It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It’s a branded world, and we’re all just living in it. Career counselors urge college seniors to create a “personal brand,” a sort of mediated public face that can be easily communicated and pitched to employers. Corporations obsess over their outward-facing profiles in mealy-mouthed press conferences, much like the incisively funny talk-show appearances that punctuate “Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Nightmare,” It’s Always Sunny’s deft lampooning of the fixation on optics over everything else.
As Dennis states and restates, it’s all about humanizing a business by showing a little character. The Denny’s Twitter account, for example, has spent years attempting to convince you that it is your cool best friend. To the people of Philadelphia, a thoroughly sketchy beverage company named Frank’s Fluids comes off like the chauvinist bigot slurring at the end of the bar.
The episode splits the gang into two groups, forcing them to do damage control after sparking a beverage-related controversy. Both storylines focus on the way that corporations insidiously slither out of culpability and turn scandals into opportunities for press, a felicitous match with the gleefully amoral style of It’s Always Sunny. The public tends to assume massive conglomerates are run by soulless degenerates concerned with nothing beyond their own self-preservation, and in this case, that inkling is dead on. As they handle their individual crises, words take on less and less meaning. By the time Dee calls for the 24-hour “news cycle” clock to be reset once more, all their statements are just agreeable noise intended to curry the favor of the people.
The day starts off like any other, with Frank plopping himself down at Paddy’s Pub and hoovering bumps out of a plastic baggie of coke. (The nonchalant air with which Frank mutters, “Yeah,” after Dennis asks him, “Is doing cocaine every morning your routine, Frank?” is a treat.) He learns that Wolf Cola, the energy soda that he believes he’s been hawking to elderly Jewish retirees in Boca Raton, has actually been going to notorious African terrorist cell Boko Haram. But hey, we’ve all been there, easy enough mistake to make. As Dee suggests, the only move is to accept full responsibility, apologize, and move forward with the resolution to do and be better. To take the L, as the youths say.
But accepting the consequence of wrongful actions is not Dennis Reynolds’s style, to put it mildly. When Frank tells Dennis and Dee that they’re on the hook too, as unwitting executives in the money-laundering operation Frank’s Fluids — “It’s a family business, I wanted it to be wholesome!” he says, almost sincerely — Dennis decides some televised face-saving is in order. The sharpest scenes come as the Reynolds clan preps for and responds to their uniformly disastrous appearances on a local morning talk show, where Dennis exposes the deeply ingrained sexism of insta-poll opinion as Dee and Frank repeatedly self-immolate.
The episode arrives at some pointedly frank truths, all teased out by the on-camera dynamic between Dennis and Dee. With absolute confidence, Dennis explains that authoritative men can gloss over pretty much any crisis of character — whether it’s Mercedes building Nazi tanks, Floyd Mayweather beating women, or Catholic Church officials “banging kids” — with a bit of good circumlocution. He flashes a smile, says a few nebulously positive statements (but never the word “sorry”), and the Twitter ticker at the bottom of the screen begins rolling with encouragement. When Dee dares to open her mouth, even after assuming the Hillary-esque uniform of pantsuit, pearls, and pursed lips, the public instantly turns on her and hisses at her to shut her piehole. It’s a righteous stance to take on the gendered nature of public perception: how men come off as decisive leaders while women get painted as shrill scolds.
That same critical stance on gender-specific double standards colors Charlie and Mac’s disgusting B-plot, in which they attempt to revive the dormant Fight Milk brand. Established back in season eight’s “Frank’s Back in Business,” the muscle-building beverage is a mixture of milk, crushed crows’ eggs, and grain alcohol. However, UFC fighters have found a better use for the vile concoction as an instant ipecac to help them slim down before weigh-ins. Bona fide fighters Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Paul Felder cameo as themselves, agreeably game as they’re introduced vomiting and/or crapping themselves inside out. (Any guest star who agrees to speak the line, “I just puked on my dick!” gets points for being a good sport.)
Charlie and Mac center their efforts to market Fight Milk on the same broad stereotypes that inform Dennis and Dee’s plot, exploiting the way women are judged disproportionately for their appearance. As they so elegantly put it, men have four acceptable body types — “Skinny ripped, jacked ripped, dad bod, and fat if you’re funny” — while women can get by only if they fit the mold of “skinny with big tits.” Their pitch to men revolves all around putting them at ease and assuring them that no matter what they’re doing, it’s okay; their cartoonishly insulting pitch to women revolves all around guilt and shame.
That’s how the It’s Always Sunny writers have always taken their satire: served hot, relentlessly, and right in your face. The amoral sleazebags of Paddy’s Pub latch onto every noxious viewpoint that crosses their way, and expose the absurdity of a given way of thinking by amplifying just one or two degrees. To hear the often unspoken biases of public perception stated plainly and coldly by Dennis highlights just how unsympathetic you’d have to be to actually subscribe to such a belief. Ultimately, providing Dennis as a negative exemplar is the most accusatory It’s Always Sunny ever gets. You’d have to be a real asshole, the show suggests, to act like Dennis Reynolds.
- As far as quick gags that exist purely for their own sake go, the episode doesn’t get much better than Dee yelling at Dennis, “Is this why we had to wait for you to go to Bed Bath & Beyond?” after he pulls out the countdown clock.
- Even as the scandal develops, Frank’s intent on maintaining his stranglehold on the Boko Haram market. His efforts to smooth things over by cleaning up the group’s public profile are, in a word, misguided: “Boko Haram, they’re just doing Africa!”
- Mac’s elevator pitch for Fight Milk: “I’ve always been passionate about dominating other men. There’s nothing like the feeling of another man submitting to your will.”
- The writers were clearly gunning for a “Kitten Mittens“-level shot at virality with Charlie and Mac’s astonishingly incompetent video ad, and they might just get there. Charlie and Mac’s shared inability to know which of their two cameras they’re supposed to be looking into never becomes unfunny.