The gang takes on the Time’s Up movement in a brilliant episode that’s as timely as it is hilarious.
Sandwiched in between two milestone moments of the #MeToo era – Cosby’s sentencing and the Kavanaugh sexual assault hearings – the latest episode of Always Sunny is an insightful takedown of internalized misogyny that won’t leave you with a rotting knot of awful in your stomach.
Since the advent of #MeToo just over a year ago, much of the response in the entertainment world has been to underscore the problem by showing women being victimized over and over again. The tactic is employed in dramas such as The Handmaid’s Tale, but in recent months comedies such as HBO’s Barry, and even GLOW on Netflix have used seedy harassment as a storyline. The idea seems to be that witnessing these horrific moments alongside these women will allow viewers to sympathize and understand the situation on a deeper level. This interpretation is not wrong; it’s just a bummer to watch.
But flip that premise on its head – follow the accused instead of the accusers – and you’ve got gold. Since Always Sunny is a debauched bastion of comedy where no one ever learns or changes, it’s consistently in a prime position to comment on the craziness of political upheaval around us. They’ve tackled serious topics ranging from North Korea, political campaigns, and have even focused not one but TWO episodes on gun control. These characters are forever in selfish stasis, so highlighting their stagnant and cartoonish behaviors in the face of possible change somehow turns tragedy into comedy.
Throughout the past thirteen seasons, we’ve mostly been invited to laugh at the absurdity of the Sunny gang, not with them. And applying that tactic to the Time’s Up / #MeToo movements hits right in the sweet center of the series. All of the characters are guilty of sexual harassment and sexual assault. And they’re all super lax about it. So, when they attend a sexual harassment seminar for the “Shitty Bar List of Unsafe Spaces For Women”, things (obviously) go terribly.
Penned by Sunny writer Megan Ganz, the episode is short but packed with informative funny. As soon as the gang takes their seats in the hotel conference room, things start to get sticky. Mac complains about having to attend, Frank fondly recalls the old days where banging a secretary was a “win-win” situation, and Dennis reminds them all that “women are on a bit of a rampage right now.” Everyone is miserable. Except Dee. She comes bounding in, popcorn and soda (beer) in hand, and proceeds to maniacally chant “Time’s Up” to the guys while wagging her head like a possessed demon.
While the guys start melting under the pressures of the seminar like little Wicked Witches, Dee flourishes. She weaponizes every lesson they learn. During a role playing exercise, Mac grabs her by the vagina, heaving her about three feet off the ground. Turns out that he does this to Dee “all the time”, and the trainer, Allen, isn’t having any of it. Horrified, he tells Dee that she can press charges, and, of course, she likes the sound of that. All the members of the gang love loopholes… as long as they benefit them directly.
She then tries her luck with the other half of the seminar group, interrupting the trainer to ask whether or not being called a “bird” qualifies as sexual harassment. It doesn’t. Quick to take a win, Dennis mutters, “nice try, you dumb bitch” under his breath, and we all take a second to pause at how the interactions between these two terrible twins are smooth like butter.
Throughout the proceedings, a robe-clad Frank wanders in and out of the conference rooms like a discombobulated Hugh Hefner. He mutters things to his lawyer on his cell phone about women he’s abused over the years, and makes a point to try and get to them and make monetary amends before they can take him down.
It’s worth noting here that throughout the entire ordeal, none of the gang directly invokes false accusations. They know what they’ve done and – for the most part – they come to the realization that they’ve broached barriers with others. Even Dennis owns up to his sociopathic ways (albeit by bragging about his conquests), and notes that “men are monsters.” For the gang, the issue isn’t whether or not abuse happens – of course it does – it’s how to avoid getting caught. That twist in the narrative here is refreshing. As a waves of allegations roll out against those in power, the most maddening element of the broken process is the tendency to dismiss victims when they report sexual assault. Here, the gang is recognizing that assault is rampant… they just don’t want to change their ways. And, in a climate where politicians attempt to hide their questionable histories behind contradictory actions and twisted statements, that blunt honesty is refreshing.
Dee’s behavior as the lone woman in the gang does briefly touch on the idea of false accusations, but, again, the portrayal focuses on the perpetrator of the crime, not the victim. Getting impatient in the buffet line, Dee screams that someone grabbed her ass. When the guys all clear out, she proceeds to cackle like an evil witch. Just like her male counterparts in the gang, she has a malicious streak a mile wide and zero respect for others – two things necessary for an individual who would be inclined to make false accusations for funsies. Oh, and she’s been the perpetrator of abuse in her past, too.
So it’s sweet comeuppance when Dee gets her own moment of clarity when Charlie calls her out on their one night stand together. When one of the trainers discusses an example about a fictional character called “the Waitress”, the incident starts a chain of conversation that leads to Charlie pulling out his wild card. He’s been molested, so he gets a free pass to do whatever he wants. (Wrong, but do go on.) The rest of the gang agrees. Uncle Jack “did a number” on Charlie. Charlie even wrote a whole (amazing) play about it! But Charlie protests. It wasn’t Uncle Jack. It was Dee!
Apparently back in “The Gang Misses the Boat”, the surprise hook up between the two wasn’t exactly consensual. And that’s when Dee learns that women can also be guilty of molestation and even rape. She starts to sweat.
Eventually, the gang steers the seminar so far off base that Dennis offers to take over. He’s got a whole Power Point presentation prepared, and he begins to scroll through a whole mess of misinformation. As Dennis understands it, the only way to get caught being a sexual harasser is if you’re ugly. And everyone is ugly… except Dennis.
Like the sociopath he most definitely is, Dennis methodically and painstakingly runs down the failings of each and every member of the gang. He even calls Mac out for inappropriately kissing and fondling him. Then, he reveals that he was the one behind the entire seminar. Somehow, Dennis hoped that the rest of the group would learn a lesson here so that their screwups wouldn’t put his shady dealings under the microscope. Clearly he’s delusional, because a simple seminar is not going to work. The only constant for the gang is that they never change. Ever.
One thing’s for sure. If Dennis wants to keep those skeletons in his closet, he had better never get nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court. Or maybe he’s the perfect candidate? Only time will tell.
Random Thoughts Before I Go:
- Early on in the episode, Mac asks the trainer how many points they need to get in order to have Paddy’s removed from the list. This is an interesting question given how many powerful men in comedy – such as Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. – have been shunned from the public eye due to their pervy actions. How do these men make up the “points” they need to get off the blackball list? And what do they have to do to get there? It’s a serious question that dogs the #MeToo movement.
- The soft sound of a ticking clock in the background at pivotal moments is amazing.
- Even though it was wildly inappropriate, the p*ssy grab with Dee and Mac is a pretty wild visual gag, and it definitely illustrates why the show has been Emmy nominated for stunts in the past. It really looked like he got her right in the vag.
- One slide in Dennis’s Power Point features Rickety Cricket. He captions it by stating, “Is it this man’s fault that he looks this way? No. He was born this way.” This is ridiculous and untrue. It’s 100% the gang’s fault that Cricket looks the way he does.
‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FXX.