The season Mac got fat will no doubt be how this season of television will be remembered, regardless of its quality. And that’s how it should be. Make no mistake, no collection of episodes could possibly overshadow series creator Rob McElhenney’s glorious display of real weight gain. To do something that bold and inspired (Charlie and Glenn refused when Rob asked them), shows real dedication, creativity, and a commitment to keep the show fresh. After all, Sunny is now the longest running live-action scripted show on cable. Unfortunately, it’s starting to show its age a bit, with season seven producing so-so results.
Let’s start with the good. The MVPs of this writing staff are Scott Marder & Rob Rosell. Obviously, every show is a collaborative effort, but every episode they get a credit and they always exhibit great dialogue and character moments. This year, they wrote “Frank’s Pretty Woman” and the best episode of the season, “Frank Reynolds’ Little Beauties.”
The latter, a Little Miss Sunshine-ish concept, did what the show does best: songs, blood, and sex. A hilarious Mac/Dennis/Charlie story (always great when these three separate from the pack) coincided wonderfully with Frank’s story in which he was afraid of being perceived as a child molester. Frank gruesomely breaking his nose at the start was a stroke of genius. The pageant itself was up there with Night Man Cometh. Also, it took place entirely in the bar, which always leads to a more focused episode.
For example, “Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games” did a great job of utilizing the bar for the whole episode. An extremely simple pitch (the gang plays a made up board game because they’re bored) turned into something extremely fun to watch. Anytime you can get DeVito in a cage, you’ve won. Written by Charlie and Rob, the episode escalated quickly, cleanly, and hilariously.
Another highlight was “How Mac Got Fat,” which utilized footage of Rob shot pre-weight gain to really show you the astonishing difference. Here, they chose a format the show always succeeds with, telling the story via flashback in a wraparound. Cutting back to Mac confessing to his priest evoked memories of the equally funny “The World Series Defense” in Season 5 when the story is told at a trial. The two-part finale “The High School Reunion” should also be commended for its excellent premise, and opening up room for welcome appearances by the Waitress and Rickety Cricket.
Unfortunately, no other episode stood out this season. Many were plagued from cases of pushing the envelope just for the sake of pushing it, while others suffered from straying from the fundamentals of the show that have made it last this long in the first place.
“Frank’s Brother” made a lot of fans scratch their heads. One of the best gags of the year came from examining the difference between ShaDynasty’s and Shady Nasty’s, but other than that the episode fell flat. They went flashback again, but this time with Frank telling a story involving him and his brother (Jon Polito).
Polito has made fantastic sitcom appearances, including one of the great Seinfeld moments ever which involved Jerry wearing a woman’s coat (“He’s very fancy! Want me, love me, shower me with kisses!”). Here, he and DeVito left no screen time for the gang, a cardinal sin for this show. Besides the obvious of missing out on the characters we know and love, DeVito lost his role as a sidekick. His acting ability and presence is always such a great counterpoint to the rest of the gang, and it’s clear from this episode that no one wants to see a series starring only Danny DeVito any time soon.
Further experimentation doomed certain episodes. “The Gang Gets Trapped” confused viewers from the get go, with a non-sensical idea of having the gang inside someone’s house trying to rob them of a vase just like Indiana Jones…sort of. It really never picked up steam, and half the episode was spent hiding behind doors and almost running into the family that lived there. The conclusion of them breaking the vase and then just walking out was pretty lame too.
The Jersey Shore episode was grand in its production but left a little to be desired content-wise. How many times can a gag about soaking a ham in rum be repeated? Let’s just say not as many times as it was. It also threw in a wild homicidal drug dealer character at the end fairly haphazardly.
These moments of outrageousness are normally part of the positive feedback this show receives, but this year they led to a decline in the show’s quality. In “The Storm of the Century,” a car smashed through a Wal-Mart and a huge riot ensued. In “Thunder Gun Express,” a sewer’s inexplicable tidal wave submerged Sweet Dee. In “Frank’s Pretty Woman,” Frank decides he’s marrying an out-of-control crack whore in the cold open, a character we’ve never met before. You can feel the desperation.
In prior seasons, the show established the idea that the members of the gang were crazy, while the rest of the world remained pretty straight. Almost always keeping other characters grounded heightens the absurd schemes and obscenely selfish behavior expected from the main cast. Philadelphia’s citizens should be giving awkward looks and getting taken advantage of, not getting in on the action.
This season of Sunny saw a lot of tinkering with that formula, and whenever it happened it almost always led to a subpar episode. It’s still on the list of must-watch comedies, but FX, the network it helped build to prominence, has shown it has several of those in Louie, Wilfred, The League, and Archer. Here’s hoping that even with a thin Mac the show can rise to the top of that pack next year.