IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA Season 11 Review
11 seasons in and the eternal glutton of IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY refuses to die. The prospect of a show staying fresh for four years is a glum one, never mind staying fresh for over a decade, but even to this day SUNNY is still able to innovate its formula. Yet on the other hand, the show is showing its age in ways never before seen, finally challenging the thesis posited by the series’ title.
Something the observant viewer will notice is that the writing credit for the majority of Season 11’s episodes goes not to the usual suspects of Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day, but instead to outside help; a strange deviation for a show that built its reputation on its auteur background. It’s fitting, then, that virtually every episode from the latest season feels like it was written as a spec. While this allows for the show to experiment in ways it never before dared, it also lends it an inauthentic feeling, as if the writers were trying too hard to emulate the tone of the show, while failing to capture what makes SUNNY – well, SUNNY.
Get ready for a hot one
Season 11 gets off to a rocky start with two duds out the gate. “CharDee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo” opens the season with a rehash of a fairly mediocre Season 7 episode, rife with callbacks and in-jokes, but featuring scant original content (but s/o to the Operation segment that BOARD JAMES already did months prior.) While last year’s SUNNY started off with the excellent and original “The Gang Beats Boggs,” we’re stuck here with a trite nostalgia trip that sours the season from the get-go. It’s even more disappointing that this is the only episode written by McElhenney and Day. This is followed by “Frank Falls Out the Window,” which is not only the worst episode this season by a longshot, but also quite possibly among the dud elite of IASIP. More repugnant than a mere callback, this episode has the gall to recycle scenes thanks to Frank’s deja vu, making this the first clip show in SUNNY history.
Although this IS one of the more rewarding visual gags
After the rocky launch, however, we’re treated to a series of hits and misses, emphasis on the hits. “The Gang Hits the Slopes” is one of the most formula defying installments we’ve seen, resembling a condensed 80s ski movie in more than just aesthetic. Isolated in theme, setting, and pacing, the episode bears a striking resemblance to the excellent Christmas special. The same can be said for “Being Frank,” an all POV-shot experiment putting us in the leaded loafers of DeVito himself. Though the premise is nothing more than a gimmick on paper, in execution it’s frantic and madcap in all the right ways. And despite being the clearest example of the cast’s schedules growing more incompatible alongside their popularity, “Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs” is a wonderful study of the show’s two most repressive personalities at the end of their ropes.
It’s the quality of these standouts that make the duds tolerable, if only in retrospect. “Dee Makes a Smut Film” is aimless and utterly incoherent, lacking laughs as well as trackable plotlines. “McPoyle v Ponderosa” also does nothing to impress, yet is markedly less egregious than the previous example (plus, the PACIFIC RIM cameos continue in the form of a truly wild Guillermo del Toro, which can only be a good thing). “Charlie Catches a Leprechaun” is the real tragedy here, a truly tepid episode rife with perfect setups that are executed half-heartedly at best.
The season concludes with the epic two-parter, “The Gang Goes to Hell,” a proper analogy for the direction of the series. Unlike “The High School Reunion,” “The Gang Gets Whacked,” or “Mac and Charlie Die,” unfortunately, this feature failed to justify its 60 minute runtime. While the cruise ship setting theoretically presents the same welcome change of atmosphere as “The Gang Hits the Slopes,” the opportunity is squandered by placing the gang in the brig for the entirety of the second half. This would be the perfect venue for the cast to bring their underlying issues into the light, and indeed there are some inklings that this might be the case. But just like the insincere Paddy’s staff themselves, the episode quickly tosses these opportunites out the window in favor of lazy sketch comedy.
It’s telling that the SUNNY crew are hardly credited for this latest season of the show. For better or worse, this season evokes little of what made SUNNY great in the first place. While it would be preferable that this were the case due to brave, daring endeavors in new directions, the truth is that this feeling is mostly due to the tired and lackluster effort put into SUNNY’s eleventh season. While I would love to recommend Season 11 on name association alone, not to mention the few home runs, I couldn’t do so in good faith. There’s just too much here that doesn’t work.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA airs on Wednesdays at 10PM on FX