There was some concern among fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that the marketing campaign leading to the season eight premiere would spell doom for the show. Several seconds into “Pop-Pop: The Final Solution,” it was obvious that the “change of cast” stunt was just that, and the gang is just as dysfunctional and diabolically stupid as ever.
The return of The Attorney (Brian Unger) as well as the newly svelte Mac (Rob McElhenney) in the first scene signaled that this episode (and hopefully, this season) was going to be a throwback to the classic Sunny of seasons past.
Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) are entrusted with the decision whether to pull the plug on their Nazi grandfather, “Pop-Pop,” (Tom Bower) which sparks Mac and Charlie (Charlie Day) into action. Frank (Danny DeVito), as usual, is ahead of the rest of The Gang in scheming to get the Nazi treasure that Pop-Pop was allegedly hiding, visiting him weekly in his nursing home and feeding him rancid soup. The plot is a formula that has worked well for the writers of Sunny over the course of the series, with Dennis and Dee believing that they are superior but showing that they’re just as depraved and misguided as the other three, and Mac, Charlie and Frank settling on an unlikely idea and recklessly embracing it, regardless of the cost or consequences.
As Frank breaks into Pop-Pop’s house to hunt for treasure, getting himself stuck in a storage trunk in the process, Mac and Charlie decide that the painting of a German Shepherd that Pop-Pop gave Charlie years ago was actually painted by Hitler and therefore would be worth millions. The fact that there is no factual basis or likelihood that the painting was a “Hitler original” is disregarded by these two dimwits, as their imaginations run wild with thoughts of a DaVinci Code-type movie being made about their quest, starring Ryan Gosling as Mac. The “every man for himself” subplot is typical of Sunny, but it never seems to get old. The writers have a knack for taking each character into a realm of stupidity rarely seen on television.
Meanwhile, Dennis and Dee decide that, despite Pop-Pop’s Nazi affiliation, removing him from life support might not be the easiest thing to do, so they agree to head to the animal shelter, where they will practice by putting a dog to death. They encounter their old friend Rickety Cricket (David Hornsby), who is now doing community service at the shelter. Cricket is now horribly scarred and is missing an eye from an encounter with a vicious dog.
Perhaps the most endearing and satisfying thing about the Sunny franchise is the complete lack of development of the main characters. There is no growth, no maturation, no lessons learned with this group; the writers use peripheral characters and situations to signal the passage of time. While the world around them evolves and changes, they stay exactly as they’ve always been, and no one in their world has changed more than Rickety Cricket. Once a squeaky-clean priest, his life has been decimated by his mere association with The Gang, leading him through a gauntlet of drug abuse, assaults, and homeless street life. On the surface, Cricket’s gruesome appearance might be due to tangling with mobsters, street gangs, feral dogs, and a sharp-edged trash can in a wrestling ring, but all those things can be directly traced back to his association with the owners of Paddy’s Pub. They did it to him.
As usual all of The Gang’s plans go awry, with Frank, Mac and Charlie all coming up empty handed (although, as is another hallmark of the Sunny series, they come unwittingly close to actual success) and Dennis and Dee ultimately make a decision that shows what a complete waste of time all of their antics leading up to it were.
While The Gang is emotionally stunted, the writers of Sunny make it clear that the world around them has moved on. Dennis’s Range Rover is an excellent example. Earlier in the series, the egomaniacal and slightly sociopathic Dennis Reynolds often references the vehicle as proof of his class and sophistication. By season eight, the truck appears to be somewhat battered and out of date, no longer the stylish and posh status symbol that he needs to feel validated. Yes, while the world around them evolves and grows, Dennis, Dee, Mac, Charlie and Frank stay exactly as they’ve always been: smug, arrogant, uncaring, and unbelievably dimwitted; or, as one of their many nemeses put it, “the most horrible people alive,” and we love them for it.