If there’s one particular aspect worth applauding It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia for as it makes its way through what will likely be its final seasons, it’s that the creators have responded to the struggle of running out of ideas for a premise as simple as a hangout show by making the context of each week’s hangout as weird as humanly possible.
Rob McElleney up and deciding that Mac should be fat for a season seems like small potatoes compared to what season eight has offered thus far. Last week featured a meta take on the traditional Sunny story that played like a clip show, only one where all the clips were jumbled up, and on its heels comes what might be the first instance of the show doing a genre episode.
As the title suggests, Maureen Ponderosa’s wedding is very Halloween-appropriate, but the extent to which The Gang runs with the looseness provided by the holiday is unprecedented. Part of what makes the episode a standout is that Sunny has maintained a very fixed style from its inception: the quick-launch cold open and the dovetailing finale are characteristic of almost every episode, and despite a rotating cast of directors, the look of the show is almost always uniform week to week. When the show has taken the opportunity to stretch its creative legs in the form of unconventional narratives, it’s led to duds like “Frank’s Brother”, but also classics like the incredible season six Halloween treat, “Who Got Sweet Dee Pregnant.”
There’s less Rashomon-ing of viewpoints this time, but most of the misadventure does occur via flashbacks, with each member of the gang filling in the police on the truly hellish wedding of Maureen Ponderorsa and Liam McPoyle. While the nuptials of one of Phillie’s prominent milk-obsessed psychotics might have made for enough of a story a few seasons ago, Day, Howerton and McElleny (who wrote the episode) go out of their way to stuff more horror movie references into the 22 minute tale than might seem feasible. What saves the experiment from feeling like a gimmick is just how heavily it leans into the idea of putting The Gang in the middle of half a dozen scary movie plots thrown into a blender, and unsurprisingly, the results are nothing short of terrific.
That the usual playbook has been thrown out in favor of the Necronomicon is made clear from the bloodied-up opening time and location stamp, which is coupled with a new spook-ified theme song. If that weren’t enough, the cold open has Mac, Dennis, Charlie and Frank all looking like they’ve been through hell, running panicked through a strobe-lighted forest before getting picked up by the cops. The handheld camera work gives the impression they might be going full Paranormal Activity with the episode, but once the boys wind up in the interrogation room of the police station, the direction becomes more familiar.
That being said, director Richie Keen plays into the Halloween spirit as the script, and the result is one of the most deliberately crafted looks the show has ever pulled off. There are plenty of ominous music cues and dramatic camera angles that key you into the tone that the episode is shooting for, and when we flashback to Dennis, Charlie and Mac on a bus to Maureen’s wedding, it feels just like any other movie about people heading toward certain doom at a secluded location on the outskirts of civilization
Charlie’s fear of the outdoors sets him on edge early, while Dennis is actually excited to go to the wedding; he was, after all, briefly married to Maureen, and has been paying alimony ever since, so her settling down with a new man (if any McPoyle can be called that) comes as a great relief. Which is exactly why Frank and Dee want to ruin the wedding, because screwing over Dennis just comes naturally to both of them, so already The Gang is going into a wedding they have no business being at primed to destroy it.