“I feel like we should clap.”
Okay, let’s talk about one of the funniest moments in It’s Always Sunny history.
First a word about spoilers. Hey—don’t read a review unless you’ve seen the thing that’s being reviewed. And, if you do, don’t complain about the review needing to discuss things that would have been great to see without being “spoiled” by you making the inexplicable choice to read a review before seeing the thing being reviewed.
So “Time’s Up For The Gang” sees Mac, Dee, Charlie, Dennis (returning after being MIA last week), and Frank attending a sexual harassment seminar because Paddy’s has been put on an internet “shitty bar list” of Philly establishments hostile to women. The intrepid and unsuspecting moderators (Marypat Farrell and Humphrey Ker), after enduring a barrage of inappropriate, profane, and otherwise point-missing interruptions, separate the Gang for some breakout sessions, perhaps thinking to dilute their charges’ obvious awfulness with a little distance.
That . . . does not work.
The male moderator, Alan, tries out a little roleplaying to address Mac and Dee’s clear lack of comprehension about appropriate workplace behavior. Asking Mac what his function is at Paddy’s elicits Mac’s traditional inflated sense of himself as the bar’s badass peacekeeping resident Swayze, although Dee and Charlie (also in the session) note that he’s just supposed to check IDs, which he doesn’t do. (Continuing the ongoing meta-jokes about Mac’s evolving—or devolving—role, Charlie muses, “He’s just, like, our gay guy now.”) Dee, being Dee, peppers the patiently befuddled Alan with questions about her motivation for playing someone going into a bar (“To get a drink?,” he suggests), settling finally and inexplicably on “revenge.” Alan, to get things rolling, says fine, and then the seemingly simple scene begins.
Now—and just to prolong the lead-up to the gag for one more delicious moment—one might imagine that one knows where this is going. Dee and Mac are deeply into their roles here, and those roles are informed by the characters’ deep-rooted delusions about how they’re seen and who they are. Dee is a great actress. Mac is the “Sheriff of Paddy’s.” They’re both awful people. The episode, written by Megan Ganz, is about how awful people either deliberately or through societal conditioning turn any discussion of sexual harassment, consent, and rape culture into a boorish, facile intellectual shitshow. So Dee—seen entering the seminar singing a gloating “Time’s Up!” chant at the guys’ being called out in public—will (ineptly) play at being superior, while Mac will say something inappropriate under the guise of trying to score the “points” he thinks Paddy’s needs in order to get off the internet’s shit list.
Instead, Mac greets Dee’s opening line by hoisting Dee fully into the air by her vagina.
Now, there’s a lot going on here, and all of it works to produce the biggest out-loud laugh I’ve gotten from a TV show in a long time. There’s the way in which Mac’s action echoes a phrase Donald Trump cemented into the American lexicon and elevates it (along with Dee) to shocking, absurdist heights. There’s the execution of the gag, which would have fallen flat if it didn’t look so seamlessly, impossibly actual. There’s the joke of Mac’s ridiculously buff new body, yet another physical transformation whose obvious offscreen effort on the part of Rob McElhenney is tossed off along with the Gang’s perpetual dismissal of Mac. There’s Dee’s awestruck reaction to Alan’s horrified assessment about Mac’s grab being designed to make Dee feel small, where she marvels, “It made me feel tiny, like Thumbelina!” There’s the abruptness, seizing the joke (and Dee) before we have a chance to imagine what’s coming.
And the thing is, that’s only the first great, lunatic surprise of “Time’s Up For The Gang,” as, in yet another classic example of Dennis Reynolds’ meticulous hyper-masculine madness, it’s finally revealed that the entire exercise—involving two professional moderators, a viral awareness campaign, a Bond villain-worthy PowerPoint presentation, and dozens of Philadelphia business owners dragged to the Hyatt—is all Dennis’ doing. Throughout the episode, we see each member of the Gang but Dennis having their own particular sexual creepiness brought out into the open, leaving them each, in turn, suddenly drenched in panic-sweat. Frank (who returns from a hasty call to his lawyer in a dry, inadequately belted bathrobe) has a long history of hiring attractive women, sleeping with them, and then promoting them to shut them up. (“It’s a win-win,” he protests, “Except for the wives.”) Mac’s embrace of his long-repressed homosexuality has left him finally expressing his lust for Dennis and other men in very unwanted handsiness. Charlie’s fifteen years of stalking the Waitress is thoroughly deconstructed by Dennis, not as the actions of a “hopeless romantic” that Charlie would have it be, but as those of “a sad, pathetic wretch of a man so desperate to be loved that [he’ll] actually go rifling through somebody’s garbage.” And Dee, it’s revealed, isn’t as off the hook as her head-nodding female smugness would have her be, since Charlie explains that their one sexual encounter had enough distressing consent issues to lead him to think of it as “molestation.” (Charlie’s still in deep denial about Uncle Jack, though, The Nightman Cometh notwithstanding.)
Delivered with the maniacal precision of a supervillain, Dennis’ unveiling of his complex scheme is the culmination of the episode’s smartly subversive dissection of the issue at hand. I’ve said it before, but looking to Sunny for social commentary is a tricky proposition. For every feint toward flat-out pronouncements on cultural issues (gun control, abortion, racism, ableism, homophobia), It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is, at its tarry black heart, a character study of human weakness. The Gang forms five points of the same Vonnegut-esque cartoon anus in their various embodiments of the bottom-scraping worst in all of us. So here, while there are passing shots at mens’ rights talking points and male panic about the Me Too movement (“I don’t know if you noticed but women are on a little bit of a rampage right now and anyone could be taken down at any moment,” lectures Dennis), the episode functions most eloquently in its takedown of the base self-interest that drags man-woman interactions down to the Philly mud. We don’t need Sunny to come out and say rape culture is insidious, that men have serious issues when it comes to women, and that Mac’s idea of the cosy coolness of “locker room talk” is self-justifying misogyny, because Sunny—for all its gleeful and skillful comic scandalousness—operates on the principle that basic human decency is a good thing.
But the Gang is us at our venal, cruel, human decency-eschewing worst. So when Frank’s old school, underling-banging behavior is aired out, or when Mac perks up when female moderator Kate gives way to Alan (“Oh, here comes the boss man.”), or when Charlie’s squirmy obsessions are shown to stem from incel-style male entitlement, or when Dee gloats while ignoring her own abuse of sexual power dynamics, their sweat-soaked comeuppance indicts the “just saying what everybody’s thinking” crowd without itself breaking a sweat. (Dennis’s presentation also trots out the whole “women only report ugly harassers” argument as part of his mission to include every rape-apologist cliché.) That’s what Sunny does at its best.
As for Dennis—the Gang member most in need of this particular moral correction—the fact that he engineered the whole enterprise as part of his ongoing campaign to skirt the law while continuing to indulge his truly unsettling fetish for questionable consent play is a masterstroke worthy of the evil genius he is at such moments. When the rest of the Gang, outed by Dennis’ plan, object that Dennis has “Dennis-ed” more women than any of them, Dennis’ smug response comes wrapped in his layers of self-insulating preparation. As his culminating presentation goes on, Dennis reveals that he—unlike the rest of the Gang—keeps his life “tight,” complete with congratulatory and legally binding exonerating texts from his conquests. “Their phones did,” responds Dennis to objections that no woman would write a sexual partner that “I am saying YES to everything that happened last night,” Glenn Howerton expertly switching off whatever light exists behind Dennis Reynolds’ eyes. When Kate, informed that her well-intentioned expertise was merely a part of Dennis’ ploy to preemptively solidify alibis for his life of deception and abuse, shouts “You’re a monster,” Dennis Reynolds, tossing the PowerPoint remote aside in triumph, fixes her with a snakelike gaze and says, “Prove it.” It’s chilling, it’s masterful, and, as Charlie—anticipating the response of those all too willing to latch onto any powerful man’s excuses for accusations of sexual misconduct—puts it, “I gotta be honest, I didn’t follow most of it, but so cool, man.”
- Frank to his lawyer, after his robe pops open in front of Kate: “How soon can you get to the Hyatt? My dong fell out.”
- Mac defends his obsession with scoring points, rebutting, “Everything is graded by points, otherwise, how did the Eagles win the Super Bowl?”
- Dennis’ intimate knowledge of pending statute of limitations laws and legal definitions of consent and harassment (he even knows who Carmita Wood is) recall nothing so much as how the manager of Alec Baldwin’s jailbait-chasing movie star in State And Main keeps a copy of statutory rape precedent in his car.
- Another huge director-crafted laugh: After Alan rightly defines what Mac just did as actual sexual assault, Mac looks to Charlie for backup, only to see Charlie’s empty seat and the closing conference room door. Well done, Kat Coiro.
- Dee uses Me Too paranoia to clear all of the men out of the buffet line.
- Illustrating his “ugly men don’t get accused of harassment” point, Dennis flashes a picture of Cricket, punctuating the truly horrifying evidence of the Gang’s decades of abuse on the poor guy’s face by assuring his audience, “He was born this way.”