A staple of the classic sitcom is that, by the end of the episode, everything has to return to normal. Within the 20-or-so minutes of each week’s installment, the characters are free to travel to Beijing, adopt a koala, or make a big sandwich so long as that somewhere around the 18-minute mark, the status quo is maintained. From the ‘50s and on up to the ‘80s there wasn’t anything wrong with having normal, decent people thrown into far-fetched situations and coming out relatively unaffected—or, if they did learn some life-altering lesson, they’d forget it by next week.
Then, along came Seinfeld in the ‘90s, which broke ground by calling BS on the idea that any normal person would function like that—that’s the behavior of a sociopath, and hence Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer, and Larry David’s “no learning, no hugging” rule. More than any other contemporary sitcom, Sunny lives by Seinfeld’s example.
It even goes a step further with its characters’ depravity (cheerfully paraded in ‘Dee Gives Birth’s opening when Dennis and Mac learn of Frank and Charlie’s naked, sewer-scouring hi-jinx), which is why this season’s running joke of everyone’s lack of concern regarding Dee’s pregnancy has worked so well—it threatens The Gang’s self-centered complacency. So, instead of facing the fact that Dee’s baby will force them to take responsibility for someone other than themselves, they chose to ignore it…maybe then it’d go away.
But, of course, it didn’t, and when Dee’s water finally breaks, The Gang scramble like mad to discover the identity of its father so they can pawn the little rug-chomper off on him and get back to drinking heavily and stewing their drawers. Finding the Dad entails Mac, Charlie, and Frank rounding up every potential sex partner Dee’s had in the last nine months, from Ben, the jean-shorts Army guy to Bill (or is it Duncan?), the chubby, drug-fueled guy Dee had sort of an affair with earlier in the season, to, naturally, Rickity Crickets (the Wild Card)—and a host of others ranging from Little Kev, the questionably retarded rapper from season 3 to Koree(?) the Korean busboy (also season 3).
Dennis is forced to stay at the hospital and look after Dee, who seems to be the one most in denial about her pregnancy, as demonstrated when she gets up on a wheeled stool to adjust the television (a girl’s gotta watch her stories, I guess). And after threatening the staff and catering to Dee’s demands, Dennis comes dangerously close to accepting the role of father-figure to Dee’s child. Almost.
Eventually the baby comes just as Mac and Charlie, also warmed to the idea of playing fathers, gather all the candidates in the waiting room, and the episode ends with a satisfying reveal of the actual father (in real life, of course, it’s Rob McElhenney — Mac–Kailin Olson’s real-life husband, which is largely the reason that the camera lingers on him in the slow-motion pan) after a seemingly misplaced moment of tenderness—luckily Sunny maintains the status quo with a grotesque return to form.
The real joke of the episode is The Gang’s terrifying competence at working together. ‘Dee Gives Birth’ flips the conventional sitcom format on its head so many times in this episode that I lost count somewhere between Frank taking a bump of cocaine and Dennis’s Weekend at Bernie’s-esque attempt to remove a possibly dead patient from Dee’s hospital room.
Just the idea of Dennis, Mac, and Charlie taking responsibility to preserve their irresponsible lifestyles is in itself funny, but the drastic extremes to which they go (“If my sister can’t watch her stories, I will come down on this hospital like the hammer of Thor; thunder of my vengeance will echo through these corridors like the gusts of a thousand winds”) is so wonderfully over the top that I wish Dee would get pregnant more often. Another subtle joke is that Dee, despite being the titular character, receives considerably little screen time; she’s not even in her own best scene (which is where Mac and Charlie discover her strategy for tricking/intimidating others into having sex with her).
Not only does this episode work, but it, along with ‘Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,’ demonstrates a surprising thematic density to the show that, really, doesn’t even need to be there. It’s certainly not a bad thing, not at all; it’s just that Sunny is funny enough to keep on doing what it does and nothing more and still be a terrific show, so when it aims high and obliterates its target, I feel doubly rewarded–not only is it smart, but there’s still a massive amount of potential.