When Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 first came on the air in 2012, I was amazed and hopeful over the state of network television. It was irreverent, quirky and frequently unbelievable. The antics of resident bitch Chloe (Krysten Ritter)--who is obviously the type of "it" girl who needs no last name--border on absurd, yet somehow still within reason. Originally intended to air on Fox (far more notorious for airing surreally real programming—like Arrested Development), the fact that ABC ultimately chose to greenlight the project was perhaps a then-sign of the impending 2012 apocalypse. Do not trust her. She is a fugly slut.

Encapsulating the prototypical ingénue with a dream who decides to move to New York City to “make it big,”  June Colburn (Dreama Walker) is the angelic foil to Chloe’s nefarious nature. No other show has poked so much fun at that odious archetype: The plucky girl who imagines she can take the big city by storm. And this is perhaps the foremost reason that Don’t Trust the B was unable to succeed. Because no one wants to believe they don’t have a chance at New York (and let’s face it, most people attempt to move here at some point. Everyone else is just stark ravingly sane).

Truth.

Apart from the core theme of the show being generally too unabashed for normal audience members to bear, there is also the recurring cast of macabre and zany characters to consider. And this doesn’t just include James Van Der Beek playing himself. For instance, June and Chloe’s neighbor, Eli Webber (Michael Blaiklock), a peeping tom who constantly peers into their kitchen window to deliver unsettling commentary, uses his connections as a health inspector to get free food in exchange for favorable restaurant gradings. Dyeing his hair for an hour and putting on an art show about cheeses are just some of the ways in which Eli would inevitably make the average person feel uncomfortable.

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And then, of course, there’s June’s friend and love interest Mark (Eric Andre) to add to the so awkward it’s funny vibe of the show. As the manager of fictional coffee joint It’s Just Beans, Mark hires June after the cushy Wall Street job she had lined up falls through—perhaps another element of Don’t Trust the B that proved too real for those spurned by the New York job scene. His lovable idiosyncratic personality initially draws June in as a friend, though they eventually try to be something more, which leads to one of the weirdest sex scenes ever rendered on television.

Look at me.

Although there were times when creator Nahnnatchka Khan (who wrote three of the twenty-six episodes) guides the show toward a moralistic vein (i.e. trying to infer that Chloe is a good person “deep down”), it was always evident that Chloe was out for herself. Even when they tried to make her more sympathetic by being enamored with one man instead of several, she still had “six guys in her rotation.”

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Whether or not Chloe was a mirror of the cold, callous essence of the modern human or a foretelling of the lack of humanity to come, it seems that her tongue in cheek, at times sociopathic character was too difficult to take in stride. Or maybe it's just that the experience of living in New York is too singular and bizarre for anyone to understand until they’ve survived or been steamrolled by it. Hence, identifiability issues with the show. And yet, somehow Girls and 2 Broke Girls are still on the air. The lesson? Sanitization is key to ratings.

 

Sarah Jessica Parker’s roles in Hocus Pocus and Sex and the City might, at first glance, seem like two unlikely characters to compare, but, upon closer examination, it’s easy to see just how similar the ditzy witch, Sarah Sanderson, and the “sexual anthropologist,” Carrie Bradshaw truly are. For one, both women rely heavily on their feminine wiles to get things done. Though Sarah is more overt about it, Carrie is just as ready and willing to use her vagina as a means to an end. And, ultimately, don’t most people view the vagina as some sort of sorcery anyway? Witchy women.

What Carrie Bradshaw is most noted for, her innovative fashion sense, is also something Sarah Sanderson possesses. Granted, she’s generally wearing a velvety dress from the 1600s and a cape for most of it, but still, it’s pretty revolutionary for 1993, the year the Sanderson sisters are resurrected. Paired with the ultimate functional fashion accessory, her broom, to tool around town, Sarah might actually be more chic for not bothering with the gauche practice of taking a cab (or, in those rare moments, the subway). Although, what Carrie does have over Sarah is living in New York City, instead of some drab, dreary town like Salem. But again, the comparisons arise in that they both gallivant around a city on the Eastern Seaboard.

Sarah and Carrie both wield magical power, of sorts, over men.

The most overt similarity between the two women, however, is their stance on men. Viewing them as something of a sport—specimens to be toyed with—both Sarah and Carrie look to boys, men and everything in between that resembles the gender as things to be toyed with and explored. It might even be viable to say that Sarah is exactly what Carrie was like in her early 20s and still had yet to care about her carefully cultivated image. All it would take for Sarah to get to the Carrie point is one heartbreak from the wrong warlock.

Again, exhibiting overt enthusiasm for dudes.

The final nail in the coffin of likeness (in trying to keep with the Halloween motif of Hocus Pocus) is the fact that both Sarah and Carrie roll with a coven. Sarah’s crew might only have two fellow witches to Carrie’s three fellow bitches, but each woman still embodies the same archetypes. Mary (Kathy Najimy) is the obvious choice for Charlotte—prudish and unassuming—while Winnie (Bette Midler) is the Miranda of the group—intelligent and condescending. Sarah represents both Carrie and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) in the free-spirit/slut combo role.

Hanging with a posse.

The jump from witch to rich seems simple enough for Sarah Jessica Parker in terms of character roles. But she’ll always have her original, fun-loving sorceress to thank for reaching Carrie Bradshaw status. And so, Candace Bushnell and Michael Patrick King might actually have Hocus Pocus screenwriters Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert to thank for their carefully crafted HBO franchise.

 

 

 

 

Ricky Gervais has faced some doubt and come under a bit of scrutiny in the wake of certain career choices post-The Office and Extras (e.g. The Invention of Lying and Ghost Town). Granted, most of Gervais’ poor decision-making has not been affiliated with projects he’s actually written himself. His latest TV show, Derek, however, proves Gervais is still in perfect (comedic) form. Although Derek and The Office both share the mockumentary style, the two could not be more diverse in terms of approach. Plus, Derek also marks the beginning of Gervais’ Stephen Merchant-free writing era. Ricky Gervais as Derek Noakes

While Derek and The Office both highlight abysmal occupations, the foremost difference between the two is that Derek and his fellow employees adore their job working in a retirement home called Broad Hill, while those who work at Wernham-Hogg in The Office are just trying to get through the day without total mind loss (save for Gervais’ character, David Brent, who makes the office the center of his universe). Even though the lead characters that Gervais plays in each show share a certain similarity in their zeal for the organization, it is obvious that David Brent is a far more oblivious, in denial sort of man than Derek Noakes, who incidentally, bears a more childlike, naïve disposition (though, despite accusations to the contrary, is not autistic).

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The supporting cast in each show also varies greatly in terms of their emotional backing of the main character. Hannah (Kerry Godliman), the supervisor at Broad Hill, Dougie (Karl Pilkington), the primary caretaker for each of the twenty-two residents there, and Kev (David Earl), a deadbeat sort of fellow that Derek has taken a shine to, are all Derek’s genuine friends. Conversely in The Office, David Brent’s sole enthusiast is Gareth Keenan (Mackenzie Crook). Everyone else, like Tim (Martin Freeman) and Dawn (Lucy Davis), merely tolerate Brent because he's the type of boss to let them slack off so long as they oblige him by laughing occasionally at his jokes.

Derek with his chums, Dougie and Kev.

Another notable difference between the two comedies is that Derek is more brazen in addressing macabre subject matters, chiefly death. While The Office is remarkable for its candor regarding the utter mind-numbingness of office life (nothing on earth takes eight hours a day to accomplish!), it never broaches any topic so sinister as one's final days. And this is what Derek is all about; sure, there's moments of hilarity in the absurd, but, ultimately, it's a show about people who die a literal death--as opposed to the death of the soul that transpires within each character on The Office due to sacrificing themselves for a job they don't even want to do. Additionally, the moments of honesty in Derek are more frequent, as there aren't as many incidents or dialogue exchanges to promote a sense of levity.

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If anything, Derek possesses a closer resemblance to Extras in terms of how far it is willing to go in its aura of melancholy. In fact, Hannah is not so unlike Andy Millman's (Gervais) best friend, the clueless Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen), who hasn't made much of her life and doesn't really have the ambition or the inclination to do so. The two female leads are neither strong, nor particularly interesting, and yet, the sadness about them is what keeps us so engaged throughout each series.

Hannah tends to a resident, as well as a forced volunteer who chose to come to Broad Hill instead of serving time in prison.

Dougie, on the other hand, is in keeping with The Office character motif--most conspicuously in his correlation to Tim. Both characters harbor a humorous bitterness as they rue the choices they've made to lead them into their current existence. Dougie also conjures images from The Office in that he seems to be the character with the most memorable talking head time (of which there is markedly less than in The Office). His surly nature is one of the most frequent sources of comedic relief in Derek.

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While Derek is certainly a come-up in Gervais' solo writing career--proving that the Gervais-Merchant alliance isn't totally necessary all the time--it is still missing the elusive "it" quality of The Office. To be sure, both shows are about as real as you can get on TV, but there is something about Derek that just doesn't ring quite as genuine or true. Though, suffice it to say, the transition from office walls to retirement home walls is a bleakly seamless one. Thank God (or whoever) we have Gervais around to add a dash of wit and playfulness to both phases of existence.

There is no such thing as a casual Arrested Development watcher. You're either a devotee or a maniacal fiend. Revisiting the Bluth family after seven years of separation has allowed the crescendo of excitement to escalate to proportions of Maeby Funke-level PR brilliance. And while the show delivers on many of the ingenious plot points and character idiosyncrasies it is renowned for, there is something decidedly grim about the newest season. Another notable difference between this singular season and its predecessors is that each episode focuses on the events taking place in a particular character's life, often setting up gaps in the story to be filled in later by another character's follies. Promotional poster for Arrested Development Season 4

The fact that Netflix released the entire season of the show all at once is a testament to how significant it is to watch the story unfold continuously--in one entire sitting if possible (and yes, it's very possible to become that invested). This is one benefit that Arrested Development did not receive while airing on Fox, allowing many of the nuanced details to go unnoticed by its viewers. The bravery and intelligence of the series remains intact for the latest installment, but there is less of a sense of hope or playfulness among the Bluth family. Perhaps it has to do with the jadedness that comes with aging or maybe it's just that everyone has finally learned his or her lesson about trusting another Bluth. Either way, the first episode, "Flight of the Phoenix," sets a macabre tone on Newport Beach's annual Cinco de Cuatro celebration. In typical Arrested Development fashion, the first episode is centered around a major event that is built up throughout the entire season, wherein each character engages in some sort of high stakes behavior--or at least reveals something shocking on the big night in question. The invention of Cinco de Cuatro was, of course, Lucille's (Jessica Walter), whose younger scheming self is played by Kristen Wiig. The younger George Bluth Sr. is, correspondingly, played by Seth Rogen. The 80s versions of the Bluth matriarch and patriarch decide to create Cinco de Cuatro on the eve of Cinco de Mayo so that the Mexicans they employ can't actually use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to take a holiday.

Seth Rogen as "young" George Bluth Sr. and Kristen Wiig as "young" Lucille Bluth

The political tensions surrounding this year's Cinco de Cuatro slowly begin to mount as Lucille plots her next moneymaking scheme from the comfort of a spa-like prison facility. Once again using the men in her family as puppets in her never-ending quest for more money, Lucille instructs George Sr. to build a wall between the border of Mexico and California. Bear in mind that the year is still supposed to be 2006, when such an issue was still fairly relevant/polarizing. Because each episode gives almost equal face time to one specific character (with Michael and George Sr. dominating most of the spotlight), the season unfolds somewhat like a mystery, starting with Michael walking in on Gob (Will Arnett) with another man in the model home, whose identity we don’t discover until the end of the season.

Entertainment Weekly spread on Arrested Development

As usual, Tobias holds most of the cards when it comes to the best jokes, chief among them being changing his license plate to read “A Nu Start,” though, without the spaces, it looks like “ANUSTART.” And perhaps the best episode of all is the one devoted to Maeby, "Señoritis," in which we learn she has been repeating her senior year of high school for the past few years in order to get her parents’ attention. It is also Maeby who spreads the word about George Michael’s (Michael Cera) new “privacy software,” Face Block—though what he’s actually working on is an app that recreates the sound of a woodblock.

Promotional posters for Arrested Development

The character with the least amount of face time, it would seem, is Buster (Tony Hale). It’s quite possible that even Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are presented with more time on camera. Not given his episode until the second to last story, “Off the Hook,” Buster’s primary character arc involves, as usual, overcoming his mother issues. Naturally, Lucille can’t really be bothered to concern herself with his neediness after Buster misses her court hearing as a result of a night of drinking juice with Lucille II (Liza Minnelli). But when Buster rejoins the army and injures his hook while acting as a drone pilot, he is able to get Lucille’s attention again. Incidentally, Lucille is the character with quite possibly the most sinister air this season.

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Although Arrested Development has never had qualms with owning up to its darker underbelly (see season two’s “Ready, Aim, Marry Me!), the nature of season four is decidedly bleaker. And while that may have been the intention of creator Mitchell Hurwitz, the series leaves an undeniably bitter taste in your mouth (try to reserve your Tobias jokes)—particularly the dramatic denouement between Michael and George Michael. There are also a number of loose ends that don’t quite get tied up (e.g. the disappearance of Lucille II, Gob’s affair with Tony Wonder, Lindsay running for office in local government, which Bluth brother ends up with Ron Howard's daughter, Rebel Alley [Isla Fisher], etc.).

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Still, in spite of the new season missing some of its original, innovative panache, there is something to be said for maintaining the same level of integrity (minus the heavy use of green screens) and writing quality within the show even after all these years. And, who knows? Maybe this season will spawn others. After all, there’s no shortage of neuroses to explore when it comes to the Bluth family.

 

 

Oh where to begin with the season premiere of Girls. Now in its second season, the media blitzkrieg for its promotion was in and of itself a bit nauseating. But watching it is an altogether much more vomiticious experience. Let me preface my tirade of angst by saying that I really do want to like Girls. The concept behind it is so promising that perhaps it made the disappointment over its blandness that much more intense. But watching Lena Dunham scamper around a deserted bookstore (Spoonbill and Sugartown, which is never fucking deserted, I might add, but I suppose the crowds of Brooklyn just vanish when Dunham wants them to) with her latest fling (somewhat randomly played by Donald Glover), I immediately wanted to pour hot coffee all over myself to numb the pain of watching Brooklyn’s sanitized portrayal.

Forging ahead to watch the rest of it, I clenched my teeth as Hanna’s new roommate/ex gay boyfriend, Elijah (Andrew Rannells), makes a tired joke about not even knowing the G train existed. And it is this sort of attempt at being original that never seems to ring true. It’s almost as though Dunham occasionally incorporates overheard subway conversations to give the show an edge. And what could be edgier than having a party with an aftermath that includes Elijah and Marnie singing “Building a Mystery” by Sarah MacLachlan?

Sometimes, it’s almost too difficult to decide which character to be most irritated by (though, for the most part, it’s Shoshanna). Each of their “problems” (except maybe Marrnie’s, who recently got fired) are so minuscule that the show comes off as more of a version of Babe Walker’s "White Girl Problems"—but trying to make it serious. And it’s very challenging to take white girl problems seriously. Not to say that emotional trials and financial woes aren’t legitimate struggles, but when Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa have them, the whining steez is annoying rather than endearing (you know, the way that it was on Sex and the City, its progenitor). Jessa, the most palatable and interesting character was barely in the episode, only briefly seen in a cab with her new husband (everyone’s favorite Irishman, Chris O’Dowd). Hopefully, her story will be more prevalent in the coming episodes—it may be the only way to keep the show interesting.

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The fact that there don’t seem to be any neutral feelings about Dunham (people either adore or abhor—usually over her body exposition) doesn’t make it easy to watch Girls with a completely open mind. But even with the open mind of someone who just dropped acid, it’s impossible to objectively say that Dunham is the person who should be given sole license to portray this borough when there are a number of realer local denizens who could probably do it more accurately. Just don’t ask anyone from Café Grumpy.

 

It's a very seldom event to become excited about a TV series at this point in the year when so many fall shows are about to end and none of the summer series have really begun yet (save for Mad Men), but Nahnatchka Khan's snarky homage to living in New York with a roommate you love to hate is incisive, witty, and features James Van Der Beek playing himself. I don't actually think anyone has ever come up with such a brilliant concept.

June Coleman (Dreama Walker) is perhaps the most prototypical person that moves to New York: From a small town (in Indiana), dreams of greatness and success, and has absolutely no idea just how sobering it's going to be. After recently completing grad school, June is hired by the Buchman Mortgage Company, an enterprise that is miraculously paying for her moving expenses and chic apartment (that June predictably notes is "just like in Friends!"), causing her to genuinely believe that her life path is on track. Her fiancé, Steven (Tate Ellington), even agrees to move there once he's finished working on his psychological research with a preadolescent boy named Jeremy (it's very Bill Murray in The Royal Tenenbaums). The only glitch is that the first day she arrives, the CEO is in the midst of being arrested for embezzlement (a cliché plot device, but always a believable one). Before she leaves the building, though, she gets the chance to meet Mark (Eric André), her would-be mentor had the company survived, and a contact that proves crucial later on.

Because June's apartment was subsidized by Buchman and is now deemed government-owned property, she frantically searches for a new place to live by scouring the internet for a roommate, ultimately settling on Chloe (Krysten Ritter), who comes across as the most normal in a city sea of crazy. As June is exiting the building to begin the moving process, Chloe's neighbor in apartment 21, Robin (Liza Lapira), warns, "Don't trust the bitch in apartment 23." Vaguely creeped out, June doesn't have much in the way of options and promptly starts moving her possessions into apartment 23, after which she has a run-in with Eli (Michael Blaiklock), a perverse neighbor who asks her if she's "hot" and "sweaty" from moving. Realizing his innuendos, June threatens to call the police just as Chloe traipses around the apartment naked assuring her that everything is fine and that she knows Eli from when he shut down "an underground sushi restaurant [she] was working at." This is also, mind you, at the same time she grabs a yogurt from the refrigerator that June had just finished clearly marking her name on. This show knows how to focus on details.

Chloe begins her plot to get June to move out within the next few days so that she can collect June's rent (including last month's and a security deposit) for herself. While talking to her best friend, James Van Der Beek (who she used to date, but ended up becoming friends with because, as she laments, "We weren't really compatible, genitally. It was like trying to fit a cucumber into a coin purse."), he asks Chloe if she feels at all remorseful for constantly scamming her roommates, to which she replies, "Eventually, these girls realize that they don't belong here and I'm just helping push them out. I'm part of the great digestive system that is New York City." It is one of her most poignantly bitchy remarks in the episode.

In the meantime, June has managed to get a job as a barista at the coffee shop where Mark found his new niche as a manager. Yet another character with solid gold lines, when June points out that Mark got hired at It's Just Beans a mere four hours after being laid off from Buchwald, he shrugs, "Can't have a gap in the resume, right?"

June's ire for Chloe is only mildly allayed by the fact that Steven surprised her by coming to town for her birthday. What June doesn't know is that he's cheating on her with his assistant and a handful of other random women. But then, it's Chloe's job to make June see the truth. It's a very The Odd Couple dynamic that works extremely well.

The real highlight of Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 is, undeniably, James Van Der Beek's parody of himself. His willingness to play into the perception people have of him as simply James Van Der Beek (or "that dude who played Dawson") was also present when he appeared in Ke$ha's video for "Blow"--and was fine with her calling him "James Van Der Douche."

This tongue in cheek humor he has about himself is evident in every line of dialogue he recites throughout this show. For example, while talking on the phone to Chloe, she overhears Paula Cole's "I Don't Want To Wait" playing in the background and says, "You got a fan over, huh?" James confirms this as the fan in question comes downstairs holding out a flannel shirt to him. Chloe then asks, "Did she get you to put on the flannel?" He responds, "We're negotiating."

Another memorable line from Van Der Beek occurs when he tries to explain to June that Chloe really can be a good friend and that she once flew out all of his friends and family to Vietnam while he was shooting a commercial for an energy drink. Even though she used his credit card and left him stranded there, it was still a good time. But, as Van Der Beek will caution you, "Don't be a blonde dude in a Vietnamese jail, June. That's the real life lesson here."

The recent trend in transitioning silver screen stars to the small screen is part of No Strings Attached screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether's formula for The New Girl. With Zooey Deschanel as lead character Jessica Day (Jess for short), the show might actually have a chance of surviving the curse of airing on the Fox network.

Because both Meriwether and Deschanel come from a film background, the pilot episode has a notably cinematic feel. They even have Jake Kasdan (of Bad Teacher and Orange County fame) directing. With this trifecta, overtones of the filmic technique are especially evident in the opening scene in which Jess stares straight into the camera and delves into the following monologue:

"So you know in horror movies when the girl's like, 'Oh my God, there's something in the basement. Let me just run down there in my underwear and see what's going on in the dark.' And you're like 'What is your problem? Call the police.' And she's like, 'Okay,' but it's too late because she's already getting murdered. Well, uh, my story's kind of like that."

Jess then rehashes how she made the mistake of coming home early from a trip to find her longtime boyfriend, Spencer (Ian Wolterstorff), with another woman. This is, lamentably, after she has already begun her awkward stripper act--one of the moments that makes Deschanel come across as more annoying than charmingly quirky.

Once her prospective roommates, Nick (Johnson), Schmidt (Greenfield), and Coach (Wayans Jr.) are done listening to Jess' tale of woe, they're pretty much ready to say, "Next!" That is, until Jess mentions that her best friend, Cece (Simone), is a model and is constantly surrounded by models so she would really rather not live in that atmosphere. This immediately prompts Schmidt (the resident douche bag of the group--he actually has to put money into a "Douche Bag Jar" when he starts to act or say something that falls into that category) to encourage his fellow roommates to let her move in.

Upon moving in, Jess is not shy about displaying her normal behavior, which consists of crying as she watches Dirty Dancing on a loop as a part of her grieving process. Not quite sure how to handle such womanly problems, Schmidt decides to take charge and insist that they all go out so that she can find a rebound guy. Naturally, they choose to go to the bar where Nick works--discounted drinks always help boost confidence.

From there, the gist of how the dynamic between the four of them is going to work becomes more pronounced. Basically, Jess' whimsicality and unintentionally refreshing frankness is a source of inspiration for how Coach, Nick, and Schmidt (well, maybe not Schmidt) interact with women. While The New Girl is enjoyable enough, chiefly when you take into account some of the other upcoming new series this fall (Charlie's Angels and Free Agents being amid some of the more distinguished riffraff), its main downfall is when the contrivances of the Zooey Deschanel "Ooh I'm so weird but I'm also really beguiling" shtick are too glaring to ignore.

 

'The Gang Hits the Road' is about the gang taking a road trip to the grand canyon. On the way there they run into a disgruntled biker, stop off at the Italian market to barter with some gypsy's, try to cook hot dogs in a mobile storage unit, and pick up a hitchhiker. The first ten or so minutes of the episode were a bit boring. It was basically just all five of them bickering and bitching. I mean, it was amusing just hearing them bicker, but they weren't really saying anything particularly funny. The second half of the episode is when it gets really hilarious. All the scenes at the Italian market were great. One moment in particular when Mac (Rob Mcelhenny) is explaining to Charlie (Charlie Day) how to eat a pear was classic, and the scene is punctuated with the line 'I EAT STICKERS ALL THE TIME DUDE!'. Haha, oh Charlie, you fucking idiot. The scene with Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and the hitchhiker was also pretty funny. Their 'name the states while you drink' drinking game was great. Another good part was when Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Charlie decide to light a fire inside of a small storage unit, which ends with expectedly horrible results. But the BEST part of the episode had to be the ending. You're probably going to be able to guess what happens while you're watching the episode, but I won't spoil it. I'll just say the comic timing and the camera work are pitch perfect. The ending seriously had me short of breath.

The most horrible people in the world

One thing I'm starting to notice though is how stupid Frank (Danny Devito) has become. He used to be the semi voice of reason among these selfish assholes. But now he's become equally as stupid as the rest of the gang. It's a bit annoying because now there's no X factor among the five main characters. Frank used to add an extra dimension to the show but now they could honestly get rid of him and the show would be pretty much the exact same.

After a rather weak season opener I was starting to fear that Always Sunny was beginning it's decline toward lameness. Thankfully though 'The Gang Hits the Road' eased those fears a little bit. It's a funny episode. And while it's not close to the best in the cache of episodes, it's good enough to be called a "good" episode. And if all the episodes this season are as good as this one, i'll walk away satisfied.