Amidst an ocean of strange, off-kilter but hilarious seasons, this thirteenth season of FX’s long-running sitcom is easily its most baffling one. While the show has managed to provide social commentary in subtle ways before (in particular in episodes like “The Gang Turns Black”), it’s never been as abstract with its politicizing as it here. In episodes like “The Gang Makes Paddy’s Great Again” and “Time’s Up for the Gang,” there’s plenty of room for the clever, vulgar, and irreverent jokes that have defined the show up until now, but there’s also something of a split here: The jokes are mostly dependent on their overall context this time around, and while it’s an interesting way to keep things fresh after more than a decade it also feels strained and forced. Much has been made of Rob McElhenney’s dramatic body transformation, but same as with his weight gain in Season 7, it doesn’t seem to serve much of a clearly defined purpose beyond a few throwaway jokes here and there. Overall this is likely the show’s weakest season so far – the acting feels half-hearted, the writing has gotten obtuse, and the tone veers wildly from scene to scene. It’s not bad by any stretch and there are some solid episodes along the way but mostly the whole season feels under-cooked and overly cerebral.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)