn’t consider adding anyone else in, which further cements that these people can only exist with each other. The questions are all opinion based because all of them prefer opinion to any form of actual, verifiable fact… and because all of them are pretty dumb. They even resolve ties by flipping a coin, because “When we were writing the rules, at one point, we just got really bored, and we phoned it in.” Not only are they the kind of terrible people that would make this game, but they couldn’t even manage to go all the way with it.
All comedy comes from pain and this episode is set around a game designed to cause as much pain as possible to everyone involved. This makes the episode pretty much hilarious from start to finish.
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