This It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia review contains spoilers.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 13 Episode 2
Pretty soon the coverage surrounding It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 13 will cease to be a series of Anchorman-esque “Dennis Watch!” dispatches and instead will start to view this batch of episodes on their own merits.
Just two episodes in though, we’re not quite there yet. The absence or presence of Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds is still the first item to be noticed in any given episode. That’s why following his very brief appearance at the end of last week’s “The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again” it’s particularly fortifying to see him involved in the entirety of “The Gang Escapes.” What’s even more satisfying though is that “The Gang Escapes,” whether due to Dennis’ presence or not, is a truly great episode of It’s Always Sunny.
“The Gang Escapes” isn’t necessarily a return to form for the show because the show never really loses its “form” (save for the one baffling awful episode in its run: Season 7’s “Frank’s Brother”). But while the premiere was very funny and utilized the absence of Dennis to the best of its abilities…Dennis was still absent. What we’re beginning to find out (albeit with a very small sample size) is that you cannot make a truly great episode ofIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia without all five central characters firing on all cylinders.
Make no mistake: ��The Gang Escapes” is a truly great episode of this show. It’s the kind of episode, even an astonishing 13 seasons into the show’s run, that fans could conceivably bring to the non-initiated as a launching point. As written by Megan Ganz (who is entering her third season with the show following tours of duty with Community and Modern Family), “The Gang Escapes” finds Sunny at its platonic ideal. This is like a sociological study on the concept on groups conduced on a group where every member is the stupidest person alive. It’s completely hilarious, logically satisfying, and in keeping with the show’s 13 years of established character history.
With Dennis back in tow, Dee decides to take him, Mac, Charlie, and Frank to an escape room style game. These escape rooms have been popping up in urban areas around the country to give millennials with disposable income something to do when game night finally grows stale. It’s Always Sunny is catching the escape as a plot device at the right time where there is a critical mass of people aware of its existence but not enough to make the device seem cliche. And not for nothing: it’s the perfect concept to build an episode of this show around. The Gang excels when they are forced into a small space to interact and given a common goal that their bickering and character flaws will almost certainly ruin.
From the get go it’s evident just how strong a hold Ganz and the rest of the writer’s room has on these characters as all of their respective reactions to the concept of an escape room are very on brand.
“I’m highly aware of this practice. It’s a very sexual experience. You’ll get no judgement from us,” Dennis says.
“Is this a nerd thing?” Mac asks.
“What’s the prize?” Frank follows up.
The men of the group decide that there is no point in doing an activity unless there are stakes. Frank naturally mishears this as “steaks” so he promises a sirloin steak to the winner. No one points out the error.
The escape room props are set up in Dennis and Mac’s apartment and after they shout down game leader’s introduction. Before long Dee is locked in Dennis’ room (Lock her up! Lock her up!) and the men are left to their own devices to solve what should be a very solvable puzzle.
“The Gang Escapes” has a perfect set up for Gang-related nonsense and man alive it does not waste it. Every single move Dennis, Mac, Charlie, and Frank make is in keeping with their characters’ grand histories, and weird psychoses – yet every single moment is somehow a welcome, hilarious surprise. The men talked up a big game what good problem-solvers and natural leaders men are.
“I didn’t want to say it out loud but a female leader…doesn’t sit well with me,” Mac says shortly before Dee is imprisoned.
“Thing is we had a vote and we almost had one in American and we were like…nope,” Dennis says.
“We couldn’t have been more clear about it,” Mac says.
The first thing the men do when faced with a problem that needs a solution is to break into two groups because they can’t figure out who the leader is. Mac sides with leader Dennis and Charlie sides with leader Frank and the two groups move to separate rooms where they begin smashing everything in sight. Mac discovers a heart-shaped lock and Frank discovers a heart-shaped key.
The fun part about “The Gang Escapes” is that the Gang thinks they are playing with gender politics but in reality the episode is playing with good-old fashioned Gang politics. Dennis and the rest of the boys and Dee and her one and only female companion act as though their behavior and eventual victory will be a referendum on their gender. In reality their cascading nonsense is only a referendum on how stupid they all are and how complex their various unwritten rules of engagement have become.
When Dennis is annoyed by hearing Frank chewing Big League Chew gum in the other room, he just knows that Frank is doing it as a power play. The head cow is always grazing, Dennis points out right after commanding Mac not to sit in his presence.
This is, of course, ridiculous. All cows are girls even as Mac points out. “As the leader can I riff…CAN I RIFF???” DON’T SIT DOWN!” But when Mac enters Frank and Charlie’s room to parlay, Frank confirms that he’s operating under the same rules.
“That’s a power play. Everybody knows the head cow is always grazing,” Frank says.
Charlie and Mac accept this new reality immediately and become obsessed with chewing gum just like Dennis and Frank. With everyone gummed up cooler heads kind of, almost prevail and the two sides agree to a summit to discuss this lock and key situation.
The summit is a prime example of what makes the episodes that feature solely the gang and their wild internal logic so great. Each actor and each character is so damn committed to the lunacy happening onscreen that each passing moment becomes funnier and funnier. Dennis, Mac, Frank, and Charlie all have their own pipe, glass of whisky, and mouthful of gum because if anyone was missing one of those items the negotiations would presumably descend into chaos.
Charlie is elected speaker for the group, meaning that he abdicates his claim to the throne. Mac also backs down because if he doesn’t Dennis will scratch him. Dennis scratches him anyway. The deal that the Gang agrees to, after much table pounding is that each man will get a bite of the steak though Frank will eat his bite first, followed by Dennis, then Mac and Charlie. Now there’s just the matter of disposing their “chewables.”
“Gentlemen, I will remind you that time is of the essence,” Charlie says as Dennis and Frank hesitate to spit out their gum before the other. Still that matter is finally, miraculously settled and the council of men is ready to finally open up their lock and win the game. Frank does the honors and to their grand surprise the heart shaped lock was merely the first clue.
The men were able to work together in the end. The problem is all of their insistence on ego-accommodating and bizarre ceremony means that they couldn’t work together quickly enough. Thankfully for them, there is a deus ex bird-ina ready to rescue them in the next room.
Dee’s isolation in Dennis’s sex dungeon of a room doesn’t give her much to do throughout the episode. Normally any episode that sidelines Dee for that long has no chance of being an all-time Sunny classic but this time around it somehow works. Dee is even more goal-oriented in this episode than her “friends.” She’s already done this escape room scenario and only wanted to do it again so that she could prove herself a hero. Getting her out of the way ensures that the rest of the Gang will naturally lose focus and descend into pissing game absurdities like they obviously did.
Dee, bless her, still gets her win. By utilizing the fire escape, Dee does what she believes to be impossible: escapes Dennis’ room.
“I know my brother better than anyone else,” she tells the game leader. “The fact that his prisoner can’t escape is what’s really getting him off.”
In the process of her prison break, however, Dee falls off the fire escape and lands in the hospital. Charlie, Frank, Mac, and Dennis visit her – ecstatic that she’s helped them win the game. Since she was engaging in dangerous activity, the game leader had to burst in, technically meaning that the Gang got the door open second before their hour time frame expired.
The Gang presents Dee with the ultimate honor (or at least what they happen to believe is the ultimate honor this week before some other donkey-brained thing replaces it): the first bite of steak.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is wisely stingy in doling out episode conclusions in which the characters are nice to one another. Dee’s first bite of steak here is earned and particularly funny because it highlights how impressed the Gang is that she triumphed in the real escape scenario of getting out of Dennis’ room.
“The Gang Escapes” highlights exactly so much Sunny coverage this summer has revolved around the level of Howerton’s involvement. Because when all five cast members are in the fold and operating and their usual, madcap capacity: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of television’s most essential and hilarious comedies.