It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 1, Episode 4:
Charlie Has Cancer
For too long I was of the opinion that the addition of Danny Devito as Frank marked a bad turn on Always Sunny. That was all through the second season, as I recalled how great season 1 was. I don’t hold that opinion any longer, especially after this rewatch and realizing just how limited season 1 was. It was more restrained, but that is more held back from the heights it would achieve and less grounded in reality. Season1, even being only seven episodes long, still manages to retread a lot of ground.
Case and point: this is episode 4 and it’s the third time Charlie’s entire plot has been trying to get a date with The Waitress. Of course, this is a running goal of Charlie’s throughout the series, but 3 out of the first four episodes, almost half of the first season, is devoted to Charlie’s impossible love of The Waitress. The addition of Frank gave Charlie someone to play off of consistently, like Dennis and Mac or Dennis and Dee.
As for this episode, it has one of the most spectacularly uncomfortable cold openings ever. Charlie drops his false bomb about cancer on Dennis and Dennis does feel for his friend. At least, as much as Dennis is capable of caring for someone other than himself. But right then he doesn’t want to talk to Charlie about his possible cancer, he wants to go play basketball with Mac. So while Charlie stews in desolate, devastated loneliness, Dennis has the audacity to pester him about getting the basketball. It is wonderful.
What is great is that Charlie’s non-plan, formed out of seeing the Waitress wearing a Live Strong bracelet, works better than he had hoped. He wants Dennis to get him a pity date with The Waitress due to his illness, because I guess that is all Charlie will need to change her mind, but Dennis and Mac go the extra mile and hire her as a prostitute. I like Mac’s care in broaching the subject (“Bam” he says, flashing a cash loaf) and her disgusted reaction followed quickly by negotiation. And in typical Charlie fashion, he misses his opportunity.
Dennis and Mac decide on the getting Charlie laid by the Waitress almost immediately. Dee has legitimate thoughts about how to help Charlie though his non-existent ordeal, but Dennis and Mac are going to get him laid. But Dennis and Mac are the ones who actually try to help Charlie in their own twisted way, while Dee merely tries to find a way out of the load of “Charlie-work” that has been foisted upon her.
Then there are the introductions of two recurring characters. There is the disturbing Artemis, Dee’s occasional friend and often nemesis. Meanwhile, Mac starts a relationship with transsexual Carmen. (There’s a dick in those pants.) Two new additions to the often-deranged Always Sunny world.
Everyone gets a chance in this episode to react to someone else’s tragedy. Dennis quickly excuses himself from the broken Charlie, Dee is baffled but unmoved by Artemis’s breakdown, and Carmen and the Waitress react with amorous concern over the tragedy.
The whole tangled mash culminates in a date montage for both Mac and Carmen and Charlie and the Waitress, set to Rick Astley’s immortal classic “Never gonna give you up.” Charlie and the Waitress’s date is astoundingly awkward. Charlie doesn’t even seem to enjoy it outside of the fact that his dream has come true; the Waitress clearly can barely tolerate it. Mac meanwhile has a great time, except when he is reminded of the penis.
Then it ends with the reveal that Charlie doesn’t have cancer, sparking an amazing bathroom breakdown. (“You gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet.” “You throwing down life lessons now?” “I’m throwing down eggs!) Also, Mac’s hyperactive defensive reactions end his relationship with Carmen. And after finding out that Charlie did not sleep with the Waitress, Mac and Dennis try to get their money back.
This the first episode that is all about the gangs disturbed games they play with each other rather than some outside issue, and it’s pretty great. They aren’t actually trying to screw each other over in this one, though they still manage it, as they always do. This feels like the show starting to come into its own, growing out of it’s limiting, if fun, start.