“I beg you to stop using the Constitution in the way that you’re using it.”
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Gang engages in as much dialectical ethical debates as do the characters of The Good Place. Sure, they’re a lot less likely to invoke Tim Scanlon or Aristotle, favoring wildly flawed interpretations of the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and, tonight, Jimmy Buffett. But it remains that the five worst people in Philly (and therefore, in the show’s logic, the world) spend an inordinate amount of their time digging deep into the roots of human behavior. It’s just that, as happens here, when “The Gang Solves The Bathroom Problem,” they burrow right into the main sewer line.
Whenever Sunny does politics (which now encompasses where people get to poop, since America is its own scatalogical ethical self-own), the margin for error is razor thin. Or perhaps more accurately, the hazard of careless or willful misinterpretation is staggeringly high. Sunny utilizes the crudest of materials (consisting of the sludge of self-interested prejudice that is the Gang’s collective intellect) to, at its best, craft perversely breathtaking constructs of comic logic and insight. So here, as the Gang—pre-gaming in parrot shirts for the big Jimmy Buffett concert—get into a discussion of the whole trans people in bathrooms brouhaha, the show is indeed working with the crudest, smelliest materials of all.
After Mac emerges from the Paddy’s ladies’ room, to Dee’s horror, Dennis attempts to head things off at the pass, warning that the Gang invariably gets into a buzz-harshing tiff right before they’re to set off for the Buffett. No dice, as everyone immediately stakes out their own ideological turf and goes to war, the issue of Mac pooping in what turns out to be Paddy’s shockingly clean women’s bathroom (“Is that a hand-dryer?,” Dennis marvels) spilling out into an entrenched ethical battlefield. Mac plays his now-ubiquitous gay card, beginning every other statement of principle with “As a gay man . . .” Dee, not wanting disgusting guys crapping next to her, yet sticks with Mac’s blinkered statement of “minority” solidarity, even if she’s not on board with Mac’s reasoning why women and gay men get along so well. (“We both like dudes and find women’s bodies disgusting.”) Charlie muddies the waters when he reveals that it’s been him and not Dee using the ladies room stall next to Mac, since his Mom’s signature eccentric parenting taught him to dress in full drag while using various women’s rooms as a child. (“To tie the whole look together” is Charlie’s explanation of why he dons a smart frock in addition to the pink heels and wig he wears to fool stall-peekers.) Dennis and Frank take the straight white male position which, for them, means a tortuous trip through tenuous logic and statistical bases, coupled with some of Frank’s old school bigotry. “Please don’t help me,” begs Dennis once Frank actually reads the Constitution and proposes a three-fifths-of-a-person solution, “I hate when you’re on my side.”
Naturally there’s some bleeding of stances, some shifting alliances. Dee follows her train of logic from defecation to abortion, appropriating “My body, my choice” to shore up her argument. That pits Mac against her in his knee-jerk Catholicism, causing Dennis, once more, to caution, “We always do this, we veer wildly off-topic.” And they do: abortion, evolution, racism, whether ghouls exist (in deference to Charlie). They never come to a solution to the actual problem at hand for a number of reasons. For one thing, if actual ethical problem-solving involves a dispassionate, disinterested examination of principles free from rancor, superstition, name-calling, fear-mongering, scapegoating, and desperate, terrified denial, then, well, the Gang ain’t your ideal symposium. What they are—and in Erin Ryan’s script, quite deftly are—is a perfect microcosm of the tenor of the American electorate and political system.
Dennis and Frank’s numbers-driven, supposedly rational approach masks both Frank’s atavistic bigotry (toward trans people, the gender-fluid, gays, and, for some reason here, Hawaiians) and Dennis’ egomaniacal control freak self-centeredness. Dee and Mac pay lip service to respect and tolerance while unable to conceal Dee’s privilege-protecting selfishness and Mac’s bottomless cistern of hangups, self-loathing, and, yes, selfishness. Meanwhile Charlie is left as the buffeted swing voter, careening wildly back and forth between both sides’ specious arguments, largely based on who spoke to him last or most forcefully. He’s also unduly influenced by everyone’s cool Hawaiian shirts and Dennis’ captain’s hat.
Naturally absent from the Gang’s extended debate—encompassing at least two food deliveries and several attendant bathroom breaks—are any of the people apart from themselves who would be affected by any change in Paddy’s bathroom policies. Why cloud the issue of whether, as is proposed at various times, there should be Mac’s “minorities only” bathrooms, or Dennis’ all-are-welcome signs on both doors, consisting confusingly of drawings of a half-man-half-woman, a person in a wheelchair, and a baby. Frank’s version is even worse, bringing in as it does his take on religion into the mess. (Dee: “I assume the dollar sign is meant to represent Jews?” Frank: “Well it ain’t the Mormons.”) And the less said about Mac’s completely pixilated sign (created after four hours in the back office with the laptop and the safe search off) the better.
Sunny’s joke is always on the Gang and their rat-king-twisted neuroses, prejudices, and hair-trigger manias (both Charlie and Mac violently lash out when challenged tonight) and how they constantly try to frame their self-interest as altruism and one-upping uprightness. If there’s ever a kernel of actual decency or selfless concern in the morass of their schemes and squabbles (never a sure bet), it’s immediately and voluminously swamped by the personal weaknesses and failings that turn any discussion into a, well, shitshow. As with other “outrageous” shows that persistently seek to push buttons, there are gonna be Sunny fans who either ignorantly or willfully misrepresent an episode’s point of view, only to out themselves as one of the Gang as they expose their own disfiguring blind spots. And that’s a brilliant part of the joke, too. Here, as each member airily and passionately misapplies half-gleaned messages from primary sources to back up the thing they so desperately want and need to happen, they are, once more, eloquently the worst of us.
Lurching from position to position in search of one that can satisfy all five of their warring needs, the Gang finally lands on a solution they feel will work for everyone. With duct tape, cardboard, scented candles, and a Halloween sound effects recording of blood-curdling screams, Dennis, Mac, Charlie (contentedly eating a bathroom breakfast burrito), and Dee nod their heads at the rickety contraption their combined brain power hath wrought, only for a gun-toting Frank to show the one flaw that sends them all scurrying back out to the drawing board. There, dispirited and broken at their failure, the Gang can’t even work up the enthusiasm to go see Jimmy Buffett play “The Piña Colada Song” (not by Mr. Buffett). Dee accidentally stumbles upon the Golden Rule, musing, “If we’re all the same in there, why don’t we just focus on treating other people the way that we want to be treated.” Light seems to dawn, until everyone duns Dee for sounding so pretentious, and all hope appears lost. But their defeat turns to scabrous, Buffett-strutting victory once their shared understanding that, as Frank puts it, “we’re all just a bunch of filthy animals dumpin’ in a shithouse” provides the common, smelly ground they need. With Dennis pinning their new, all-inclusive signs “Animal Shithouse” to each bathroom door, the Gang exits Paddy’s, secure in the knowledge that they have reduced all the world’s debates down to their sewer-adjacent level. It’s in moments like these that It’s Always Sunny finds its reeking grace.
- Dennis, trying to get inside Mac’s arguments: “Are you more gay than you are Catholic?” Mac: “I don’t know, we’re at war.”
- Mac undermines his support for women somewhat when he snaps and starts to choke Dee the moment she disagrees with him.
- Same goes for Charlie suddenly choking Mac, although the “are ghouls real?” debate is really just a one-voter issue.
- Mac has been banned from using the internet, the wisdom of which his offhand question (“Do you know how to get Russian malware out of the computer?”) upon returning, chafed and limping, from the back office illustrates.
- Charlie’s solution (one bathroom for number one, the other for number two) seems workable, until everyone admits that they would immediately break the rules and poop in the pee bathroom.
- Dennis, responding positively to Charlie’s idea, takes passing exception with Charlie’s grasp of biology: “Pee is not in your balls, but . . .”
- Dennis, interrupting Frank’s three-fifths idea: “I can’t imagine where you’re going with this, Frank.”