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When it's getting hot in Philly, the Gang solves global warming

Kaitlin Olson, Charlie Day
Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FXX
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In which the Gang does not, in fact, solve global warming.

Sunny’s satire is as wide-ranging and varied as its characters’ obliviousness to it. Perhaps most lived-in when centered on an individual Gang member’s obsessions, repressions, and egomania, the show will occasionally cast a wider net in the form of some full-episode metaphorical cleverness. It can work—“The Gang Tries Desperately To Win An Award” ably mocked It’s Always Sunny’s perpetually and undeservedly ghost status come Emmy time, in the guise of the Paddy’s crew scheming to somehow get crowned as Philly’s best bar. (I’m still in awe of the unremarked-upon throwaway joke where the aside about “black bars never winning awards” cuts briefly to a shot of occasional Sunny guest star—and former star of The Wire—Chad Coleman as Z.)

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Still, though, the already ambitious balancing act that is Sunny can look a little shaky when a larger satirical theme is grafted onto an episode’s overarching story, with the Gang’s individuality subsumed into the broader gag. And if “The Gang Solves Global Warming” isn’t a failure by any stretch, it does, in fact, feel a little stretched, as Paddy’s plan to beat the heat becomes an uncharacteristically on-the-nose allegory for the rapidly heating stewpot humanity’s collective frog finds itself studiously ignoring.

I’d say part of the issue is how short this episode is—the screener is barely 18 minutes, minus commercials—but the joke isn’t the kind that would have benefitted by being drawn out any further, really. Still, the script from Charlie Day and Rob McElhenney gets in some slyly ambitious digs at the coming environmental catastrophe, especially when it comes to the United States, whose population the Gang continues to embody at its most self-interested and terrible.

Rob McElhenney
Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FXX
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With Philadelphia sweltering in 100-degree stink, the Gang commiserates over how their personal discomfort has finally overcome their various bullheaded objections to the inconvenient idea that humans are rapidly destroying the planet. “For the first time I can remember, we’ve all got the same truth,” marvels Dennis as the Gang mops their faces and agrees that something’s got to be done. And if Mac’s summation that “When opinions meet facts, that’s when you get the truth” isn’t especially helpful, his willingness to ascribe the city’s heatwave to scientific consensus, finally, at least indicates that the Gang is united, and ready to act. Which, in Sunny’s history, is when everyone in the greater Philadelphia area should head for their bomb shelters and fortified attics.

There is a splintering of the Gang’s forces, as no agreed-upon crisis can ever overcome the members’ specific awfulnesses. Here it’s Dee who takes it upon herself to save the day by salving her own ego, loudly trumpeting (to the guys and her Instagram followers, “Dee’s Nuts”) both her recycled, “eco-friendly” sneakers, and her intention to take to those pricey repurposed shoes to walk to the liquor store for some ice once they realize Paddy’s ice machine is backed up. Dragooning Charlie into her quest with the promise of some free cat-food swag (thanks to her conviction that some Insta product placement will catch companies’ attention), Dee’s predictably disastrous quest not only repeatedly fails to ferry intact ice back to Paddy’s but serves to unmask the boutique environmentalism of Dee, whose self-righteous lording over the guys crumbles faster than her ill-made $90 plastic shoes.

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Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FXX

Mocking the guys for wanting to have ice delivered (by a gas-guzzling truck), Dee strikes out with Charlie, gets price-gouged for a bag of ice, calls a ride share once her feet start to hurt, complains that the eco-friendly hybrid can’t use its air conditioning, complains further about having to take public transportation after being banned from the ride service for abusive behavior and pissing on the driver’s back seat, and then, finally, calls the ice delivery guy in secret. So much for the B-story, where Dee’s self-congratulatory lip-service toward environmental altruism succumbs to the harsh reality that it might require the tiniest amount of self-sacrifice or lifestyle adjustment.

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Back at the bar, the big picture satire runs quickly amok, too, as Dennis’ plan to jack up the AC in order to attract beleaguered Philadelphians runs up against the rising temperatures caused by overcrowding, overtaxed infrastructure as the bar’s backed-up water system begins to flood the joint, and the eventual revolt of the party-happy drunken dancers whose end-of-days partying turns ugly and violent the moment Dennis reveals that, to keep the party going, everyone might have to make just the tiniest personal sacrifices. (Gingerly hinting that people might have to take only five or six shots of the dwindling tequila supply instead of 10, he’s confronted with blank stares and uncomprehending replies of, “But I want 10 shots.”)

Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FXX
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Along the way, there’s a subtly clever subplot where the Chinese immigrant employees from the fish processing plant next door are the one group that doesn’t immediately freak out and rush the bar at the first sign of personal inconvenience. (“They’re pretty nice once you get to know them,” Dennis confides to the returning Dee and Charlie.) If the Paddy’s crew is to be the United States, willfully ignoring the water rising around their ankles until panic sets in, then the workers are the third world, appreciating the respite Paddy’s heedless luxury momentarily provides, but not expecting it to last—or turning into grasping, selfish animals once it doesn’t.

Again, smart stuff. And there are some nice little character beats along the way. Mac’s continued, tortuous attempts to reconcile his blind Catholic faith with facts even he can’t ignore lead to a classic Mac-Dennis standoff. “So there’s no way to have a rational conversation with you,” surmises Dennis, finally. Mac, after a pause to reflect: “No.” And there’s a fine piece of Sunny boundary-pushing, as Frank—despondent that the overworked AC can’t bring the bar down to the exact temperature (65.7 degrees Fahrenheit, as Frank knows off the top of his head) to make the new female customers’ nipples harden— bemoans, These are not the nips I wanted.” Reacting to the horrified Dennis and Mac (who, understandably assuming the worst, gesture to the Asian workers, noting “Your track record in that department is not great”), Frank reassures them that he’s, in fact, bummed out about the un-popped nipples all around him. (Mac: “It’s just that his misogyny is stronger than his racism.” Dennis: “In this case.” Mac: “In this case, yeah.”)

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In the end, Paddy’s is still sweltering (and damper), the privileged have fled with all the booze, and the place is a shambles. Only Dee’s accidentally incriminating Instagram story is left as testament to how the Gang’s showboating, self-interested faux environmentalism ain’t the answer. (Once again, the fact that the only people who stay loyal to the bar are the foreign-born workers who knew that all along is the perfect capper to the episode-long conceit.)


Stray observations

  • Dee: “Do you have any idea how much pollution a bus causes?” Charlie: “I dunno, three?”
  • Sunny cashes in one of its FXX f-bombs, as Frank, ogling the sweaty women dancing all around him, exclaims, “Global warming is the fucking best!”
  • Dennis, surveying the growing unrest around him, muses, “It created a close system. I didn’t account for all the increased sexiness.”
  • And if you watch Sunny for Dennis and Mac, shirtless, greased, and panting, right this way!
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About the author

Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.