Ever since Dennis was written off It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia last season, and Glenn Howerton and the rest of the gang spent the ensuing months insisting that they weren’t sure how or if he’d ever come back to the show, fans have been lamenting what the show would look like without one of its five key ingredients. The rest of The Gang are all interesting characters in their own right, but the show has always worked because of the dynamic between the five (and I say this knowing that Danny DeVito was only added to the show in season 2). Most fans feared the worst, but, to tell you the truth, I was kind of curious what the show would look like sans-Dennis.
In this week’s season 13 premiere, “The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again”, we got a glimpse of what this Dennis-less show would look like, and yet the episode was almost entirely about how he loomed over the show, as The remaining Gang turns to Cindy (a guest-starring Mindy Kaling) as a replacement leader but quickly finds that Dennis’ disapproving, judgmental aura continues to haunt them, especially after a newly super fit Mac reveals that he’s ordered a specially-made sex doll that looks exactly like his former roommate/not-best friend. Cindy schemes to pit liberals against conservatives in order to drum up business for the bar and shut down the competition around the corner, and at first The Gang is into it and sees how Cindy brings out the best in them, but they very quickly get in their own heads about what Dennis would say, the presence of the sex doll not helping.
By the end of the episode, Dennis has inexplicably returned and Cindy is cast out of the bar, with everything returning to normal. No questions are asked about where Dennis has been and why he’s back, and while I would expect the show to address all of that in a future episode, I don’t think anyone really minds. In fact his sudden return, including downplaying why he’s back, is quite funny in and of itself and perfectly executed for this show. The scene at the end of the episode where Dennis suddenly standing where the sex doll was propped up is perfect. He surprises everyone, causing Frank to draw and quickly fire his weapon at him, and within the span of about 90 seconds thereafter he’s successfully driven Cindy away, surmised what Mac is doing with his likeness and thrown casual, devastating insults at both him and Dee.
That’s not to say that the rest of the episode doesn’t work without his actual presence. There’s a sincere self-awareness that permeates the episode. The Gang is aware of the fact that they’re incomplete, yet it doesn’t really change the dynamic. Mac is still woefully insecure, resorting to getting utterly jacked thinking that it’ll make his friends happy or somehow help with their schemes (the fact that Rob McElheney put his body through that for the sake of comedy is a perfect as it was when he gained an obscene amount of weight for a previous season). Dee is a broken creature who would rather return to the bottom of the group’s pecking order with Dennis if it means she’s the only woman in the group. Even Charlie is having a tough time, suddenly dating the Waitress and hating it. In all honesty, this is as much an episode about Mac as it is an episode about The Gang coping with the loss of Dennis.
There’s a lot of great stuff in the first 18 minutes of the episode, and Mindy Kaling is great as the group’s temporary foil, especially considering the reasoning for her presence is just as unexplained as Dennis’ return, but I think we’re all glad that Dennis wound up being back, and I think we all knew deep inside that the show wouldn’t have worked for very long without him. The fact that they so quickly brought him back is proof of that (as is the season’s promotional material, which includes the Gang running away from a Dennis-like figure in a Jason Voorhees mask), and it makes me wonder if that was always the plan, or if they tried to break the season without Dennis around and realized that it couldn’t be done.
In any case, the gang is back in full force now (The Boys Are Back in Town!), and the mystery surrounding Dennis’ whereabouts really added an interesting layer to the show. Mac’s coping mechanisms were hilarious, as was the meta-commentary around Cindy’s plan and how they expertly sidestep any meaningful political commentary despite the episode’s title and the contents of the plan, and all of that makes “The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again” an excellent, raucous episode of IASIP, and it gets 9 liberal tears out of 10.
Here are some of the best lines from the episode:
- Charlie: “No one ever really knows what’s going on with Mac. He’s fat, he’s skinny, he’s muscular, it’s really a cry for help and attention I think. So what you do in that situation is you ignore it.
- Mac, to silence: “You guys like me, right?”
- Mac/Dee: “It’s not like I’m going to have sex with it.” “He’s going to have sex with it the second we walk out of this door.”
- Mac/Frank: “I tried, but apparently I can’t return the doll due to the custom nature of the usage of the doll.” “Banging its mouth.”
- Cindy: “Stop trying to shoehorn your shirtlessness into plans that have no need for it.”
- Cindy/Dee: “What the hell are you guys talking about?” “It called me a bird.”
- Mac/Charlie: “Why did I do all this working out, Charlie?” “Nobody knows, man.”
- Mac: “Tell her not to worry, I’m doing crunches.”
- Mac: “Dennis is a bastard man.”
- Frank: “After a series of events that I’d rather not go into, I came to the realization that the only way to not be humiliated by Dennis while playing the tuba was to play him.”
- Dennis, about his facsimile sex doll: “Ah, Mac’s shooting his loads into it?”
- Cindy: “Charlie, you were just playing his asshole to humiliate him.”