Okay, so I know I said I liked the idea of bringing back old It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia characters and storylines in the name of developing them further, but
"The Gang Recycles Their Trash" took that concept and crapped all over it.
I felt like they want out of their contract; like they purposely put together a half-assed episode that rehashed old ideas as a giant, fed-up middle finger to the audience, to the critics, and to the network as if to say, ‘We’re out of ideas. We’ve given so many great moments. We’re done. We give up.’
But then it hits me: they’re recycling trash both literally and figuratively. How meta.
So, despite my misgivings, the show did call attention to right away with Dee’s de ja vu. As far as I can tell, there were winks, nods, and tips of the hat to episodes from Season 3’s ‘The Gang Sells Out’ (2007), Season 4’s The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis (2008), and Season 6’s ‘Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth’ (2010) to name a few.
All of the audience’s thoughts seem to be vocalized by Dee (“I’ve seen this before. Haven’t we done this before? I did not picture this guy getting recycled back into the mix”).
While I encourage dipping back into the well for the sake of fleshing out characters more, I feel like the show is walking a fine line that borders on regurgitation (and not for comical effect). Even as I type this, I’m still left wavering between ‘this is clever, self-effacing’ to ‘this is lazy and hackneyed.' The self-awareness/self-deprication convinces me they definitely tried to give this episode more complexity than one accredits.
The philosophy of what’s old is new again can only take the franchise so far. What made it so popular might end up being its demise: the theme being they never learn their lesson. That’s why the episode showed promise.
The Gang is self-aware of their shortfalls while simultaneously being oblivious. Case in point: when Charlie says he’s the wild card and Dennis denies him stating, ‘we need to forego the group dynamic’ (a suggestion I made in last week’s It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia review). This season’s struggle appears to revolve around the Gang’s uncanny sixth sense to break free of its characters’ caricatures.
We almost ‘broke the cycle’ this time towards the end when Charlie put a stop to the ADD-riddled train of thought but quickly regressed back to his old ways (WILD CARD!). If last week’s ratings are any indication - 1.05 million viewers, the lowest for a season premiere in three years and lower than any episode last season - The Gang’s in trouble and not in the plot device sense. It appears they really need to shake things up.
I hate to make a reference to Jersey Shore, but parading out the same characters and storylines week after week takes its toll. It grates on us. The formulaic approach leaves us disappointed and trigger happy on the remote. I don’t want to see this happen with The Gang.
Don’t get me wrong. The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia quotes are still extremely quotable, but how long can that carry the program? As intriguing as the plot was last week, this fell way short in part due to the third and final act (specifically from the union rally scene on). It was the equivalent of those old sitcoms in which an entire ‘new’ episode revolved around past episodes - giving us maybe 2-5 minutes of original material and 15-20 minutes of highlights.
It feels like the last season - like they’re giving each recurring character a proper send-off, but the show’s locked up for a ninth season in 2013. Have they run out of gas crises?