Because the recent deluge of revelations concerning sexual assault and harassment has been protracted and multipartite, taking up an infinite number of news cycles with a perpetually refreshing ticker of atrocities, a sitcom looking to make hay from #MeToo may be at a loss as to where to start. There are the celebrity scandals on both sides of the camera, from the Matt Lauers and Charlie Roses to the Harvey Weinsteins and Roger Aileses. There’s the Main Street element, with high schools and colleges giving rapists an unlimited supply of second chances due to an upstanding reputation, or sporting prowess, or skin color. The tentacles expand to touch every major breaking story; not 24 hours ago, the prospective Supreme Court nominee was outed by a survivor of a long-since-past trauma. Covering everything in 21 short minutes, all while leaving room for jokes, poses a considerable challenge to an enterprising comedy writer.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia staffer Megan Ganz — who has stepped up as a distinctive, guiding force for this show’s elder seasons as executive producer — takes a somewhat inside-baseball angle as her approach for the show’s great, inevitable reckoning with the sea change in sexual propriety. Her script is set in motion by a “Shitty Bar List,” a rundown of Philly watering holes unsafe for women and a transparent reference to the whisper network of “Shitty Media Men” that was made public last October. The seminar that the Paddy’s Gang must attend after being named on this list begins as industry-level commentary and quickly expands to encompass the messy whole of this contemporary upheaval. The crimes of Dee, Charlie, Frank, Mac, and most especially Dennis are so extensive, that they speak to pretty much every dimension of a complex quagmire.
The Gang’s brio for debasement makes them the perfect conduit for a methodical breakdown of Harassment 101, each character representing a different archetype of predator. As It’s Always Sunny’s satirically minded episodes go, this one packs more ideas into its slim run time than most, managing to touch on Trumpism, Harveygate, nice-guy delusion syndrome, the stigma attached to male rape survivors, and hypocrisy from allies putting on airs. There’s no trace of a dialectic here, aside from the assertion that unwanted sexual advances are bad, and squeezing one into such a compact space would be a fool’s errand. Instead, the episode functions more like a good roast, taking well-aimed shots at at a host of targets everyone’s happy to see dinged.
The women are “on a bit of a rampage,” as Dennis says, and he’s worried that Dee’s “powers are growing.” Indeed, she’s a conservative’s worst nightmare, crying wolf for no reason other than that she wants men to vacate a buffet so she can cut in line. (Which turns out to be a pretty effective dissection of the putrid “fake accuser” talking point; a person would need to be as cartoonishly evil as Dee to trivialize rape the way she does at this episode’s outset.) Though she enters the room with soda and popcorn, under the impression that the chauvinists in her life are about to get their comeuppance, she’s got plenty to answer for too. Charlie’s reminder that she had coercive sex with him gives her the trademark collar-sweat of the guilty, though none of them are blameless.
Charlie realizes that his twisted overtures to the Waitress are unwelcome even though they may be rooted in what he believes to be love; Mac considers himself exempt from all of this as a gay man, but he’s got another thing coming; Frank behaves as if he’s facing down a Ronan Farrow feature, cataloguing and re-cataloguing all of the secretaries he’s given professional consideration in exchange for favors. (He can’t stop making it worse, inadvertently exposing himself to the instructor while wearing a robe. Calling his lawyer, Frank pleads, “Larry, how soon can you get to the Hyatt? My dong fell out, a woman saw it.”) Dennis, meanwhile, knows exactly what he’s done and why it’s wrong, but he lacks the capacity for empathy, so that’s all but a lost cause.
“100% of men are capable of being sexual assaulters, and 100% of women are capable of being sexually assaulted.” For a second, when making this point, Dennis almost sounds like the voice of reason. He then launches into an Edgar Allan Poe-ish monologue about how one must be a mastermind of calculation and manipulation if they want to get away with sexual assault unscathed, but at least he started out with the right idea. The work of this half-hour isn’t to assemble a direct polemic, but rather to illustrate the different forms that harassment and assault have taken and how the perpetrators can take shelter in denial. It’s not always as straightforward as the obscene “locker room talk” the Gang sees as friendly conversation, or Mac hoisting Dee by the crotch in ostensible self-defense (though it does make her feel small, “like Thumbelina”). But sometimes it is. In any case, the harasser’s ability to convince him or herself that they’ve done nothing wrong, a skill well-honed by the Paddy’s gang, is the force leading to repeat offenses and the unending, enraging public debate. The Gang is the diseased heart of America, and Ganz knows that she cannot hope to cure it herself, settling for charting its dark interiors.
Assorted Notes and Questions
• Charlie wants to get a “good seat” up front for the seminar. “It’s a sexual harassment seminar, there are no good seats!” comes the rejoinder from Dennis.
• There’s a bit of confusion as to Mac’s technical position at the bar. He considers himself “head of security,” while Dee more accurately clocks him as the “door man,” while, per Charlie, “I think he’s just kind of our gay guy now?”
• Mac, who does not quite understand how seminars work, is intent on “winning” by scoring the most “points.” His reasoning: everything in life is measured in points. That’s how the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Go Birds.
• In his unhinged PowerPoint presentation (parts of which are reminiscent of the Tom Brady sexual harassment sketch from Saturday Night Live), Dennis’s go-to examples of dangerous women are Aileen Wuornos, Hillary Clinton, and Susan B. Anthony.