The group has existed in their own isolation for so long, it makes you wonder why they would often go so far out of their way to exclude Dee from any of the activities, since it’s not likely that they’d find anyone else to replace her. And seeing as how the most recent entrants seem to be Charlie and then Frank, the screening process is aimed at scraping the absolute dregs of humanity. God help them if they find anyone worse than Frank.
But they couldn’t have always been that bad, right? Earlier in life Dennis, Dee, and even Mac were perhaps semi-decent people, with a higher-class group of friends and shared equally semi-decent goals for the future. And that’s what The Gang Gets a New Member explores.
Opening a time capsule the four buried 10 years earlier, The Gang relives some of their glory days before they became misanthropic alcoholics, discovering some long-forgotten relics, which include a laserdisc of The Cider House Rules; a note from the younger Dee that includes a million-dollar check made out to her high-school drama teacher (made out, that is, under the assumption that her future self was by now a famous actress); and some photos of the old days when the fourth-and-a-half member (I assume Dee only counts for one-half a member), Schmitty (guest star Jason Sudeikis).
Schmitty was expelled (violently, and from a moving vehicle) for some indeterminate reason, but Dennis, Mac, and a giddy Frank decide to reincorporate him—an idea Charlie immediately tries to nix, rightly scared that the uber-cool Schmitty will make him as obsolete as that laserdisc.
Dee, now showing off her pregnancy and still grasping onto her fleeting dream of becoming an actress, gets back to her roots by revisiting her drama teacher, who, almost automatically, greets her by apologizing for his behavior during that time—it was all the booze. But eventually he recognizes her and recalls Dee’s standout performance in the school’s musical of Frankenstein…before abruptly telling her that she’s too old for acting and should become a teacher like him.
It’s one of best subtle jokes of the episode that Dee’s drama teacher is basically Dee in another 10 years and is setting her on the way to similar destruction.
Dennis, Mac, Frank, and Charlie make amends with the charismatic Schmitty, and he cheerily undergoes an increasingly disturbing series of initiations that begins with a sterling-silver ring and ends with a druidic-looking ritual involving candles, a bell, and an ominous red chair. Nevertheless, Charlie can’t take it anymore and tells the rest of The Gang that it’s either Schmitty or him.
Alone, Charlie tries to salvage the only quasi-friend he has—Dee—and takes up a job as janitor at the high school (after a very successful interview) where Dee’s teaching career is finding as much success as her acting.
And the group, almost as quick as they welcomed Schmitty, grows tired of his goodness and tosses him out once more.
New Member grew on me. Along with some fantastic Charlie moments (“You mind if I eat that eraser? It seems like grape!”; Butt-Dance!) and Dennis’ inability to apologize (not out of ego but rather teary-eyed remorse), the added theme of The Gang clinging onto their better days and failing horribly adds a depth to the characters that’s enriching without any of the pretense that usually comes with it.
By the way, New Member ends on a cliff-hanger that presumably will follow up with The Gang trying to get Charlie back (and another great subtle joke is that this—not the father of Dee’s baby—merits a multi-part episode).