Hands up: who actually thought It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia could pull off a bottle episode? While the show’s economic storytelling usually keeps the adventures contained to only a handful of sets, “The Gang Gets Analyzed” takes place almost entirely in a psychiatrist’s office. What’s more interesting, is that squishing everyone into one place for 20 minutes doesn’t require an elaborate setup; “The Gang Gets Held Hostage” and “Who Got Sweet Dee Pregnant” both took place within the confines of the bar, but relied on direct parody, or a unique framing device to carry the story. While having each member get there own individual segment might seem uncharacteristic, it’s a smart way of giving the characters their own plot the same way they do every week, just without cutting to a different location.
Because the season has delved into weirdness so wholeheartedly, “The Gang Gets Analyzed” improbably continues that streak by virtue of being so unexpectedly simple. For all the excuses the gang has come up with to devolve into heated squabbling, this week’s might be the tamest: who should do the dishes? Rather than taking that premise and spinning it into the usual series of alliances, betrayals, backstabbing and ironic punishment, the gang goes to a higher power to solve the problem, that higher power being Dee’s shrink. Granted, it’s something of a stretch to think that Dee has a shrink in the first place (part of what makes the gang so detestable is how readily they dump on one another, despite failing to see their own flaws), but if anyone were to seek therapy, the perpetually abused Dee would be my bet.
Besides, an episode like this has been a long time coming, because while a comedy like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia can’t ever have its characters change in more than superficial ways, it can at least ask why that is. That line of thinking can be dangerous, as anytime you introduce a Frank Grimes-style party who’s immune to the usual rhythms and logic of the cast, poking holes in the fabric of the show can be more damning than insightful. As far as recurring characters go, only The Lawyer has managed to stay relatively untouched by his interactions with the gang, though it could be argued his willingness to always screw them over is, itself, a sign that they’ve infected him. Centering the episode around a shrink’s interviews with each member of the gang is essentially like bringing in someone who’s never seen the show, and watching as they try to make sense of the madness we’ve come to love over the last eight years.
What’s so surprising early on is how quickly the episode subverts the usual Sunny formula. After being tasked with deciding who’s responsible for doing the dishes, the therapist (Kerri Kenney-Silver) has a short session with each group member, and the initial intertitle would have you think we’ll be getting another Rashomon-esque retelling of the dinner that ended in catastrophe. Instead, the therapist, as one might expect, is more interested in why it is such a blowout could occur over a little grunt work between friends, and the dinner itself is barely addressed. The result is every character getting a chance to speak their mind, and the conceit gives us a deeper look of each member’s personal neurosis, adding new understanding, and layers, to just how messed up they are.
Let’s start with Frank, whose interview is the third sequentially, but the most illuminating in terms of backstory. Never one to abide authority figures, Frank is initially reticent, spitting insults and pistachio seeds at the therapist, but opens up quickly with memories of his time spent in a school for the mentally disabled, breaking down uncontrollably almost immediately. Were it not for Frank’s vulgarity, and DeVito’s slobbering, shaking delivery, the scene could be played for straight pathos, which Sunny always tells us is the setup for a punch line, but none ever comes. Well, unless you count Frank telling Dennis and Dee that they had a triplet they consumed in the womb, which gets more terrifying the longer Frank screams about poor, lost, little Donnie.
As for Dennis, his sociopathy reached new heights, and while there’s no reveal of serial killer-preparedness quite like the trunk of zip ties and duck tape from last season’s finale, his superiority complex is let fully off the leash once he thinks he’s talking to someone who understands people the way he does. There’s a Hannibal Lecter quality to how callously he admits to manipulating Mac’s weight loss, and his nude sketch of the therapist is as unsettling as it is… generous. His twisted methodology is offset by how innocuous his motivations are: Mac looked and smelled like shit while fat, which certainly cramped Dennis’ style, so someone had to remedy the situation. While the interview confirms that Dennis has been crazy since grade school, it’s comforting to know his sense of vanity may always keep a bloodlust at bay.