[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” Season 13, Episode 4, “Time’s Up for the Gang.”]
Listen, the gang is terrible, and the gang has always been terrible. The rotten core driving “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is what makes such dark, potent satire possible for 13-plus seasons, and it’s why the FXX comedy can keep broaching delicate topics like abortion and molestation with the blunt force of Frank (Danny DeVito) crashing through a two-story window.
The latest episode, “Time’s Up for the Gang,” explores a prominent social movement through the characters’ shady past with such cogency you’d think this was what the show had been building toward all along (instead of just 2018’s fourth new episode in a series that’s far from over). Just as Time’s Up aims to do for our national discourse, the 20-minute episode reframes perceptions. Frank, Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Charlie Day), and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) attend a sexual harassment seminar, and the detail, comic execution, and sensitivity — yes, sensitivity — to specific confusions surrounding the issue at hand make it one of the series’ elite entries.
As is the norm when this group is exposed to polite society, havoc ensues. After Paddy’s Pub is put on a list of unsafe spaces for women, the gang less-than-obediently listens to advice on creating a better environment. Of course, none of them understand what sexual harassment or assault is (let alone the difference), but their ignorance provides an ideal sounding board for audience edification. Two group leaders try to guide the conversation, despite constant interruptions from the people of Paddy’s Pub, and past transgressions are exposed. Frank is the first to freak out: After discovering the statute of limitations protects him from prosecution, he tries to leave, but Dennis reminds him that those laws are changing, especially in… Nevada.
Ding! The sound of a timer is heard as soon as Frank realizes he’s in trouble, and the audio cue is used for the same purpose throughout the episode. Like Pavlov’s dog, each member of the gang (except Dennis) hears a ring and starts to sweat whenever their past harassment (or worse) is brought to light. (That Frank shows up in a Weinstein-invoking robe only goes to show how detail-oriented the half-hour is.) The ding is a clever connection to the movement’s name used exquisitely, and once Dennis starts saying “Time’s up!” to each of his coworkers specifically, the audible stimulus’ slow-build really pays off.
For Women, By Women
It should come as no surprise two talented women wrote and directed this week’s episode — executive producer and writer Megan Ganz and director Kat Coiro, who also helmed last week’s episode — but it’s also fitting that the episode was made by two relative newcomers (Ganz came on board in 2017 and Coiro this year). Considering the array of relevant points raised and the specificity within each criticism, “Time’s Up for the Gang” feels like a concise obliteration of the gang’s endless objectionable behavior over the last decade-plus. And yet each accusation aimed at a specific character doubles as a much-needed point raised by the Time’s Up movement overall.
Charlie thinks he can’t be a harasser because he’s a romantic, but nope — that line has been crossed. Mac thinks he can’t be a harasser because he’s gay, but nuh-uh — a lack of sexual attraction isn’t a pass for inappropriate behavior. Dee thinks she can’t be a harasser because she’s a woman, but no, no, no — this movement is about protecting everyone. And ultimately, it’s not just that Dennis orchestrated this whole thing to help harassers escape a Time’s Up takedown — a brilliant twist — it’s that he believes the line between sexual harassment and innocent flirting is defined by ugliness.
These observations are so in line with the established characters, yet also speak to a much-needed cultural conversation. Unwanted attention is harassment whether it’s from a movie star or a real live troll. Men can be victims of sexual abuse, as well. Harassment isn’t just about attraction; it’s often about power. And no, Charlie, even if you’re in love with someone, you can’t ignore their clearly expressed pleas to be left alone. (It’s no wonder Ganz said writing this episode “saved me a fortune in therapy bills.”)
In case the finer details of the Time’s Up movement have been glossed over, the gang’s horrid history should provide extra clarity — and definitely generates laughter. The basic setup works because fans already believe just how nasty the gang can be, but the unexpected, well-hidden, and altogether glorious final twist drives home its harrowing message because the writers recognize this level of sexist depravity has been baked into the characters all along. Only Dennis would do something so elaborate, so diabolical, and so rooted in his own self-interest, and yet even if the “Shitty Bar List” had been real, the episode would still work.
That’s not only great satire. It’s great storytelling, too. “Time’s Up for the Gang” is topical, yet rooted in the series’ foundation. It’s eye-opening, yet drop-dead funny. Above all, it’s fully dedicated to the cause, and uses its sharpest wits to ridicule the stupidity of this callous gang. They’re terrible so we won’t be, and that’s why “It’s Always Sunny” just keeps ticking.
Bonus: The Most Cringe-Inducing Quotes From “Time’s Up for the Gang”
“I’m not saying it doesn’t happen to loads of women all the time, but why am I here?”
– Mac, with the episode’s opening line
“It’s a win-win situation for everybody — except for the wives.”
– Frank, on the established business practice of “banging” and promoting secretaries
“We’ll find out through the abortion records.”
– Frank, talking to his lawyer (and really everything he said to his lawyer should be on here)
“Don’t I get a pass because I was molested?”
– Charlie, asking to be forgiven for sexual harassment because he’s a victim, too
“There’s really only one thing that determines if a person will be accused of sexual harassment: ugliness. […] You can’t be ugly and sloppy.”
– Dennis, explaining how to get away with sexual harassment
“Women are right — we’re constantly harassing them. I’m just saying we need to be more careful so we don’t get accused.”
“And we should probably stop harassing them.”
– Dennis and Mac, at the end of the (fake) seminar
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.