I was hopeful after the pretty solid season premiere of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—it wasn’t perfect, but it was better than almost everything Always Sunny has put out over the past few years. Was I premature in hoping that the show would start drifting back to the tighter, funnier stories that made it so great for so long? Probably too early to call, but episodes like “The Gang Gets Cursed” don’t make me super optimistic for the rest of the season.
The worst parts of modern Always Sunny aren’t prevalent here—the most boring parts are. When Always Sunny re-treads old jokes from years ago but doesn’t do anything that funny with them, it’s insanely uninteresting. Case in point: Mac’s (Rob McElhenney) obsession with Philadelphia baseball player Chase Utley comes back as a large part of the episode, and nothing about it feels memorable or funny. The fake child funeral that Mac uses to trick Utley into playing catch with him isn’t even original within the context of the show.
“The Gang Gets Cursed” follows the main characters as they all try to undo their own poor decision-making—honestly, that could describe over half the episodes of this show—but the catch here is that they’re all decisions that have brought on supposed curses. Some of these storylines range from pretty funny (Frank [Danny DeVito] killing the hell out of a hapless seagull that flies into the bar) to completely static and largely ineffective (Dee [Kaitlin Olson] is shitty to her neighbor), but in the end, they all amount to a kind of substandard climax.
One joke that at first is nice to see brought back is Cricket (David Hornsby), a longtime victim of the Gang’s casual ignorance and insensitivity. But even he starts to overstay his welcome after a long enough time. The overarching joke with Cricket is that he goes from a respected priest to a depraved, desperate homeless man just because he’s associated with the Gang, but sometimes the jokes just boil down to “oh, he’s just very disgusting.” Ultimately, his inclusion in the episode and the jokes about him being a pimp now fall flat, and he’ begins to feel like’s just another joke the show won’t let go of. (I do like the little gag about the reward Mac gave him for his help; he gives Cricket a six-pack of beer, but he drank four of them already and used the other two to empty his bladder.)
I want to avoid drawing this out more than I can, but this episode is pretty indicative of a lot of what I don’t like about modern Always Sunny. Instead of balancing a funny base concept with a consistent story, the episode rolls with a stretched out story and relies on the audience knowing the running jokes it’s getting at to get laughs. And that’s fine—this show has been on for a while, and the onus isn’t on the writers to cater to newcomers all the time. But it’s just not…funny.
Early in the episode, Charlie (Charlie Day), after learning about all of his friends’ various curses they’ve had placed upon them, states that “‘Just in case’ is as good a reason to believe in anything as any.” It’s a sentence that perfectly captures the Gang’s often incomprehensible thought process, but it’s also one that serves as an unintentional commentary on episodes like this that plague modern Always Sunny. The more stale episodes of the series just feel as though the creative minds are shrugging and hand-waving how everyone’s problems get solved by the end of the episode.
There are small jokes in “Cursed” that work well enough for me. I like how Frank’s immediate response to a seagull flying into the bar is to just kill it (very Frank of him), and the one running joke in this episode that always lands is Dee’s status as the rest of the Gang’s punching bag. (Their immediate and hysterical laughter upon seeing her face sagging as a result of her curse is probably my favorite joke of the episode.) But it’s episodes like this that continue to make me a little concerned for Always Sunny.
This episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is now available on Hulu.