So far, all three episodes of this season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia have had one thing in common: While the episodes may have lacked structure to various degrees, each one has been able to deliver big, memorable “centerpiece laughs,” which, in my opinion is just as, if not more, valuable. Tonight's episode, “Frank Reynolds' Little Beauties,” is no exception (the two musical numbers tonight were laugh-out-loud moments, but it also has the most cohesive plot of the three episodes aired thus far. Everything tonight built up to that beauty pageant, and as someone who has always loved any time the gang has to put on a show of any short, I knew that as soon as that curtain parted, it would be smooth sailing until the end credits rolled.
I find the whole phenomenon of child pageantry to be even more depressing than the image of a dead hooker, and the icky specter of child molestation hovers over the proceedings in this episode, so the choice to put the gang in rescue/rehab/self-glorification mode (as in “The Gang Gets Extreme: Home Makeover Edition”) was the perfect counterbalance. The gang going from abject disgust to proclaiming child pageantry the last word in patriotism in the space of two minutes was pretty great; you gotta admire their expediency in spinning a gross situation into something where they got to look like American heroes. And I loved the almost self-referentially deadpan discussion between Mac, Charlie, and Dennis as they came to the agreement that they would of course have to be on stage performing at some point (Charlie: “I'm glad you said it, because I am desperate to be in this thing.” Mac: “I didn't even realize it was a conversation. I always assumed we would be heavily involved.”) For all their rampant irresponsibility and narcissism, I think everyone could agree that they'd trust the gang with a room full of children before the pageant's prior overseer.
Everyone quickly picks their contestants to groom for the win, because what fun would a show be if they weren't doing it versus someone? The guys pick the lone boy in the lineup, whom they are surprised to learn is there completely on his own accord. “This is a boy who genuinely loves pageantry,” observes Dennis. (Anybody else feel like he saw a bit of himself in that showboating moppet?) They revamp his act into a totally X-treme rave-worthy rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” complete with strobes, and painted-on abs. Everyone is horrified, of course, except for blazed-out-of-her-noggin Artemis at the soundboard (yay, Artemis!) and the pedophile in the audience posing as an agent for Child Protective Services. So I guess they've found their niche in the pageant world.
I wasn't entirely sold on Dee's mission to take the unenthusiastic older sister of the front-running queen bee under her wing, but that song, man. Add Sunny to the list of sitcoms mining laughs out of the word “vagina” over the past couple of weeks – but let it be remembered that Sunny did it best. And Kaitlin Olson is so excellently hammy throughout the whole number, making me realize that it's been a long time since we've seen Sweet Dee the Aspiring Actress, and how maniacally hilarious she is.
Meanwhile, poor Frank spends the episode in an escalating state of panic, worrying about how not to come off as a pedophile in the wake of the scandal, which perhaps doesn't have the opposite effect but definitely makes him look like even more of a basket case. Kudos to the person whose choice it was to have Frank's face-bashing from the open extend across the entire episode; his bloody face is the extra cherry on top as he frantically proposes, then composes “a song about how we do not diddle kids” to the rest of the gang. And his ghoulish funeral home makeup for the show just seems like the natural progression of his downward spiral; he looks like death incarnate as he takes the stage and assures the parents that he is not a pedophile. (Danny DeVito's so oddly close to the same height as those little girls, adding an extra layer of creepy to the whole visual.) Of course, having barely convinced them, he leaves his mic on in the dressing room and accidentally convinces them that he's a necrophile, or perhaps, that he wouldn't mind being the victim of one. (“Shove as much shit in there as you want. Fill me up with cream, make a stew out of my ass…” Sounds like somebody misses his Artemis.)
Other than his starring performance in opening number, complete with scatting and a rap breakdown, this episode was rather Charlie-lite compared to the last two, and though it'd be quite a feat to make me actually sick of Charlie Kelly, I think it's good that Sunny shows no signs of relying too heavily on its breakout star. The fact that this episode was just as strong as, if not stronger than, “Frank's Pretty Woman” and “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore” is proof that they don't need to, and after two episodes that found the gang more or less going their separate ways, it was great to see the cast come together as an ensemble.
- We got a great example of a Sunny title-as-punchline tonight, with the suddenly nauseating “Frank Reynolds' Little Beauties” title card flashing just as soon as the whole "diddling" thing comes to light
- “For once, let's let the boys of America win!”
- “I figure he's a cretin. Why would I have a cretin like that near me if I have something to hide?”
- “Welcome to our legitimate show of kids.”
- Mac on the symbiotic nature of pedophiles and child pageants: “It's like having a picnic at the beach and getting pissed when the seagulls show up.”
- Add the Frank Reynolds' Little Beauties theme and "Moms Stink" to the ever expanding Sunny song catalogue. When are we getting that album, guys?