Charlie Day (FXX)

The concept of “Charlie work” has long been bandied about on It’s Always Sunny, representing the menial labor Charlie has to do around Paddy’s so that the rest of the Gang can sit around, get drunk, and be awful. And while we’ve seen glimpses over the years of what Charlie work entails—mainly killing the seemingly endless swarms of rats infesting every inch of the place—in “Charlie Work,” the true nature of Charlie work is finally revealed in a tour-de-force of manic lunacy where Charlie’s mastery of the foul arts he’s been forced to master saves the bar, and the day. The central question of the episode is whether Charlie’s whirlwind problem-solving in the episode is too competent. But while it’s true that Charlie’s complex running string of quick fixes is impressive, it’s also thoroughly, suitably insane.

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So when Charlie, having been tipped off about a surprise health inspection, hustles into Paddy’s to find the Gang planning an elaborately stupid scheme to defraud a meat-delivery company out of a truckload of steaks, he’s understandably distraught. You know, since Frank’s barefoot, the place is smeared with paint (the scam involves disguising the bar as a steakhouse), the men’s room toilet is overflowing, Mac’s removed the glory hole cover, and Dee’s brought out the “joke stool,” a hilarious prank consisting of a regular bar stool with a huge, sharp nail sticking up out of the seat. Oh, and the whole place is full of live chickens.

Look, the Gang is, collectively, not bright, especially when they set their mind on something they want. In any episode, it’s a matter of proportion as to which members of the Gang seem smarter than the others. It’s like their collective brain power is controlled by a video game attribute system—if someone’s obsession of the week claims an inordinate portion, then the rest are left to make do scrabbling around with the leftovers. There’s only so much brainpower at their disposal. So, tonight, Charlie’s monomaniacal zeal to have Paddy’s pass the inspection trumps the squawking, paint-smeared, Rube Goldberg caper of the others, lending him the ability to unscramble the details of their scheme in one, gloriously delivered speech by Charlie Day:

You guys used Frank’s credit card, you bought a bunch of airline miles. Used those airline miles to purchase 400 steaks, knowing that this delivery company delivered all variety of animal products. You plan was to contaminate the steaks with chicken feathers by rubbing live chickens all over them. Then you were gonna repackage the steaks. At which point you were gonna return the contaminated steaks for actual cash, taking advantage of a loophole in the current airline mile system. Correct?

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And then:

But what you didn’t plan on was a hungry delivery guy who’d driven all the way here from Ohio, or that Dee’s oversized fingers could have accidentally pressed zero again when she ordered the steaks online—I’m assuming you did the typing, Dee, yes?

Dee: Goddammit.

Dennis: Dee, you bitch.

But none of this matters to me. Because today is inspection day. A day that I pride myself on. A day that I’ve never failed on and I don’t plan on failing now. So listen to me and listen close like you’ve never done before—we are going to pull this thing off, so help…me…God.

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Even Frank’s ludicrous antics make sense—for Frank, that is.

Frank’s role on It’s Always Sunny is always slightly removed from the rest of the Gang. More than his seniority (Frank’s proven himself capable of the debaucheries of a man half his age), Frank is positioned both as more and less worldly than the rest. A formerly successful businessman and more or less functional adult, Frank still retains remnants of his former skill set, even when he’s taken to a life of rutting squalor with remarkable abandon. (No image of Frank sums up his character better than that of him dispensing cogent financial advice in last seasons “Mac And Dennis Buy A Timeshare”—while stuck all episode in a piece of playground equipment in his underpants.) More and more often, Frank’s function on the show is to be the grossest, broadest element in the plot, so tonight, when Charlie explains that the health inspector is coming, so Frank might want to put on shoes (he flushed his down the toilet “It’s an anxiety thing—flushing things gives me control”) and a shirt (same deal), naturally, Frank’s solution is to take the black paint Dennis was using to turn the Paddy’s sign into “Carmine’s: A Place For Steaks” and paint his feet and torso black. Naturally.

So when the new inspector (a nicely rational Francesca Roberts) shows up (the old guy was too lenient), the ensuing sequence is a virtuoso symphony of performance and direction (by series regular Matt Shakman) that tracks Charlie as he feverishly but masterfully shepherds both the no-nonsense inspector and the rest of the Gang through his lunatic but effective plan to accomplish both goals simultaneously. Charlie Day’s ability to let Charlie’s demons peep through his excitable dialogue is one of Sunny’s chief assets, and Day’s performance here is pure exhilaration as he wrangles: crates of chickens, 4000 steaks, a clogged toilet, a disabled carbon monoxide detector, a hungry and confused truck driver, a repeatedly blown fuse, a painted Frank blowing a recorder, Mac grunting and apologizing at just the right time, and two separate carjackings to make everything turn out all right. (And the way he inexplicably keeps slamming a barstool on the floor throughout pays off perfectly to punctuate the ending.)

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Not that the Gang notices. After Charlie struts back into Paddy’s to announce that the inspector has granted the bar the highest rating (minus points off because Dee failed to move the dumpster six inches like she’d promised), their response indicates just how little they understand how much they continually owe Charlie.

Dennis: We don’t give a shit about that.

Dee: We never have a hard time passing—you didn’t do anything that special.

That’s Charlie work for you.

Stray observations:

  • The only reason the grade’s not higher is the abrupt ending. The payoff to the barstool gag is great, but the episode peters out with Charlie’s weak, “That’s unbelievable” in response to the Gang’s ingratitude.
  • Once the scam proper gets underway, Shakman uses a handheld style, which is very effective in conjunction with Day’s performance. Plus, he disguises a couple of cuts (Hitchcock Rope-style) to make it appear it’s all one shot.
  • A running subplot sees Mac, Dennis, and Dee arguing over who deserves full credit for their stupid scam. There’s apparently an existing arbitration process.
  • Charlie: “Frank, you’ve gotta take down the ‘Speak American’ sign before the inspector gets here.” Frank: “Are you sure? Maybe he’s a racist, too.”
  • The poetry of Sweet Dee: “Oh shit—this thing’s tits!”
  • “This is a chicken and air mile steak scam now?”
  • “We actually almost never have women in here—but we’re not being judged on that!”
  • Dennis acting the casual bartender involves him doing a half-assed Matthew McConaughey.

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