After a Hopper incident that caused me to miss the premiere of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (insert a Liam McPoyle slow-mo “Noooooooo!” here), the DVR gods were merciful and finally allowed me to get in on some Season 8 action. Although, while watching the cold open of this season’s second episode, I was a little concerned that, through some sort of weird, wormhole-y, space-time mix-up, I’d actually recorded an episode from Season 3, specifically “The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby.” As Dennis, Mac and Dee waded through the trash piled up behind Paddy’s, Dennis’s remarks about their “throwaway culture” and Mac carelessly tossing his Big Soda cup all seemed oddly familiar. Even Dee noticed it. (Of course, her unwelcome comments were met with a possible new catchphrase, “Shut up, bird.”) Once inside Paddy’s, the all-too-familiar conversation turned to the political ass-blasting and plowing that drove the plot of “The Gang Solves the Gas Crisis,” and then it was clear: these bitches were going meta all over our asses.

Throughout its run, “Sunny” has always expertly thrown a bunch of call-backs into episodes, but never so blatantly as they did in “The Gang Recycles Their Trash.” Sometimes when a show gets this self-referential, it can come off as annoying and lazy, but I thought it worked well in this episode. First of all, it’s funny to see these characters, who are some of the worst people in the TV universe, fully recognize their flawed patterns and never do a thing to really change them. (Sure, they’ll throw in a few “tweaks” to their plans, but never once stop to think that their plans are insane to begin with.)  Secondly, I sort of saw this episode as a clever twist on the dreaded clip show. It wasn’t nearly as clever as the one “Community” did, which flashed back to a bunch of stuff the audience never saw happen, but it was still an interesting way to poke fun at that trope, while still catering to the “Sunny” fanboys and girls who have desperately missed this show the past several months by recycling a bunch of old ideas.  

Making things a bit more interesting was the subtle trick of having the characters occasionally walk in each other’s footsteps, rather than just repeat their own past actions. For instance, the plan to solve the trash crisis came from Frank, whose approach was uncharacteristically methodical and Dennis-like. Dee also channeled Dennis while she and Frank visited a city councilman, who just happened to be the Oldies Rock Café owner from “The Gang Sells Out.” Once again, Frank and his partner-in-crime (now Dee in her famous yellow pant suit from "The Gang Gives Back") took the guy to a strip club (male this time, as they remembered that he was gay) and had a way-too-long conversation about the different types of gays -- a conversation that introduced many viewers, including myself, to “otters,” which, according to, is an actual term for skinny, hairy gay men. This time around, the guy didn’t slink away during their discussion, but only because Frank was holding a gun on him.

As for Dennis, Mac and Charlie, they all stayed pretty true to their own characters, and even managed to work in harmony after Dennis decided that they should “forsake the group dynamic” that got them into trouble during the gas crisis. (Meaning: no more wild card.) They tweaked Frank’s garbage collection plan just enough to make it fun for themselves (limo, tuxes, self-penned jingle) and enjoyed collecting trash for a while…until they and their limo all ended up covered in gull poop.  And even though they were collecting $200 per house for picking up garbage, they collectively decided to ditch an actual working plan to revisit the once-and-always-destined-to-fail door-to-door gas selling plan.  

Frank then took over Charlie’s role as Dee’s sidekick from “Paddy’s Next Top Billboard Model Contest” as he interrupted a garbage workers union meeting with some nonsensical rabble-rousing. That opened the door for Dee to step up and give the most successful acting performance of her life as sassy Martina Martinez, who got the garbage men riled up enough to chase down Dennis, Mac and Charlie, who, by that point, were going with the easy solution of dumping all their trash right down the street.

After returning to the bar, the gang thought long and hard about their failure and then decided maybe they should sell rugs…or put on a show about rug salesmen…or something. Charlie played the voice of reason for a bit (hearkening back to the very old days when Sweet Dee occasionally filled that role), and gave a motivational speech (very Dennis) that explained why their plans never work: they give up too quickly. Newly excited about collecting trash, the gang went back to being “the gang,” fired up the Ghostbusters van and hit the road. Luckily, Mac predicted that Charlie would recycle his brake-cutting wild card cowboy schtick and had the brakes fixed, so everyone arrived safely at the first trash pickup. But wouldn’t you know it, the strike had already ended. So…the rugs? It's always been the rugs!   

Grade: B+

Random Thoughts:

• As something of a “Greatest Hits” compilation, this episode hit all the right notes. But while it was consistently funny, I didn’t give it an A- because it fails as a standalone episode. It relies so much on the viewer being a fan and being familiar with the “Sunny” world, so it’s not an installment that someone new to “Sunny” could get much out of.

• The funniest part of this episode wasn’t a recycled bit, but something new. We learned that not only is Charlie impaired when it comes to reading and writing, but he isn’t really capable of listening either. I couldn’t stop laughing when Dennis and Mac were talking to him and he just kept nodding, mumbling and responding to the wrong person, which culminated in an exasperated Mac asking, “What do you think is happening right now?”

• During the long silence at the end of the episode, did anyone else think the gang was going to break into “More Than Words?” I was hoping. It was not to be, though.

• I’m so glad that Mac isn’t fat anymore because now we can just get back to laughing at his Mac-ness. I loved the pure glee he derived from riding on the back of the limo and that he brought along a knife to “make sure the plan works.” Also, I think the woman-hating tranny-dater might have come one step closer to revealing that he’s gay by awkwardly almost kissing Dennis.

• Frank wins the award for most offensive line of the night: “Some c**ks can’t be unsucked.”

• The rest of the best quotes:
“Mac, you have an exceptional number of bugs in your teeth. You’re gonna wanna rinse those out.” (Dennis)
“He’s a yestergay.” (Dee)
“Now, that looks to be some sort of swarming mob.” (Mac)