Charlie Day
Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FXX

“Why would anybody do that to anybody?!”

The last time we saw Sunny’s world (Paddy’s, essentially) through Charlie’s eyes, the show turned out one of the series’ most acclaimed and beloved episodes. Season 10's “Charlie Work,” written by Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, and Glenn Howerton, examined exactly how indispensible Charlie’s lunatic but ingenious efforts are to keeping the worst bar in Philly running, and provided a stellar showcase for Charlie Kelly’s long-suffering savant-like talents. (And for Day himself, who carried the manic clockworks of that episode off like a silent comic virtuoso.)

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So the prospect of another all-Charlie episode like “Charlie’s Home Alone” should be a cause for celebration. Except that this short, frantic, violent tale drags through its 19 minutes in a stew of unimaginative knockabout bloodshed that drags its gimmick around like a rusty bear trap. (Charlie, booby-trapping Paddy’s against imaginary burglars, Kevin McCallister-style, gets his leg horrifically clamped in a huge, rusty bear trap.)

There are a few reasons why “Charlie’s Home Alone” is so trying to watch. For one thing, it’s the front half of a two-parter, apparently, as Frank, Dee, and Mac—having boarded a party bus for the trip to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis—accidentally leave Charlie behind for their own adventure, coming next week. The end credits jarringly suggest what violence is done to the story by not airing both episodes back-to-back, as it promises appearances by the likes of Bill Ponderosa, Ben the soldier, Uncle Jack, Rickety Cricket, and even T.J. Hoban’s peerlessly dim male model Rex, none of whom are in anything but momentary evidence here. (Gonna go ahead and speculate that that’s Cricket in Charlie’s Green Man suit, the disappearance of which leads to Charlie’s frantic search and subsequent abandonment.)

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Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FXX

Then there’s the whole Home Alone conceit itself, which is aped far too faithfully for the first half of the episode and exaggerated with less imagination (but more gore) in the second. I’d watch Charlie Day scramble around yelling and being weird most anytime, but the episode (credited to Adam Weinstock and Andy Jones) makes even that eventually tiresome as Charlie reenacts the Home Alone story beats without putting much of a Sunny spin on them. Having Charlie get freaked out by the basement furnace and announce loudly that he’s going through everyone’s stuff (including Dee’s granny panties) is reference comedy, and not a whole lot else. Even when a pair of Wet Bandits lookalikes innocently knock on Paddy’s closed door (puzzling over Charlie’s nigh-incomprehensible sign), there’s no real joke there except that the two actors (Andrew Hawtrey and Bryan Coffee) sort of look like Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci, respectively.

Finally, while Charlie’s scabrously outsized response both to finding himself on his own and to the supposed threat to his Paddy’s sanctum makes sense (for Charlie), his actions are more loud than clever or funny. Sure, Charlie’s an Eagles fanatic, and his passionate fandom and love of playing Green Man make sense in the context of his beloved team going up against the big, bad Patriots in the Super Bowl. But the episode opens with a clumsy statement of Charlie’s warren of superstitions about the game, including the fact that, in addition to Green Manning up each week, he’s also only been eating brown food (preferably milk steak with a little bit of char to it) and drinking yellow food (beer) to ensure Eagles’ victories. Unlike “Charlie Work,” which raced through Charlie’s convoluted schemes with sweaty grace, “Charlie’s Home Alone” is strung together as precariously as the Home Alone-inspired traps with which Charlie spiderwebs Paddy’s.

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Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FXX

So Charlie, leg mangled in the bear trap (or alarmingly huge rat trap), winds up devouring a live rat (brown), and drinking his own pee (yellow), all the while screaming in pain and panic and occasionally blacking out. (Thanks to his self-sprung bear trap, nail gun, paint cans, heating coil, broken glass, and booby-trapped surge protector.) And having Charlie Day loudly gabbling out every step he plans to take before and while he takes it is, as noted, awfully grating after a while. Sunny traditionally works with comic cruelty like fine oils, but “Charlie’s Home Alone” just spatters the screen with cheap, garish paint, blood, pee, bloody vomit, and noise, and counts on viewers to call it art.

Stray observations

  • Of course, next week’s episode, titled “The Gang Wins The Big Game” might somehow pull all this mess together. Even if it does, though, that would just prove how incomplete “Charlie’s Home Alone” is on its own.
  • Charlie does the whole Macaulay Culkin “slap aftershave on your face and scream bit” before asking himself why he’s screaming, which counts as a half-twist on the joke, I suppose.
  • Those are Eagles Super Bowl champs Beau Allen and Jason Kelce appearing as themselves. Or, rather, Charlie’s blood-loss and rat-sick hallucinations thereof, urging Charlie on to fulfill his self-appointed labors in order to ensure the win. They’re about as natural onscreen as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were, but there’s a funny exchange when they try to explain their spectral nature to the not-getting-it Charlie.
  • The episode was teased back in “The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot” when the unfortunate flight attendant (Michael Naughton) exclaimed in horror that he—in addition to his regular waiter gig at Guigino’s—had to put up with the Gang while working at the Super Bowl.
  • Charlie discovers that Mac’s bedside bible is uncomfortably sticky. Best not to dwell.
  • Glenn Howerton’s absence is due to this episode taking place during Dennis’ sojourn with his accidental family in North Dakota. And the fact that Glenn Howerton’s participation in the show going forward remains tenuous.
  • Dee, reading Charlie’s sign, marvels that the only word he spelled correctly is “salmonella.”

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