It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has become the Energizer Bunny of cable TV sitcoms, a hyperactive, enduring burst of awkward hilarity and imprudently cooked-up schemes that never seem to pan out for the quintet of knuckleheads who operate Paddy's Pub. Now in its eighth season, the series finds itself functioning with a towering level of confidence that allows its shock humor and gross-out gags to venture completely off the rails.
It's Always Sunny has always excelled at dark comedy and gonzo parodies of popular Hollywood movies, and season eight's commendable opener, "Pop-Pop: The Final Solution," sticks to the classic procedure of splitting the gang up, thus creating two separate storylines that play to both of those strengths. In the first, Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) struggle with the possibility of having to pull the plug on their dying grandfather, Pop-Pop, an ex-Nazi who, as the pair discovers via some old film reels, attempted to turn them into little Hitlers at a very young age, something they somehow completely forgot. Having Dennis and Dee struggle with the idea of giving the order to kill someone, even if that individual is a horrible person, is uncharted territory for the series, and the writers handle their moral dilemma admirably, often creating sympathy for arguably the show's least sympathetic characters.
In the second storyline, Mac (Rob McElhenney), who obviously lost all the weight he gained last season (the writers hilariously choose to not explain why, leaving us amused yet scratching our heads), Charlie (Charlie Day) and Frank (Danny DeVito), under the impression that one of Pop-Pop's heirlooms, an antique painting of a German Shepard painting, was done by the Führer himself, haphazardly embark on a demented National Treasure-style adventure in order to secure the artwork. Briskly paced throughout and well directed by longtime helmer Matt Shakman, "Pop-Pop: The Final Solution" ranks alongside It's Always Sunny's best, most memorable episodes.
Economical and political issues occasionally make their way into It's Always Sunny, typically to less than satisfactory results. "The Gang Recycles Their Trash" does well to amend that by, for once, having the gang's intentions be not only for their personal gain, but for the betterment of society. The trash collecting company's workers have gone on strike due to low wages, thus mounds of putrid waste litter Philly's streets and interiors. To adequately explain the gang's plan to solve this crisis is futile, as it's one of their most convoluted and ill-advised schemes. It's worth mentioning, however, that it involves a scene in which Dee breaks down the various types of twinks to a receptive Frank, as well as a montage of Mac, Dennis, and Charlie venturing door to door in a white stretch limo, dressed in cheap tuxes and singing jingles about cleaning up people's mounting refuse. Never does the episode's breakneck pace dwindle, and, remarkably, the episode's messages about real-world issues manage to be somewhat resonant. When every aspect of the gang's plan fails (the trash men eventually make a deal with their employers and cease their strike), they realize that worldly problems should be left to someone else, quickly jumping to their next, seemingly more uncomplicated get-rich-quick scheme: selling homemade rugs.
In its eighth season, It's Always Sunny doesn't try very many new things, but the writers are smart enough to know not to mess with a successful formula, and the series carries itself with an air of aplomb that many comedies rarely come close to exhibiting. The series prides itself on making viewers feel uncomfortable, yet it's so unquestionably comfortable in its own skin that it can go anywhere it wants and never seem too over the top.