Over the years, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has become increasingly self-referential, going so far as to dedicate an entire episode back in season eight (“The Gang Recycles Their Trash”) to quite literally recycling series’ classic scenes and moments to create a hilarious sense of déjà vu.
Recently, it’s seemed like Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Charlie Day), and Frank (Danny DeVito) have been trapped in a well-deserved Philadelphian Groundhog Day, doomed to endlessly repeat their various rages and humiliations day in and day out. These frequent rehashings and meta touches work so well partly because, by this point, the gang’s characters and the world of Paddy’s Pub are so strongly established, but mostly because it makes perfect sense that this group of awful, selfish, stupid people would be self-reflexive, as their entire frame of reference has been winnowed down to their own myopic universe of five insane, drunken miscreants over the course of the series. “CharDee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo,” a sequel to the classic season seven episode, is thus the perfect way to open Sunny’s eleventh season.
Initially, it seems that there are more than bragging rights and game pieces at stake in this long awaited rematch, as Andy (Andy Buckley), a Mattel exec scouting out new ideas for the adult game market, expresses interest in purchasing the rights to CharDee MacDennis. When the gang’s videotaped pitch fails to clinch the deal (the gang’s piss-poor video production skills always elicit laughs, as do the increasingly lame and out-of-touch pop culture nods within – here, a Moby reference), they attempt to scale back the game’s cutthroat nature, violence, and alcohol-fueled blackouts a bit in order to enhance the game’s marketability.
Despite having seemingly banded together for the sake of selling the game, the gang’s attempts at civility are, of course, flimsy at best. Dee and Dennis remain unrepentant cheaters (game play now includes the intravenous consumption of wine as a result of their previous alcohol-based cheating), psychotically bent on winning with characteristically terrifying Reynolds twin intensity. Although there are some new features to “the game of games,” including some illuminating clay modeling (where, despite their best efforts at pleasant marketability, Dennis’ serial killer inclinations and Mac’s repressed homosexuality rise to the surface) and the hilarious new global accent rule, the rules of CharDee MacDennis remain fluid and essentially inscrutable to anyone other than the gang. It’s no surprise that so much of the game play is opinion based, since as far as the gang is concerned, opinions are facts to be angrily and loudly asserted in someone else’s face.
If you’ve seen even one episode of Sunny, by the time game play reaches level three, you’re probably expecting Mattel exec Andy to run screaming from Paddy’s. Yet Andy is still surprisingly game by the time it comes to the new, laxative-based challenge, Poops ‘n Ladders. As the Reynold’s twins’ Golden Geese and Mac and Charlie’s Thundermen prepare to clutch their butt cheeks and mount their respective ladders, Frank’s demented attempts to add a fourth “horror” level to the game come to delicious fruition. After a very clever nod to both the Saw movie franchise and the classic board game Operation, Mattel exec Andy is revealed as a pawn hired by Frank in order to win the game. Once the sale of CharDee MacDennis is off the table, the Golden Geese’s throat-cutting desire to win is fully unleashed and a delirious, blood poisoned Charlie is forced to face the public humiliation inherent to Level Three at the hands of his beloved Waitress.
The subsequent reveal of the victors of “CharDee MacDennis 2: Electric Boogaloo” is hardly surprising, but is still totally rewarding and hilarious in context, a feat It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has continually proven capable of for eleven seasons and running.