It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is a show that has built its universe slowly, organically. Initially just starting with the core four characters, over the years a wonderfully deranged gallery of misfits has bloomed in this parallel Philadelphia. Some came from the Gang’s past, some crossed their scorched path along the way, but the one common element linking them all is the suffering—the pain and the degradation that has been visited upon them, to a greater or lesser degree, just by virtue of their proximity to the Gang. There is perhaps no greater demonstration of this toxic contact effect than their old high school classmate and erstwhile priest, Matthew Mara—now and forevermore to be known only as ‘Rickety Cricket.’
Cricket is a walking, talking, PCP-smoking avatar of the care that this show takes with continuity. While the Gang have had their share of knocks, it is Cricket who more often than anyone else seems to suffer the blow back of their routine barreling through the barriers of good taste, safety, and morality, and he wears these scars—both figurative and literal—upon his person for all to see.
Last season gave us a day in the life of one Frank Reynolds—through his own eyes no less—in the great ‘Being Frank.’ Now, one episode from the finale of season twelve, it’s time to dive into the comings and goings of Philadelphia’s most acrobatic street rat.
‘A Cricket’s Tale’
In one of the all-time great episodes of this show, the season four opener ‘Mac and Dennis: Manhunters’, the titular duo get inspired by a case of some mistaken meat identity to hunt the most dangerous game: man. Naturally they choose their old pal Cricket. But it turns out that Cricket, having been making a living out on the streets of Philadelphia for some time, has become quite adept at surviving, and he is not easy prey. Mac and Dennis soon find this out when, while in pursuit of Cricket, he suddenly vaults up onto an elevated fire escape before speedily ascending and disappearing into the vertiginous heights. The streets had apparently turned the ex-priest into a parkour master. In traditional Sunny fashion, over the intervening seasons we have been drip-fed other tidbits about Cricket’s street adaptations.
Cricket’s fondness for lemons (helps with the scurvy), his occasional…servicing…of others, and his *ahem* fondness for dogs are just a few of the things that come back to us in an episode that does what a lot of season twelve has dared to do: expand the Gang’s world in sometimes quite bracingly large increments. Building a whole episode around a side character—even one as universally beloved as Cricket, probably the number one fan favorite (sorry, Pondy, you’re still the coolest)—is a risky endeavor. Watching ‘A Cricket’s Tale’ start out I was immediately reminded of two things: 1) Disney (more on that later), and 2) Rafi and Dirty Randy going to Los Angeles in The League. That show, superficially similar in some ways to Sunny—though (sorry) leagues and leagues behind it in terms of quality—also saw fit to take a recurring character (or two) and to spin them off for an episode. It doing so it employed a similar trick to this week’s Sunny: weaving their narrative in and out of episodes that we have already seen—in effect reversing its characters’ natures and making its host show’s usual protagonists the ‘guests’. In ‘Rafi’ we find out how and why Kevin’s car was stolen in an earlier episode. It was a neat little trick, not the first time employed on television, but done well enough. In ‘A Cricket’s Tale’, we get an even better version of it. The past two episodes of Sunny have been two of the strongest of the season. In both of them, Cricket—played with a deranged gusto that makes him such a (wince-inducing) pleasure to watch by Davin Hornsby—has made an ever-so-brief appearance. He popped by in episode seven, just stopping by to use the urinal to shower, and was later then corralled by the Gang to help in their male stripping scheme. In episode eight his presence was even slighter: he breezed through on the way to Paddy’s bathroom to smoke some PCP. Both times an already great episode was brightened up by Cricket’s appearance; both times we were left wanting more and we couldn’t help but momentarily wonder: in between urinal showering and PCP stops, what’s going on in the main thread of this person’s life?
Sunny knows what it’s doing. In between showing us his appearances in the last two episodes, but this time from his perspective, we find out this week exactly what was going on in the main thread. We open on Cricket, having stolen some bread, utilising his parkour skills to escape his pursuer, though eventually landing in a container of manure. As fate would have it, his father then appears out of nowhere, and entreats with him to come home. He is retiring, and would like
Cricket Matthew to join his brother in running the family business. Cricket Matthew, after initially confusing his father for someone looking for a suck boy, eventually agrees—perhaps this is a shot at redemption that will actually stick. This being Sunny though, it doesn’t, of course, and we get front row tickets to its unravelling, which involves an overly aggressive brother, a potential—and oddly jarringly written—love interest, and a whole bunch of those scurvy-beating lemons. (Luckily, the episode does not try to tie Cricket to last week’s Yuck Puddle—which remains a beautiful sublime and disturbingly sublime mystery.)
Does it all work, then?
Yes, yes it does. It is telling that the most resonant moments are when Cricket’s path crosses with the Gang’s—they are our shining leads after all—but nevertheless over these seventeen or so minutes he does not wear out his welcome. There are a healthy amount of laughs peppered throughout, and Cricket’s characterisation rings true: after all these years and all that he’s been through, what we see unfold does feel like the kinda thing that would probably happen. Right down to that jarringly written love interest, which—once the big reveal happens—turns out to have been jarring for a very good reason. I don’t recoil very much at stuff I see onscreen, but when the penny dropped for me just before we were actually told what was up, well, my face did do some emoting.
I guess it’s back to Paddy’s for a brisk urinal shower to wash that feeling off eh?
And, all through that, were you counting the Disney references? I’m not sure why the writers chose to make that a theme this week, but the contrast between the hyper-wholesome image of Disney and Rickety ‘Suck Boy’ Cricket tickles me, so I’m glad they did.