It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
With the world now literally ending, it’s almost quaint that as recently as last year, we were all arguing over who should be allowed to deposit their excrement where. The years 2016 and 2017 moved the question of transgender bathrooms into the foreground of the national conversation, as cultural reactionaries fretted over legislation that would allow imagined predators and very real people outside of the gender binary to dump in peace. Being approximately 250 crises ago, all the dust raised over regressive “bathroom bills” may feel rather remote to a viewer in 2018. But even though this week’s episode forces the Gang to append new labels to their restrooms, the open dialogue spinning out of that task sets a course to a more generalized, up-to-the-moment referendum on tolerance and acceptance.
A good bottle episode only needs one factor compelling a collection of characters to leave a single location and a second factor forcing them to stay. Where Community had a puppy parade to crank up the agony in its missing-pen hunt (a script credited to Megan Ganz, current executive producer and architect behind some of this season’s best work), It’s Always Sunny uses the prospect of a concert from human commemorative cup Jimmy Buffett as its square one. As layabouts who access their most industrious selves when drinking, of course the Paddy’s crew identify as Parrotheads, though Frank’s really just in it for all the uninhibited Buffett-groupie tail. Everyone’s itching to head out to the concert, it’s just that one issue bugs each of them too much to be left unattended before they go. Their desire to drink beer with wasted 50-somethings cannot compete with their desire to win an argument, creating a comic inertia that pushes them all toward a breaking point as they hash out their differences.
Mac feels that, as a gay man, it makes perfect sense for him to use the women’s restroom. In a childlike half-logic that crumbles the second you poke it, he reasons that because he finds men attractive and can’t fully relax around them, he’ll do his best bowel-moving in the women’s bathroom. Charlie also likes to do his number-twos in the ladies’ room, and while wearing a full heels-dress-wig ensemble, though that’s due to unresolved oedipal stuff of Norman Bates-ian extremity. All of this might not cause much of a stir, except that the men of the bar quickly discover that the women’s bathroom is larger and cleaner than their regular haunt. The conversation then turns into a battle between principle and self-interest, as the men angle to get access to the good bathroom without losing the moral high ground.
These two warring impulses — to get what you want, and to not come off as selfish — lead the group to some truly nutball assertions about what’s to be done with the bathrooms. Charlie suggests that his gender becomes elastic during the grace period of sphincter relaxation, a stance that hides its opportunism behind the faint veil of progressivism. Frank, having just found out about the Constitution and its more antiquated clauses, suggests that everyone in the minority gets three-fifths of a bathroom. (For anyone curious as to what that means: “Pissing in the sink.”) Mac keeps getting farther from the point, first with a collage of roadkill and roast beef sandwiches to properly convey his estimation of the female anatomy, then with his response to the question of, “Are you more gay than you are Catholic?” being, “I don’t know, they’re at war!” This early phase of the discussion illustrates how easy it is for someone arguing in bad faith to twist forward-minded talking points to their own nefarious ends.
By the time the conversation turns into a redefinition of what type of person actually constitutes a minority — Philly’s got more women than men, don’t you know — they’ve almost fully lost sight of what they were once debating. It’s not an uncommon occurrence during such squabbles, the kind of disagreements playing out nonstop on Twitter every day, and this episode is nothing if not a contentious Twitter thread brought to life. The conclusion of the half-hour keeps with the Twitter-thread format in its attempt to make a complicated matter into a simple one, and since the only thing being discussed is bathrooms (as in the place we go to be our filthiest, grossest selves), it actually works. For all the oxygen spent on the issue, bathroom signage was always stupidly easy to fix — just let whoever go wherever, and maybe demarcate which room has urinals.
The show arrives at this realization in the most It’s Always Sunny fashion imaginable, seizing the toilet as the great equalizer. Irrespective of race, gender, sexuality, class, or anything else, everyone must squeeze feces out of their rear ends, a vulnerable experience that ought to keep us humble. In this respect, maybe only in this respect, we are all in this together. Gender will continue to confound Frank and his contemporaries, legislators will continue to pretend as if there’s no simple way to allow trans people their dignity, but we’ll still be united on the porcelain. In an egalitarian spirit, the Paddy’s crew decides to brand both bathrooms as “ANIMAL SHITHOUSE,” an Edenic space where we can all poop as disgusting brothers and sisters. If only the world could adopt the bathroom spirit of togetherness full-time, we’d all be living kinder lives.
Assorted Notes and Questions
• This critic won’t stand for the heinous slander against pineapple freely circulating among the Gang. The currents of antipathy for Hawaiian pizza have been bad enough — there is beauty in the delicate interplay between the saltiness of ham and the sweetness of pineapple — but declaring pineapple on cheeseburgers as being verboten is simply too far. This is counter-fruit propaganda, most likely bankrolled by the powerful, mysterious Tomato Lobby, known to some as Big Tomato.
• Everyone’s too preoccupied with the bathroom question to really get into it, but Charlie believes pee is stored in the balls. Between this nod to a recurring online joke and the full incorporation of “cuck” as all-purpose diss, someone in the writers room has been spending entirely too much time on Twitter. In all fairness, though, who among us hasn’t?
• Songs not by Jimmy Buffett that the Gang nonetheless assumes he penned: “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by singer-songwriter and musical theater composer Rupert Holmes, “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys.
• Relative even to the lax standards of basic human decency at Paddy’s, Frank Reynolds stands head and shoulders above (below?) the rest. While they’re all horrible people, he’s keyed into a strain of bigotry specific to his age bracket, and acts as a sort of representative for the oldest class of racists. Frank’s frustrated cry of, “This is all so confusing. Why do I have to keep learning new things?” captures all the helplessness and fear of obsolescence that fuels generational angst for elder Boomers. Dennis puts it perfectly, when Frank’s hideously insensitive attempts to help actually set their cause back: “I hate when you’re on my side.”