Recap: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S16, Ep7) — Reynolds Sibling Rivalry Makes for an Entertaining Bowling Episode

If there’s one thing I miss about early Always Sunny episodes, it’s the relationship between the Reynolds siblings. Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) are the only members of the Gang who have never gotten any sort of character development, and yet their hateful and combative nature made for some of the weirdest and funniest episodes of the early days. There hasn’t been a ton of that in later seasons, although Dennis (and the rest of the Gang) still takes pleasure in hating Dee as much as he ever has. It’s possibly the most central rule of the Gang next to “they’re all terrible people”—Dee is the lowest in the Gang’s heirarchy.

But of course, if one member of the Gang is doing something fun, the others will always show up to ruin it, and hence “The Gang Goes Bowling” exists. This is one of the two episodes this season written by producers Howerton, Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney, (the other is the underwhelming “Celebrity Booze”) so it makes sense that it’s the one most laden with fan service. A lot of old characters appear here—Charlie’s (Day) longtime love interest the Waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), Frank’s (Danny DeVito) on-and-off girlfriend Artemis (Artemis Pebdani), the animalistic and possibly incestuous Liam (Jimmi Simpson) and Ryan McPoyle (Nate Mooney), and the generally disgusting Gail “the Snail” (Mary Lynn Rajskub).

All of these characters show up as a result of Dee taking the evening off to go bowling with Waitress, Artemis, and Snail (none of whom actually want her there, because again, nobody likes Dee) and the guys following her there. (“We have a lot better things to do than just go bowling,” Dennis says before a cut to the title card.) Dennis, as casually sexist as usual, decides to compete against the all-female team to prove how much better men are at everything, and the episode’s conflict is set in motion.

The episode as a whole feels like Always Sunny going through the motions—granted, those motions are funny. “Goes Bowling” isn’t poorly written, it’s just not an episode that pushes itself too hard to stand out. Last week’s “Risk E. Rat’s” was my favorite episode of the season so far because of a mix of commentary, great character moments, and non-stop great jokes. “Goes Bowling” doesn’t have any of these, but it’s still got things going for it.

For one, it’s always nice to see the Waitress. Dennis intentionally pairs the guys up with who will distract their opponents the most, so obsessive Charlie makes for the perfect candidate. Frank and Artemis’s relationship is as stomach-churningly weird as ever, and Frank doesn’t make things any more normal by filling his ball with chili. (He gets at least one strike, so he’s better at bowling than I am.) Gail is a character that’s never really worked for me—her only joke is “she’s gross” and the McPoyles, Artemis, and Frank all do that better—but she’s paired with Mac (McElhenney) so she can lust after him.

The best part of the episode is Dennis constantly screwing with Dee, of course. She’s a good bowler, but if Dee is good at something, Dennis is going to find a way to ruin it—since their childhood, his presence alone is enough to throw her all the way off her game. This is undoubtedly Olson’s best episode of the season, and it made me realize another thing Always Sunny has been missing is allowing Dee to be unhinged. It feels like the writers have forgotten that Dennis and Charlie aren’t the only members of the Gang that come off as completely insane, so to see Olson have fun with her character’s agony is great.

Dennis’s trash-talking gets him challenged by the Waitress to a test of strength, which he wins (favorite joke of the episode: him bellowing “I summon the very fact that I am a man!”) at the cost of breaking his hand. He substitutes in Liam, so Dee realizes she can fake an injury and get Ryan to bowl for her. I like the McPoyles, but their inclusion here kind of bloats the episode—there’s a story about why they refuse to eat chili cheese fries and how Ryan’s hand was injured that exists to set up Liam accidentally breaking his hand with a bowling ball—the episode already has a lot going on, and it just doesn’t add a ton.

All of this is to make Dee bowl her final round despite having already lost the game, and after a long, tense setup, she manages to knock over a single corner pin, finally breaking Dennis’s curse. But this is Always Sunny, and when she turns around, everyone except the Waitress is gone. “Goes Bowling” is an amusing, if slightly overlong look at the many ways the Gang—and specifically Dennis—are a constant weight on Dee’s shoulders. And in a season of highs and lows, a “just pretty good” episode isn’t unwelcome in my eyes.

This episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is now available on Hulu.

Sam Layton
Sam Layton

Sam Layton is a Chicago suburb native that's trying his best to make a career out of his (probably unhealthy) habit of watching too much television. When he's not working as the Third Coast Review's current sole TV reviewer, he's making his way through college or, shockingly, watching too much television.