When you’re watching a show that’s asked you to accept that this season is built around the idea of remixing and recycling, and that episodes like “Charlie’s Mom Has Cancer” are basically reworkings of past stories, it’s a bit weird to get completely new-to-the-show stories like “Frank’s Back In Business” or “Maureen Ponderosa’s Wedding Massacre”—if we’re buying into this “recycling” theme, the least the writers can do is be consistent with it. But this and “Massacre” make a lot of sense as sister episodes, demonstrating an alternate form of recycling—they both drop the Gang into a genre-movie setup (here, Wall Street and other financial-raider movies of the ‘80s) to play around with old tropes (“Billy! That’s how you get tetanus!”), and they both dredge up characters from the show’s past and show where they came from.
But instead of the Ponderosas and McPoyles, the resurrected character here has technically been around the whole time, just dormant. CEO Frank seems to hibernate until he’s called on to cut the crusts off some shit sandwiches. And though Frank shows up at the office looking the part in suspenders, the real moment it’s clear that the Gordon Gekko switch has truly flipped is in the pause between the first and second times he asks “Did I just do your job for you?” of the poor kid struggling with the copy machine. Danny DeVito does a fine job with this turn-on-a-dime character switchover—the way his face transforms right before he brutally fires the kid, it’s like watching a malevolent multiple personality surfacing.
And Frank does seem to be a completely different person for most of the episode. CEO Frank wouldn’t have dumpster sex involving wadded-up hamburger buns, or poop the bed for the lulz, or even hire an illiterate person as his right-hand man. He does express his horribleness in other, probably more harmful ways, but somehow, corporate piracy is more socially acceptable than eating literal garbage.
At the beginning of the episode, Frank’s in full feral form, hunting crow eggs while wearing those horrible, Penguin-esque long johns, and when called up for duty, he scoffs at Dennis’ point that Charlie can’t read and brings him along as his protégé anyway (presumably after buying him a briefcase and two sets of colorful collared shirts, suspenders, and bow ties from a fire sale at a closing production of Guys And Dolls).
I’ve always found Charlie’s weird father-son relationship with Frank endearing, and was sad for him when scowling CEO Frank canned him after his awkward soliloquy about crow eggs—a topic that Frank himself was excited about at the top of the episode. Because Charlie’s just acting the same as he always does; it’s Frank that’s changed. He’s temporarily regressed to his character from the beginning of the series, Dee and Dennis’ quasi-reasonable businessman dad, rather than a member of the Gang. And there’s the link to the season’s recycling theme: The writers didn’t bring back a plot point this time, they brought back the shady but highly competent CEO Frank who charms strippers and lives in a mansion and is not part of the Gang.
But it never feels like CEO Frank is going to stick around longer than one episode. Frank chose to abdicate his job and former life in favor of glorious squalor, and he’ll clearly be back on his and Charlie’s futon in those awful long johns after this is all over. So he doesn’t really have anything to lose in this business venture of his—he’s just having some fun. And that’s another of the episode’s themes, paralleled by the Dennis-as-LeFevre plot—that the secret to being a successful businessperson is having no actual investment in what you’re doing.
Neither Frank nor Dennis-as-Brian-LeFevre have any potential consequences for failure, nor any sense of business and negotiation as anything but a money game, and it’s a lot easier to win at Chicken when you’re playing with a remote-control car. Again called on to act as the naïve truth-speaker, Charlie’s confusion about what Atwater Capital actually makes (along with Frank’s response that “We create wealth!”) struck me as similar to one of those from-the-mouths-of-babes moral summations that South Park wields like an oar when it’s trying to make a point. It’s not that I object to the point, exactly—I exist in a constant state of low simmer about the financial sector that I’d rate at about one out of five Taibbis—but the scene seemed like a transplant from a different show.
Speaking of characters regressing, I wondered in the previous episode whether Dennis’ mom-corpse-triggered “TOO MANY FEELINGS!” breakdown would be something that the writers were going to follow up on in some sort of long-building “Dennis is a serial killer” arc. But here, he’s creepier than ever with his semi-sexual enjoyment of wearing Brian LeFevre’s, uh, skin, and overuse of the phrase “get off.” A particularly nice touch is the incredibly creepy way Glenn Howerton licks his lips as he resolves to bang the caddy he assumes is a rentboy. (Even though the writers chicken out on following through with the joke and take the low whoops-I-thought-you-were road.) Then again, the screener file titles suggest that the order of “Back In Business” and “Charlie’s Mom” was switched, so who knows about Dennis.
In any event, I found the past-version-of-character recycling more interesting than a lot of the straight plot recycling that the writers have done this season, and thought that the temporary appearance of CEO Frank was a neat contrast that really played up how disgusting Frank has become. But CEO Frank, though he's fun to visit, doesn't have the same comic potential that Feral Frank does, and the Charlie/Mac bits felt half-baked. This was particularly true in the sudden and sloppy ending, which felt as if the writers started to wrap things up, then just were all “Eh, whatever” and pushed the reset button that instantly zaps everyone back to their starting positions in the season's status quo, ready to start the next episode.
- Obscure callback of the week: The label on the Fight Milk has the same outline and “WHAT UP!!!” slogan of the “dick flyer” from the third season’s “Dennis And Dee’s Mom Is Dead,” another episode dealing with Reynolds family backstory.
- I am conflicted over whether Dee also getting a handie at the massage parlor is a plus or minus for feminism. It was very funny and not something you see a lot on TV, whichever it was.
- Was hoping for some Phillies guest stars as a status symbol for the high rollers courting Dennis-as-LeFevre, but nothing doing.
- “Vic Vinegar, bodyguard. I don’t shake, so don’t even try.”
- Entertainingly, the outside shot of Atwater Capital is of a building in which a friend of mine used to work. There is a great falafel cart across the street. (This factoid in honor of the Thanksgiving discovery that my parents, after years of various incorrect permutations like “Cool story, man!” and “Nice story, bro!”, have finally mastered the use of “Cool story, bro!”)
- Dee takes every opportunity to do accents, and apparently Canadian = Sarah Palin.
- As far as I know, there is no place in Philadelphia where you can eat sushi off tits. As far as I know.