The Degradation of Matthew “Rickety Cricket” Mara

Going a little heavy on the Sunny posts lately, but stick with me here. Today we will revisit the tragic path that young, fresh-faced priest Matthew Mara (Sunny producer David Hornsby) fell down to become the grotesque, street-dwelling Rickety Cricket we know today.

The Beginning

“The Gang Exploits a Miracle” marked the first appearance of young Cricket. Seeing the opportunity to monetize a “miracle”, the Gang (specifically Dee) seeks the help of Mara to bless the virginal stain on their wall. Poor Matty tries to resist the dark cloud of the Gang, but by the end of the episode he decides to leave the priesthood. You see, Mara had a crush on Dee since high school, and Dee manipulated poor Matty into believing she was interested in him (really she just wanted attention), causing him to give up priesthood in favor of being with Dee, a terrible decision by any measure. Matthew Mara died that day, and Rickety Cricket took over. By his next appearance in season three, Cricket is homeless and once again falls victim to a scheme from the Gang — this time they end up getting him addicted to crack, and framed by the Gang into having his legs broken by the local mafia.

The Escalation 

Cricket shows up in a later episode with bionic legs(?), but his more notable appearance comes in the season four premiere, “Mac and Dennis: Manhunters”, wherein Mac and Dennis decide to hunt Cricket for sport (despite Frank’s warnings about his past experiencesviewing of Rambo the night before). Cricket thinks he outsmarts them by aligning with Frank, but naturally he ends up getting tea-bagged by Mac and Dennis in the end.

The next year, the Gang decides that they are going to put on a wrestling show in honor of the troops. Cricket, being on the Gang’s short roster of go-to associates, is enlisted to play the role of Taliban leader. Frank attacks Cricket in the ring and slices his throat open, technically securing a U.S. victory but also putting Cricket in critical condition.

Turning Over a New Leaf?

When the Gang attends their high school reunion, they’re shocked to encounter Cricket looking clean-cut, dressed up in his priest clothing. Could it be that Matty Mora had turned things around? No, it couldn’t; he was stealing jewelry and hiding it, as well as a bad case of ringworms, under his clothing.

From there on out things have only gotten worse for poor Cricket. He lost an eye in a violent disagreement with a stray dog while working as a dog janitor, and then most recently had half of his face burnt off when the Gang’s Thanksgiving beef-squash dinner went awry. At this point, it seems that Cricket will never live a normal life again, and he is shockingly content with this fact.

What happens to Cricket next? Does he get his face fixed? Does he get addicted to heroin? I think heroin is more likely, but maybe that’s just me. We’ll find out soon enough, the new season is coming up in January.

Sitcoms

Overlooked (Old) Shows: “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”

It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, like other Shandling projects, was maybe a bit ahead of its time. However, it still enjoyed a decent following considering that it was a Showtime comedy series in the late 1980s. Unfortunately it seems to have been lost to the ages as far as syndication goes.

In the show, Shandling plays himself as the self-aware star of a sitcom. He and his friends deal with the average trivial sitcom issues, all while being at least vaguely aware that they are participating in a sitcom episode. Garry often interacts with the studio audience during the episodes, with the audience sometimes coming onto the set or otherwise participating in storylines. Random celebrity friends would often stop by; Rob Reiner was a recurring guest for the first three seasons. Even the theme song was self-referential:

This is the theme to Garry’s show, the opening theme to Garry’s show

Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song

I’m almost halfway finished, how do you like it so far?

How do you like the theme to Garry’s show?

Bill Lynch, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” theme song

The show paved the way for Shandling’s later project The Larry Sanders Show, as well as other obsessively self-referential/”meta” shows such as 30 RockArrested Development, and Community. It has an important place in television history, and is also quite entertaining in its own right. Unfortunately it is impossible to find on streaming services, but if you really look for it you can find it online. It’s worth checking out!

Here’s a little taste in the form of the aforementioned theme music. (WARNING: It’s catchy!):

Sitcoms

“The Gang Gets Analyzed”, Revisited

“The Gang Gets Analyzed” is a classic episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; it gets the Gang all in one place, irritated and ready to snap over the latest trivial argument they’ve worked themselves into a frenzy over (in this case, who’s going to do the dishes), which is really where they’re at their worstbest. However, the episode offers only a shallow dive into the psyches of our favorite psychotic Philadelphians. I would like to offer my own psychoanalysis of each of them.

Mac

Poor Mac was doomed from the moment his parents named him Ronald McDonald. His father lived a life of crime, and never seemed to love Mac. His strict religious upbringing worked in direct contrast to this life, but nonetheless it made a rather big impact on young Mac. In his adult life, he shoehorns God and his beliefs into discussions whenever possible, claiming a moral superiority over the rest of the Gang. Unfortunately, this dooms Mac to a life of confusion and frustration, as he so clearly represses his attraction to other men that would directly conflict with his worldview. Most of what Mac brings to the group is a result of his insecurities. He plays (or tries to play) the role of the macho bodyguard to compensate for his fear of being in any way un-masculine, and he inserts God into arguments to compensate for issues of spiritual inadequacy. In order for Mac to resolve his issues, he would need to first admit to himself that he’s gay- and that’s okay.

Frank

Frank does not have donkey brains. He clearly lagged developmentally as a child, and during the time he grew up this led to him being institutionalized. During this traumatic experience, he began hallucinating that he had a “Frog Kid” roommate that he cared for, a delusion that stuck with him until his doctor revealed the truth.

Frank is a ruthless businessman, but also has a love of filth. He left his business life behind to live in squalor with his “kids”, dwelling well below his means. Each season he sinks deeper into the filth, and deeper into senility. At this point, Frank is content with living out his life just screwing around with the Gang.

Dennis

Dennis is a goddamn sociopath. As I covered in a previous post in more detail, his rage has been growing over the years and threatens to boil over at any moment. His narcissism only serves to feed into this rage, causing him to feel righteous in any course of action he takes.

Dee

Sweet Dee is the most frequently abused member of the Gang, and she is unfortunately used to mockery. She spent much of high school in a bulky back brace, being known among her classmates as “The Aluminum Monster”. She has extreme issues of insecurity as a result; she sleeps around and manipulates men to get attention, and she seeks reassurance that she’s good enough. She wants to be an actress but can’t get quite past her stage fright, causing her all the more anguish. It is clear that the insecurities weigh heavily on Dee, as she has been known to act out violently. She did, after all, attempt to set her college roommate on fire. Nonetheless, Dee often appears to be the most practical member of the Gang.

Charlie

Oh, Charlie. Charlie’s life has been complicated since the very beginning, having apparently survived an attempted abortion. His mother was (and still is) a whore, and would often service her clients while young Charlie sat patiently downstairs huffing glue. Adding further complication is the frequent implication that Charlie was molested as a boy, presumably by his creepy Uncle Jack. Between the abuse and the glue, Charlie turned into the illiterate, dangerously naive adult he is today. Charlie just wants to be happy and show his love for the Waitress, but his poor social and intellectual skills leave him unable to do anything but terrify her.

Ultimately, the entire Gang is deeply troubled, but also likely blacklisted among Philly-area therapists. So alas, they are doomed to live on in confusion, chaos, and anger, terrorizing the streets of Philadelphia but entertaining us all.

Sitcoms

Overlooked Shows: “Another Period”

In the modern television landscape, we viewers are a bit spoiled these days. There are more options than ever available for our immediate consumption, and these options can become overwhelming. As a result, good shows can fall through the cracks trying to compete with the latest offerings. I believe Comedy Central’s Another Period is falling victim to this phenomenon.

Fresh off its first season and recently renewed for a second, Another Period asks the question, “What if The Real Housewives existed in the early 1900s?” The show centers around the illustrious Bellacourt family of Rhode Island and their shallow yet complicated daily lives. The cast is surprisingly deep, with big names such as Paget Brewster and Christina Hendricks as well as solid veteran actors Brian Huskey, David Koechner, and Michael Ian Black.

The show has received positive reviews, and for good reason. I was able to catch several episodes of the show and found it to be hilarious and very well-written. Unfortunately, it seems that the show became a bit buried in the Comedy Central lineup. Much of their marketing budget goes toward spreading the word about Key and Peele‘s final season or the fact that they have Amy Schumer under contract; not much love was given to a project like Another Period.

It’s a shame, because it really is a great show worth giving a shot. Here is a rather absurd promo clip for the show that can hopefully convince you to check it out:

Sitcoms

Dennis Reynolds: A Psychotic Life

All the members of the gang in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have their issues, and all could certainly be argued to be fairly antisocial in nature. Even so, none of them stick out as much in their blatant sociopathy than Dennis Reynolds.

Dennis, a former Ivy League frat boy, is used to getting his way, and is infuriated when he doesn’t. He loves himself and no one else, not even his sister; if anything, he hates Sweet Dee most of all. His narcissism is matched only by the Donald Trumps of the world. So how did Dennis evolve over the years into the lovable potential serial killer we see today?

In the earlier seasons, Dennis’s insanity was mostly on par with that of the rest of the Gang. He displayed cartoonish levels of vanity, and often manipulated women including the Waitress (poor Charlie..) into sleeping with him.

However, years of frustration over the Gang’s failed plots began to wear on Dennis. Soon he would introduce the other men to the “D.E.N.N.I.S. system”, his simple solution to forcing women to become dependent upon him for protection and then abandoning them. While the guys readily join in on the “fun”, the viewer is left wondering if Dennis has crossed a dangerous line.

Fast foward a couple of seasons later. The Gang is attending their high school reunion and, as is customary, things escalate out of control rapidly. Amidst the chaos comes the revelation that Dennis keeps a shovel and supplies for restraining someone in the trunk of his car. The next year, he attends his ex-wife’s wedding with the sole intention of getting her to sign away his alimony payments… and ends up sleeping with her instead.

In “The Gang Gets Analyzed”, Dennis reveals that he has been feeding Mac “size pills” filled with Mexican ephedra, simply because his supposedly grotesque appearance was bothering him. For Dennis, the rest of the Gang and their emotions are simply afterthoughts once he’s done looking out for #1.

Season 10 marked perhaps the biggest leap yet in Dennis’s psychotic nature. His anger overcomes him on several occasions: he shouts at women for rating him poorly on a phone app (and at the Waitress because she “[doesn’t] have online”), he drives his car into the ocean out of frustration, he breaks down in a fit of anger and despair during a game of Family FeudFight, and he hits Mac because, in his words, he “was irritated”.  Perhaps most terrifying of all, he threatens to chop his sister up into little pieces and display her on his mantle… ironically, while attempting to solicit help for a different psycho.

Season 11 begins in January. What will the new season bring from our psychotic friend Dennis? Is this the season he finally snaps? It seems like all the groundwork is being laid for a finale where Dennis murders the rest of the Gang. Or maybe just Cricket.

Sitcoms

The Optimism and Kindness of “Parks & Recreation”

Like many other TV fans, I was very saddened by the end of NBC’s Parks & Recreation earlier this year. It felt in some ways like the end of an era; many considered Parks to be one of the last remaining great sitcoms, and at the very least it marked the official end of NBC’s multi-decade dominance of the sitcom genre. The Peacock network opted this past year to end its once-popular Thursday night “Must See TV” lineup, one that had traditionally featured the network’s best comedy shows, instead refocusing its primetime schedule around a slate of (largely unsuccessful) dramas. While Parks & Rec finished its run on Tuesday nights due to this shift, it had spent the bulk of its lifetime as part of that Thursday night lineup, sandwiched in between other modern gems such as its sister show The Office. However, the collapse and final demise of NBC’s comedy empire is not the only era that may have ended with Parks & Rec.

Centered around its eternally sunny protagonist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), Parks was unique in a modern landscape where so many sitcoms have shifted to depicting unsympathetic, Seinfeldian characters whose failures we don’t mind laughing at. Shows such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia offer up gleefully terrible human beings for our viewing pleasure, knowing that the audience will feel nothing but amusement at watching their deranged adventures. This makes for fertile ground for comedy, and Sunny‘s brilliant creative team executes their premise flawlessly.

With Parks & Rec, howeverthis mean-spirited nature is nowhere to be found. When Leslie and the gang suffer setbacks, it isn’t funny to the audience but rather genuinely upsetting. These aren’t caricatures of horrible people; these are fully-developed human beings, each tailored perfectly to their respective actors to create the illusion that we really are just acting as a documentary crew observing their daily lives.

Sitcoms traditionally have applied this kind of heart to their characters until recently. The half-hour comedy format was seen as serving two purposes for audiences: to make them laugh, and to give them an escape from their everyday lives. What better way to do that than to turn on the TV and watch a group of people that you feel as though you truly know hang out for 30 minutes? The recent trend, however, seems to be taking much of the “heart” out of the genre, creating a more cynical (though arguably funnier) final product.

Should sympathetic characters be phased out of sitcoms in favor of characters that are easier to laugh at? This is something I’d love to hear others’ opinions on, as personally I have no answer for it; I love sitcoms that make me care about the characters, but I also love ones that are essentially just rapid-fire joke machines. Feel free to leave any thoughts in the comment section!

Discussion Sitcoms