Always Sunny is not a show particularly interested in themes or character progression—any moment of apparent growth is cut off at the knees by just how awful these people are. Just two episodes ago, Frank (Danny DeVito) retracted his acceptance of Mac’s (Rob McElhenney) gayness solely because it got too weird for him, an acceptance that came after the most moving scene in the show’s history. To pretend that Always Sunny is a cerebral dramedy akin to shows like Atlanta or Mr Inbetween is absurd, and anyone who’s a fan of this show will tell you this.
I’m delighted to report that “Risk E. Rat’s Pizza & Amusement Center” is not just the best episode of the season thus far and one of the best episodes Always Sunny has released in years, but also an episode that fantastically plays into one of the only overarching themes the series has—that its main characters are never going to change. I’ve been up and down on season sixteen, with some episodes feeling like flawed but very fun outings and some ending up as total drags. But I was desperately hoping at least one episode that would knock me out of the park, and it looks like my wish was granted.
The episode takes place almost entirely in its titular location, a Chuck E. Cheese knockoff that’s about equal in quality. It’s obvious why this place would so greatly appeal to the Gang—the main refrain of its theme song is “Do whatever you want!”
“The best part about Risk E. Rat’s, though, is that they make kids feel like they’re the ones in charge,” Mac crows, completely missing the irony that a man well into his forties is saying this. But of course, when they arrive, things are drastically different than how they remember them. All the offensive, unsafe, and—in their eyes—fun parts of the restaurant are gone, leaving them to wander the venue and spend the episode complaining about it.
Dennis (Glenn Howerton) learns that he missed out on getting to see a retired animatronic’s breasts as a child and is unsurprisingly despondent over it, so he and Charlie (Charlie Day) embark on a quest to find the robot and make up for lost time. When they force their way into a back room and get to the robot, (“We could just be two mature men with an interest in robotics,” Dennis tells himself before they lift up her shirt) they’re horrified to discover her fabled breasts have been sanded off. (“This is a sad day for women’s rights,” Dennis sighs.)
When Mac gets into a fight with a child (he loves doing that, doesn’t he?) and winds up in the building’s time-out room, he finds that they’ve even managed to ruin being punished. Instead of being left to simmer in their rage and mistakes, children instead get to talk to a friendly man in a mascot costume about their feelings. (“I’m a licensed psychotherapist,” the arbiter insists. “You’re a talking dog!” Mac snaps.) Predictably, Mac gets nowhere with this, and watching him swagger around the arcade proclaiming that “this is America! You can do whatever the fuck you want!” marks this as McElhenney’s best performance of the season so far.
Dee (Kaitlin Olson) embarks on the Risk E. joke hunt (Frank insists on pronouncing it “joe cunt,” because of course he does) and find that all the funny bits (which are mostly racial stereotypes) have been replaced with cheesy puns. Frank longs for the days when he could grope waitresses while tipping them. (“It was the fifties, it was fine.”) They discuss about whether or not all the old jokes were “satire” until Dee admits that “if I’m being honest, I don’t a hundred percent understand what satire means.”
And then the episode concludes by doing what all the best Always Sunny episodes do—the Gang’s stories converge. The last straw comes when they learn that the restaurant’s name is being changed, so the Gang devises a plan to lock all the parents in a room, salvage all the animatronics, and give them an old-fashioned Risk E. show with no filters. Naturally, the shot of Frank flipping the switch that will start the show cuts to a screaming crowd and firemen carrying the burnt robots out of the building. The Gang refused to sign the restaurant’s waiver (because of course they did) so they flee the scene and leave the adults to clean up the mess.
Throughout the episode, the Gang longs for the often problematic past of Risk E.’s. In some cases, it’s for the wrong reasons (Frank and Dee lament not being able to mock the duck mascot with a disability) and in some it’s admittedly a little understandable (the Gang all react with disgust when they’re given earplugs before the rather tame animatronic show). But at the end of the day, the episode amounts to five adults wandering a place for kids and whining about how it sucks now. The outlandish situations these characters get into tends to depersonalize them a little, and seeing them act like this is as uncomfortable as it is funny. Their refusal to just get over it and grow up is a trait that sticks with them throughout the show—and for this episode, makes it absolutely hilarious.
This episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is now available on Hulu.