It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia S12E01 Recap: 'The Gang Turns Black' [Season Premiere]

2016 was a rough year man. 2017 has barely been any better (thanks in no small part to the Orange One) so far, so the fact that the astonishing twelfth season of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia was getting an early start not even a week into the new year was a welcome reprieve from things like real life. I was ready to laugh no matter what The Gang had to offer us, but I can't say I was expecting any single part of what "The Gang Turns Black" wound up being.

In fact I don't think anything could have prepared me for that episode. The twist of how the gang turned black, the fact that this was a musical, how we find out that Old Black Man is going to be a recurring character, all the racist stuff they dealt with, all of it. All of it is phenomenal, and so unexpected.

The premise is that The Gang gets electrocuted during a night of watching The Wiz (it was Old Black Man's turn to pick the movie), and wake up to find out that they've assumed the identities of black people. they spend the better part of the episode trying to figure out what the rules of their new situation is, whether they're in a Freaky Friday situation or a Quantum Leap scenario or even just The Wiz. Of course all of it is set to song and dance as well.

The guys try to break into Dennis' car, which attracts the attention of the police. Mac and Dennis' guys turn out to be Church Blacks, but Charlie gets to tell the story of his life, which sounds even darker and scarier when he's a 10-year-old black kid. Meanwhile, Dee and Frank try to track down Old Black Man and ponder whether Frank should say the N word, before they bring him to an old folks' home only to find Scott Bakula there, down on his luck and working as a janitor. Eventually Charlie gets shot by the cops and we find out that the whole thing was just Old Black Man's dream, who wakes up to find out that he's Scott Bakula now.

The whole thing is weird and brilliant. This isn't a show that is ever satisfied with a straight up parody anymore (not since they perfected the art of parody with Lethal Weapon 5 and 6), making this a hodgepodge of references and satire. Some of it is musicals, some of it is movies about African Americans, some of it is body switching or time travel comedies. Whatever it is, it winds up being completely original and amazing.

I went into this premiere knowing only the title. The less you know about an episode of IASIP the better it usually is. These days with DVRs and such it's hard to go in without knowing the title, but alas that's enough to get your head swimming. You imagine they'll be in blackface or Dee will just be doing a racist accent or something. But it winds up being so much more, not only with the initial reveal but with the singing as well as everything else. Most of this episode my jaw was on the floor, unsure of what I was watching, but knowing full well that it was special and awesome.

I know I'm gushing over a TV episode, but it's rare that I feel this way about something I see. The last time I got this feeling was early last year, when "Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster" saved the tenth season revival of The X-Files from being a total disaster. Just like Were-Monster did, "The Gang Turns Black" reminded me of the joy that TV can and should be, and that IASIP can keep going on forever and somehow always top itself.

And this is only the beginning of the season, and the beginning of 2017. "The Gang Turns Black" almost makes up for 2016, and gets 10 respites of musicals out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Not only is it amazing that Old Black Man is now a recurring character, we also get the return of Chad Coleman's Z, and he does get to say the N word, unlike Frank.
  • Charlie Day scream singing might be my favorite thing of life.
  • Actually second to the fact that they managed to get NCIS New Orleans star Scott Bakula to sing about he's poor now.
  • I wonder if they shot multiple scenes for that "Orange One" line or just guessed he would win?
  • " Don't force the Wiz thing."
  • "Maybe the lesson we're supposed to learn is that black people are broke." "YOU'RE broke!"
  • "I think we're not supposed to make wild assumptions about black people based upon whether or not we have stuff in our pockets."
  • "Well I think we just found out a new rule."
  • "I'm gonna say homie, I'm gonna say bro, I'm gonna say mambe, gonna say fo sho... I'm gonna say the N word!"
  • "We're church blacks!"