The latest episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia takes on life, death, family and friendship with cues from the Swedish film Force Majeure.
Directed by Reuben Ostland, the 2014 movie revolves around a family vacationing in the French Alps. They’re sitting together on a balcony when there’s a sudden avalanche — at which point the husband runs alone to safety, leaving his wife and kids behind. Everyone ends up safe, but the rest of the film is based on the palpable tension that results from this guy showing his natural instinct was to save himself, and not them.
In “The Gang Chokes,” Episode 4 of the show’s 14th Season, the script is flipped, and it’s the father figure (Danny DeVito, aka Frank) who ends up furious when loved ones don’t exhibit any instinctual drive to rescue him.
The Gang starts out at a semi-fancy restaurant to celebrate Frank’s birthday. They didn’t go too far out of their way: Charlie’s in a corduroy jacket with hole-filled jeans, while Mac wears a tie over a short-sleeved polo shirt.
After a waiter (Michael Naughton) brings them an amuse-bouche, which they don’t understand — “Hey, we haven’t ordered anything yet!” — Frank starts to choke.
Rather than helping him, the rest of the Gang sits silently and watches.
The moment serves as an opportunity for groan-filled physical comedy from Danny DeVito, right up to the point where the waiter rushes over, is horrified that no one has taken action, and administers the Heimlich maneuver himself. Frank, now able to breathe again, glares menacingly at his lackadaisical tablemates.
Charlie tells Frank that he just “froze up.” Mac, trying to be a gay Stepford wife, says he didn’t do anything because Dennis didn’t tell him to. Meanwhile, Dee’s takeaway is that she “got a pretty good rush” from her father nearly croaking right in front of her.
Frank holds the grudge and moves out of the apartment he shares with Charlie. Vowing to go to “the one person who actually cares about me,” he shows up at the kitchen table of the waiter who saved him from choking. He throws a sheet over the man’s catatonic elderly mother and announces he’s moving in.
The waiter, who like all restaurant servers in this series remains unnamed, is eventually endeared to the intruder after Frank offers to pay for putting mom in a nursing home and for the waiter to enroll in pilot school to fulfill a long-stymied dream.
Meanwhile, as Dee chases her newfound love of living on the edge by standing in the middle of traffic and then inciting a chase by Puerto Ricans who she’s called fat and Dominican, the other three of her generation get into a battle over health and diet.
Charlie drinks one of the protein shakes Mac has been feeding Dennis, and discovers it’s blended up pizza and soda. Turns out Mac has been executing a Munchausen-by-proxy scheme against Dennis, in order to poison him so he becomes dependent.
Dee then suggests Mac bring Dennis right to the brink of death before saving his life.
Back at the waiter’s house, it’s revealed that Frank put the man’s mother in “one of those bang-’em and bin-’em joints” and is refusing to pay for pilot school. The resulting fight breaks up their new friendship, and Frank leaves.
The episode ends everyone back at the restaurant, the same seats and the same outfits, this time with a poison shake in tow. Mac blows the “save Dennis’ life” ploy by warning him about the toxic drink, and Charlie assures Frank he’ll save him, “from now on.”
Dee, still in her “living on the edge” phase, drinks the poisoned shake herself — and while the Gang squabbles, the same waiter emerges to apply an Epi-Pen and save her life. Happily ever after?
– “The Gang Chokes” was written by John Howell Harris and directed by Glenn Howerton.
– The MVP of the episode is actress Eve Sigall, in a Weekend at Bernies-like performance as the waiter’s catatonic mother.
– The waiter character was previously in several episodes, most notably Season 8’s “The Gang Dines Out.” The eatery is the fictitious Guigino’s Italian Restaurant.
– Danny DeVito recently appeared on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, on which he told some fantastic stories about growing up on the Jersey Shore, his early acting career, and his friendships with the casts of both Taxi and Always Sunny.
– Not much local color this week, besides an establishing shot of the Center City skyline from near the 30th Street Station rail yards, and later a similar shot taken at night. However…
– Next week: “The Gang Texts,” a locally themed episode in which The Gang “must learn from the Philadelphia Zoo meerkats on how to communicate properly in a group.”