We already knew Mac (Rob McElhenney) of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is gay. We had an inkling seasons ago when he hooked up with some gay Christians — and we definitely knew last season when he came out after trying to pass this thing off as an exercise bike. But in the last episode of Season 13, Mac, out and proud and newly ripped, decided it was time time to come out to his father too, making for a bizarre, preposterous, hilarious and ever-so-sentimental coming-out story that only It's Always Sunny could pull off.
Traditionally, TV shows treat coming out to parents with some degree of reverence. As in real life, people on TV who tell their parents they're gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender or queer know they risk rejection, being kicked out of the house and even violence, which is why television shows almost always portray coming out to a parent as a big deal, even in comedies. Not here. It's probably not surprising that "Mac Finds His Pride" is full of ridiculous horrors; Mac only came out to his friends in the first place so he could keep a lottery ticket after being called an F-bomb. So no, it's not particularly shocking that Mac's coming out to his father is preceded by Frank (Danny DeVito), Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Charlie (Charlie Day) — Dennis (Glenn Howerton) isn't in the episode — employing worn-out cliches about gay expression, like the expectation that Mac will jiggle shirtless on a Pride float, or the idea that he'd enjoy going to a fetish club where men in leather get being spanked or suspended from slings. Frank assumes Mac's coming out entails revealing whether he's a top or a bottom, a boy or a girl. All of this is highly offensive, and, in the context of the balls-to-wall show, very funny, and when Mac decides to come out to his father via an interpretive dance — because, sure, that's how gay people come out, in a performance — wrought with emotion, it's clear Sunny has forever skewed the 'coming out to parents' story way past its smug, sensitive middle.
"As ridiculous as it is, we wanted to not make fun of it," producer David Hornsby, who plays Cricket, told TV Guide. He said that even with his hot body, Mac feels empty, and coming out to his father was his way of filling a void; Rob (whose mom and brother are gay, incidentally) wanted to do a touching dance that was sincere and, as Hornsby put it, "not a joke."
Coming out via modern dance — in a prison, no less — makes zero sense, and though it's handled with the show's unique brand of surprising earnestness and sensitivity, it's a complete reversal from the coming-out stories of Will & Grace or even newer shows like Shameless, Pose, or One Day at a Time, where the act is fraught and the loved ones somewhat sane. Every character on Sunny is laughably ignorant, Mac included, and not even baring his most intimate truth can spare him a moment of indignities. Sunny's long-established horribleness makes this awful, nonsense coming-out story an advancement in equality in its own warped way. It's Always Sunny is a show that revels in the small-minded pettiness of its characters, and if there's any message to the show, it's "Don't be like the gang, and if you are, please take a moment to examine yourself." By exploiting what many would label as truly lowbrow, Sunny consistently manages to punch up.
"People recognize that the creators of the show, as abhorrent as the characters are, are compassionate and empathetic and recognize we are making a comedy," Rob McElhenney told TV Guide. Still, he said, "we have a certain responsibility and we take that seriously. The viewer recognizes that we're making satire. The joke is never Mac is gay. The joke is that Mac is despicable."
Mac's coming out to his dad is a hilariously a new hallmark for LGBTQ representation on TV: gays can be despicable and still be loved too. As Mac would bastardize: "I contain multitudes of assholes."
It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia Season 13 concluded this week; previous episodes are streaming on FX Live and Hulu.