After It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia devoted its thirteenth season premiere to the pressing question of whether or not Glenn Howerton’s Dennis would return to the show, things were unsurprisingly back to normal in “The Gang Escapes”. In fact, the episode holds itself to Dennis’ word, not worry about why or how he’s back or for how long, plunging The Gang right back into the type of low-brow, inconsequential misadventures we’re here for.
The funny thing is that the episode, which, at Sweet Dee’s request, has The Gang locked in Dennis and Mac’s apartment doing one of those escape room team-building challenge thingies, opens with Dennis actually trying to justify why he and the other guys would do something like that, establishing that there need to be stakes; in this case, an actual sirloin steak, to be purchased for the winner by Amanda, the girl setting all of this up, along with disturbing promises of sexual conquest. In true Sunny form, however, Dee has ulterior motives, having already done this exact escape room before, attempting to make herself look good in front of the guys.
Things devolve pretty quickly, as you might expect. The guys lock Dee in Dennis’ bedroom the moment she starts being annoying. In there she must escape a room of her own, as Dennis has set it up for his deviant sexual conquests. Outside, the guys pair off when their egos get in the way and they can’t decide on a leader between Dennis and Frank, but when they match each others’ tactics (The Art of the Deal, bro!), they decide to hold a summit where a pecking order is decided and they put their clues for the escape room together, only to discover it’s just the beginning. Luckily, Dee falls off the building forcing Amanda to open the door before the deadline, thus earning everyone their steaks and their picture on the company’s website. In fact, in a surprisingly sweet moment for this show, the guys let Dee take a bite of her steak first for leading them to victory.
The episode wastes no time delving into topics such as machismo and toxic masculinity, putting the guys against both Dee and each other in a bid for dominance. It treats the idea of an escape room like mice in a laboratory maze, compacting all the terrible things about the guys into an environment where they can quickly manifest themselves and explode. But it all kind of works because obviously it’s satirical and tinged with irony. What’s more, it’s an episode written and directed by women. Megan Ganz, formerly of Community and Modern Family fame joined the show last season (writing the equally hilarious and meta The Gang Tends Bar), and while I consider her to be one of the best working sitcom writers and she certainly earned her job based on skill and merit, it’s also clearly part of an attempt to diversify the Sunny writer’s room. This is a show that has been largely written by men (even outside the bulk of the episodes written by its three main stars and creators), and while most would likely consider the likes of McElheney, Howerton and Day to be relatively woke, it’s an interesting direction for the show to take after so many years. Not only is this episode written by a woman and directed by a woman (LP), but so are most of the next four episodes, and that’s probably a bigger deal than most will give credit.
It doesn’t really affect the quality of the show one way or another, it’s still just as funny and ridiculous, and the stars’ influence over it still persists, even though these changes were likely made to accommodate their increasingly busy schedules as actors and producers. But it’s a positive sign to see a show thirteen seasons old capable of making big changes in the way it’s written and produced, capable of tackling subjects not outside of the show’s realm, but potentially from different angles, all without losing much of a step. “The Gang Escapes” is both topical and timeless, hilarious and well-made. And with everything so quickly going back to normal for The Gang, it reassures me that this is a shot that still has a lot of life left in it.
“The Gang Escapes” gets 8 ounces of sirloin steak out of 10.
Here are some of the best lines from “The Gang Escapes”:
- First and foremost, the Goddamnit Count. I forgot to do this last week, but I don’t remember hearing any. This week the show comes out swinging, with 5 instances of the gang (mostly Dee) expressing their displeasure with the show’s signature word.
- I also want to shout out Charlie’s speech as speaker during the summit. Too much of it was hilarious to transcribe but the whole thing was just phenomenal.
- Dennis: “I’m fully aware of this practice. It’s a highly sexual experience for people. You’ll get no judgements from us.”
- Mac: “This sounds very nerdy. Is this a nerd thing?”
- Mac: “Men don’t do things just to do them. We’re busy running the world, providing for our families. We need stakes. If there’s no stakes, what’s the point?”
- Dennis: “I get out of the room, that means I win the game, the lady here, she takes me out for a steak, then it becomes sexual.”
- Charlie: “Frank hasn’t been locked up since the nitwit school, so he gets a little uptight about it.”
- Frank: “Everybody knows quarterbacks are men.”
- Dennis/Mac: “By constantly chewing so loudly he’s sending a very clear message that he is the head cow. And as we all know, the head cow is always grazing.” “Aren’t all cows female?”
- Dennis: “Mac, sometimes I’m just riffing. Would you allow me to riff? As the leader, can I riff? CAN I RIFF!?”
- Mac: “Just to clarify, are we monkeys or are we cows?”
- Frank: “It’s a power play. Everybody knows that the head cow is always grazing.”
- Mac: “Never trust another man in negotiation! That’s textbook. Art of the Deal! Art of the Deal, bro!”
- Computer Dennis: “Remember, if you’re having too much fun, it ruins it for me.”
- Computer Dennis: “Ugh ugh ugh! You didn’t say the safe word.”
- Amanda/Dee: “This is insanely disturbing.” “You do it for a living, get off your high horse.”
- Dennis: “Clever girl.”
- Dennis: “You figured out the only loophole in my carefully curated and well-researched bondage facility. You’re the only person who’s ever done that. The only one. THE ONLY ONE.”