No one wants to stand by idly as one of their favorite shows “jumps the shark,” so to speak. Watching a show run its course and continue to churn out painfully forced episodes for a paycheck can tarnish the reputation of an otherwise solid program. “The Office” jumped the shark when Michael left. “Parks and Recreation” did it with the entirety of season seven. “Glee” managed to do it before airing at all. Thankfully, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is on season 11 and still going strong.
When I surveyed about 3,000 fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia earlier this year and asked them to choose their top five IASIP episodes of all time, the numbers pointed towards some interesting trends in the show lately. Season 10 included some of the lowest-scoring episodes, two of which, “Frank Retires” and “The Gang Spies like US” fell into the bottom 10 of the entire series. “Psycho Pete Returns” and “Mac Kills His Dad” were also generally poorly received. Normally, this could easily be attributed to the fact that, as the most recent season, a good portion of viewers may not have seen these episodes, making it awfully difficult to rank them in their top five. However, “Charlie Work” received the fourth most votes of any episode. Clearly, the most recent season was viewed by plenty of people despite churning out a few stinkers.
Though “Charlie Work” wasn’t the most joke-dense episode or the funniest of the series, it featured some fantastic cinematography. The episode was shot in a series of long takes, including one uninterrupted shot that lasted over six minutes. In my eyes, the style, which perfectly captures Charlie’s panic as he scrambles through the bar preparing for the health inspector, is what makes this episode one of the best in the series.
That brings us to episode three of season 11, “The Gang Hits the Slopes.”
Charlie’s third trip out of Philly in his life (by my count) brings the gang to the Poconos, where the episode opens with a classic 80’s montage and, for the first time ever a non white-on-black title screen. Breaking barriers in the comedy game. It started promisingly from the beginning by putting a new spin on the series, something that the team of McElhenney, Howerton and Day has began to put more effort into lately, it seems.
I’m not a film or television critic, though, and this is “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” not “Shindler’s List,” so I’m not going to pretend to analyze the nuances of the episode.
Once again, the gang becomes divided over an issue (gun violence, traffic accidents, gun violence again), this time the fate of Party Mountain. In 80’s fashion, Dennis—in full on, unbridled sociopath mode—agrees to race Drisko (Dean Cameron, of Ski School of course) in a race down the mountain. The 80s soundtrack (feat. Jessie’s Girl), and clothes, complete with Mac’s blazer help set the tone for the episode perfectly.
One thing that this episode had that no other can claim, reminiscent of the great film “Crime Stinks: The Smell of Penetration,” was full penetration. I’ll hold off on revealing who got laid, though there was gratuitous blurring and saxophone music throughout.
In a somewhat similar role that he held in “Charlie Work,” Charlie acts as the voice of reason throughout the episode, questioning the legality of glory holes, PA announcers giving out personal information and Dennis hiring a Swedish ski team to help him win the race. After 27 minutes of buildup, the episode culminates in a showdown on top of Party Mountain that pits a Golden God with an insatiable urge to prove his worth, against a janitor.
A few broken ankles and potential STDs later, the gang is ready to head home, ending episode three.
The first two episodes of this season were slightly underwhelming for me. That isn’t to say that either “Chardee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo” or “Frank Falls Out the Window” were bad. Thus far, season 11 has just fallen slightly short of the astronomically high expectations that seasons 1-10 of It’s Always Sunny helped to set for me. “The Gang Hits the Slopes” pulled off the 80s vibe very well as a whole, but fell slightly short in the comedy department for me, seemingly resorting to nudity (gross) and Dean Cameron (gross) to sell the episode.
Overall, I give the episode a C+. Better than the first two of the season, but short of my overall expectations.