(N.B. This recap is being written while I sit at an airport bar, desperately hammering away at the keys to get shit on the page before I fly out to Madrid. I also have minimal sleep behind me. I’m not quite surrounded by giant bipedal lizards, but almost. Your mileage may vary.)
I’m not saying I called it or anything.
Two weeks ago, when reviewing the 8th episode of the 12th season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, I wrote:
As the Gang continues to be their worst selves, we can’t help but wonder to what end will this push Dennis? Will he explode and rain invective down upon everyone once again? Will he be forced to get his tools? Or will he just leave?
So I’m not saying I called it.
But, you know.
Let’s back up a minute, though.
It’s a weekday morning at Paddy’s Pub. Mac is excited. He’s excited because Dennis has lost a bet, which means that he is the one who gets to re-decorate their old flat. He’s excited because he’s convinced that Dennis is gonna be excited about it. Interestingly, he’s telling this to the Gang minus Dennis. Now, going by Sunny logic, that makes it pretty much inevitable that Dennis is due to come bursting into the bar with some exciting news any minute.
Oh, Mac is also excited that he’s finally managed to get the missing piece to Dennis’ Valentine’s Day present—a rocket for the rocket launcher!
Anyway, sure enough, here comes Dennis, barging in through the front door. ‘There’s a girl!’ he exclaims breathlessly.
Who has Dennis D.E.N.N.I.S.’ed now? This oughta be wacky and—…
Ok, so Dennis has an infant son.
‘Dennis’ Double Life’
Yes indeed. Remember the season 10 premiere, ‘The Gang Beat Boggs’? Dennis, frustrated at a conquest gone awry and needing to escape, jettisoned himself at a stop-over in North Dakota. Turns out, he didn’t idle while there. The Golden God does not waste opportunities. It also became apparent, however, that the Golden God is not above basic biology, as five months after his little escapade he received a phone call from Melody from North Dakota (played ably here by Christine Woods), informing him of his newly acquired place on the generational conveyor belt. Dennis, being Dennis, naturally wasn’t Dennis when the encounter took place. No, he was Brian LeFevre—remember him, from season 8, he at the centre of one of the most convincing fan theories about this or any other show?
Well, Melody has now shown up in Philadelphia, desiring to see her son, Brian Jr., grow up knowing his dad. Her arrival at Paddy’s is, so Dennis says, imminent. Dennis, naturally, cannot abide by this real world responsibility and emotional connection crashing down on his shoulders. He seeks help from the Gang. Firstly, they must maintain the facade of his alter ego—which is something the episode mines great laughs from straight away, what with Mac, forever awash in self-loathing, seeking to also be someone else (‘Are we us? I don’t wanna be me. Can I be someone else?’), and Charlie, ever-focused on irrelevant details that seem of utmost importance in his world, asking whether ‘Brian’ is left- or right-handed (joyful echoes of ‘Where do I put my feet?’ abound).
Through the twists and turns of this officially ensemble-structured show’s run, it is nevertheless Dennis who has emerged—at least as far as I’m concerned—as its chief protagonist. Though each member of the Gang has been gifted with a generously fleshed out and appropriately disturbing or reprehensible arc, it is Dennis who—partly due to his journey from relative straight man to deluded narcissist to probable serial killer, and partly due to Glenn Howerton’s superlative performance—has come to occupy a central place in the spotlight. ‘Dennis’ Double Life’ is a hell of a gut punch for those of us who feel this way, because not only does it feature a child’s simple utterance of ‘Dada’ reducing Dennis to a quivering wreck, it ultimately leads to his renouncing of a Gang group dance (Karate Dance! Go For It Dance! Wacky Inflatable Arm Tube Man Dance! Butt-Butt Dance!), and the Gang and bar as a whole! Dustin already reported the behind-the-scenes movements that are most likely at least partly responsible for Glenn Howerton’s maybe-maybe-not exit from The Greatest Show On TV, but what’s impressive about it all is how narratively cohesive it actually seems.
Dennis leaving—or at least the unmentioned threat of it brought on by his occasional disaffection with the Gang—has been sign-posted before—as has his longing for real human emotions—so if Dennis were to decamp to North Dakota to be with the mother of his child for a while, I for one would not cry foul too hard. I would miss him, but if the backstage, real-world machinations called for it, Sunny’s narrative and character construction is strong enough to bear his absence. Temporary absence, that is, because no matter what he says in interviews, or what scheduling or contractual obligations dictate, there is no way that Dennis Reynolds isn’t back at Paddy’s Pub by the tail end of season 13, or—at the very latest—the first three episodes of season 14. You can quote me on that.
No matter how many times we say it or remember it, that is still something. Shit, the fact that we’ve just come to the end of season 12 has been a ‘pinch me, need to know I’m awake’ moment every other week for me. This show, this little show about awful, awful people who exist in a perpetual purgatory of their own making, has somehow made it through twelve years. That’s insane. They sewed a man into a couch a half decade ago for god’s sake! Never mind all the drugs, murder, and horror in the interim. And yet, somehow, through a genuine knowledge of their craft and a deep love of their (awful, irredeemable characters) they have produced some of the sharpest, tightest, funniest television of the new millennium. As they near the horizon of what may well be their end, they have dared to branch out—conceptually as well as emotionally—and they have refused to rest on their laurels. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is my favourite show on television and I could watch it forever, but if season 12 is any indication of what kind of swansong these IDIOTS! SAVAGES! IDIOTS! end up delivering, then I will not begrudge their end. I will weep tears of joy at the passing of such a mighty institution.
See you next year, you jabronis.
Oh, actually, before I forge—…
*glances at airport departure board*