Just like you can't always judge a book by its cover, you can't always judge a "Sunny" episode by its title. If anyone was worried that this week's installment would be a lackluster half hour filled with little more than orange skin and Snooki jokes, those fears were allayed by a barrage of images much more disturbing than the "Jersey Shore"'s STD-infested hot tub.
Last week, I mentioned that the premiere felt a little too all over the place. The same can be said for this week's episode, but for some reason, the more randomness that was introduced and the more things spiraled out of control, the harder I laughed. Somehow the magic of the Jersey shore made it all work.
The gang's road trip to the beach is prompted by Dennis and Dee. Upon finding Frank burning all of their old photo albums, the two wax poetic about their childhood vacations to the shore, which Frank claims were not as fun as Dennis and Dee remember. Despite Frank's disapproval and Mac's concern about the guido population, D&D are determined to relive the good old days and convince the gang to take a trip to the beach. Charlie is excited to go because he's never seen the ocean, so Mac helps out his travel-phobic buddy by putting him in some kind of half-assed sleeper hold.
The gang washes up on the desolate, stray dog-ridden, toxic waste and syringe-soaked shores that used to be the Reynolds' favorite vacation spot. Undeterred by the area's terrible transformation, Dennis and Dee (now sporting an amazing head of cornrows) give Charlie the grand tour of the former hotspot. Promising Charlie that magic awaits there, the three explore the world under the boardwalk, only to find two homeless guys exploring each other. (Scrub your eyes all you want people; this can't be unseen.) This is about as much magic as Charlie can take, and he smartly decides to head back to the beach by himself, leaving Dennis and Dee to recreate their cherished memories on their own.
The duo's trip to the amusement park goes horribly wrong when Dee gets one of her cornrows stuck at the top of the free-fall ride. As the ride plummets to earth, Dee loses a chunk of her scalp and Dennis loses his lunch. In slo-mo, no less.
Meanwhile, Mac and Frank just want to relax. From out of nowhere, Frank produces a rum ham (yes, a ham soaked in rum), which the two plan to devour and get drunk on. But when all the dogs threaten to interfere with their semi-liquid lunch, Mac, Frank and rum ham float out into the water on a raft. Of course, they fall asleep and drift out into the open water, setting up the "Cast Away" joke when rum ham falls overboard. And yeah, it's an obvious joke, but Frank screaming, "I'm sorry rum ham!," as its sad pineapple eyes bob in the brine is priceless.
At this point, each group embarks on its own little adventure. Having gone to the hospital to get Dee's head sewn up, Dennis and his sister accept an invitation to hang out from a drugged-out girl they meet in the hallway. Charlie, searching for seashells alone on the beach, amazingly runs into the waitress (pregnant in real life...'atta boy, Charlie!), who, even more amazingly, decides to hang out with him. Lost at sea, Frank goes into "survival mode" and accidentally stabs a hole in the raft. But just when it seems that he and Mac will sink, they're saved by a boat full of guidos.
If the '80s taught us anything, it's that you can never go wrong with a musical montage. And it's to the super-sunny strains of The Go-Gos' "Vacation" that we get to see all the highlights of everyone's day at the beach. Mac and Frank get orange and get crazy on the guido party boat, from where they happily fish rum ham out of the ocean. Charlie and the waitress frolic, share seashells with each other, watch fireworks and nuzzle with an adorable stray puppy. Dennis and Dee end up doing angel dust in a van with the mysterious Bobby and his gang of liquor store robbers and, well, some people end up dead. While I truly enjoyed watching Charlie finally have his moment with the waitress, the best part of all this had to be Dennis and Dee's horrifying adventure, which just became more and more absurd by the second.
Sadly, when Charlie and the waitress wake up together on the beach the next morning (nothing happened), the waitress is back to acting like her old self, explaining away the whole evening by revealing that she was on ecstasy. ("Wow, you're really off the wagon.") As the waitress runs out of Charlie's life again, he doesn't have a normal Charlie reaction. In a strangely touching (yet still really funny) moment, he just smiles, shrugs and says, "I guess that's just summer love."
Charlie, Frank and Mac are now Jersey Shore converts, but of course, Dennis and Dee no longer feel that it's the greatest place on earth and just want to get the hell out of there before Bobby shoots them both in the face. And very quickly, the gang heads back to Philly, some filled with magical memories and some filled with post-traumatic stress.
• Although there were so many great crazy moments in this ep, what I'll remember most is Charlie's bittersweet acceptance that his "summer love" was over. Every once in a while, we get to see Charlie's heart (giving the box of bees to the guy who dumped the waitress, shedding a single tear upon learning she'd slept with Frank) and those moments are always so genuinely adorable.
• Also adorable: Charlie's excitement over new things, like the ocean ("What's on the other side of it there?") and the "jewel" given to him by the waitress, which was just a chunk of a beer bottle.
• Best quotes:
"Do NOT try to swim to Europe." (Dennis, explaining the perils of the ocean to Charlie)
"Goddammit, Frank! Eating your drinks?! That is genius!" (Mac)
"As a man who works very hard to maintain a certain level of physical excellence, I find shortcuts very insulting. Now give me a piece of ham...NOW!" (Mac)
"It should've been you!" (Frank, to Mac after rum ham went overboard)
"There are far worse people at the Jersey shore than the cast of the Jersey Shore!" (Dennis)