Since 2005, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, has been crossing lines and delivering offensive content on television. Now in the middle of its fourteenth season, the show is tied with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet for being TV’s longest running live action comedy. Already renewed for a fifteenth season, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (IASIP) is aiming to break the record. The show centers around a core group of adults who all own and run a dive bar in Philadelphia called Paddy’s Pub. Not much actual business takes place, however, between all the schemes and hijinx that this group who call themselves ‘the gang’ create or stumble upon. It’s the perfect formula of the dynamics between these five terrible people and their complete false awareness for the world and people around them that creates the humorous situations each episode follows.
Within ‘the gang’ are Dee and Dennis Reynolds. They may be twins, but there is hardly an ounce of sibling fondness between them. Dee is often mocked by the group and Dennis is one of her harshest critics regarding her looks, personality, and life choices. While Dee is at the butt end of seemingly endless jokes, there is rarely sympathy for her as she is capable of being just as despicable as her male counterparts. Dennis exhibits many behaviors closely associated with narcissism. He calls himself a golden god, derives pleasure from manipulating others around him, and has uncontrollable rage when things do not go his way, which given the nature of the show, is often. Frank Reynolds is the father of the twins and despite being a successful and wealthy businessman, has chosen to live a life of filth and squalor and moves in with Charlie Kelly, the janitor of Paddy’s Pub. Charlie Kelly is an illiterate man who eats cat food, huffs glue, and bashes rats. He and his best friend Ronald ‘Mac’ McDonald, Paddy’s bouncer, round out the group with their eccentric personalities and wildly specific interests like Mac’s devout, yet morphed Christianity. Over the years, these characters have rarely changed or been effected by the things that they do or that happen to them which gives the television show it’s unique timelessness. The characters never grow or get better so every episode can explore wild themes and crazy concepts without any risk of lasting consequences for the central group.
IASIP has currently aired a total of 148 episodes, each one containing quotable moments and hilarious situations that first won its cult following and since boosted it into mainstream popularity. Sometimes episode plots are ‘the gang vs the world’ and other times they’re ‘the gang vs themselves’. A very popular episode, “Reynolds vs Reynolds: The Cereal Defense” is a direct example of the latter. It’s the 10th episode of the 8th season and aired December 20, 2012 as that year’s season finale. The premise of the episode is as follows: Frank is driving recklessly through the streets of Philadelphia with terrible pre-recorded directions and glasses with outdated lenses. Dennis is also driving in his own vehicle and stops at a red light where he takes a moment to enjoy a bite from a bowl of cereal. Frank then rear-ends Dennis, thus causing the milk and cereal to splatter all over Dennis’s car. They are still arguing about whose fault the accident was and who should pay for damages when they arrive at the bar and the rest of the gang do not hesitate to get themselves involved. They even move furniture around to create a set up similar to a courtroom and begin a mock trial in an attempt to arbitrate the issue. When Mac’s character as a witness is brought into question due to his lack of belief in evolution, he goes to great lengths to reprove his ethos to his friends in a scene known to fans of the show as “Science is a Liar Sometimes.”
The scene begins with Mac presenting a poster he has created to display everyone’s position on the subject of evolution. He’s put God on the right side of the board with his name’s marker under and evolution on the left side of the board, then a fence in the middle with his friends’ names because he believes they’ll hear him out. Already, Mac is attempting to sway them with what little ethos he has in their eyes by putting God on the ‘right’ side which he is sure to emphasize and those who believe in evolution on the left, which is a reference to the liberal side of the American political spectrum. This is supposed to plant the seeds in his friends’ heads that Mac’s views are correct because they do not align with the views of a political party they often condemn. Although, as a side note, the gang also often disagrees with conservative views as well, aligning themselves somewhere in the middle of the map or occasionally not even on the map at all. Regardless, they all immediately move their name plates over to the left side of the poster, convinced they will not be persuaded.
Since Mac knows he is defending his ethos to his friends, he cleverly begins his argument by appealing to them with pathos instead. He lists some of their shared interests such as beer, family, and other ‘classic’ American values and we see he is already getting a positive reaction out of Charlie. When Dennis tries to shut him down, Mac calls him a ‘liberal’ as an insult but continues to say, “I can’t change their mind. I won’t change my mind, ’cause I don’t have to. ‘Cause I’m an American. I won’t change my mind on anything, regardless of the facts that are set out before me.” When he says this, the character is serious, but it’s actually a joke at the expense of most Americans who truly act that way. Mac does not care about the logos of an argument because he is already so set in his ways that he knows he won’t change his mind even based on science and facts. In this moment, he is meant to be a reflection of Americans who refuse to believe in things science supports like evolution, global warming, or vaccines. Dennis chimes back in at this point, calling this all a waste of time because his mind won’t be changed either because the “smartest scientists in the world” all support evolution’s existence. Of course, he’s just played into Mac’s hand which becomes obvious when Mac pulls out a second poster board titled ‘Science is a Liar Sometimes’ and launches into the main points of his argument.
The first portrait uncovered on the science poster is of Aristotle. A greatly celebrated ancient Greek philosopher, one of his most famous writings broke down the art of rhetoric and explored its three elements, ethos, logos, and pathos. It is ironic that this is the first scientist Mac is choosing to speak of since his main goal in this scene is to persuade his friends to see the validity in his point of view and despite the fallacious nature of how he does so, he also utilizes all three of the elements of rhetoric that Aristotle himself developed. Mac explains that everyone at the time believed Aristotle to be one of the smartest men on the planet and because of his credibility they also believed him when he theorized that Earth was at the center of the universe. “Until another smartest guy came around, Galileo, and he disproved that theory, making Aristotle and everybody else on Earth look like a bitch,” Mac says with as much dramatic flair as he can by slapping a sticker labeled ‘bitch’ over the picture of Aristotle. Of course, Mac is choosing to ignore all of Aristotle’s teachings that are still studied today and instead use one example to discredit the man’s entire life of learning and teaching philosophy, writing, and science. Still, as a bell tolls over the scene and Charlie gasps as this hot take, Mac seems to be successful in attacking Aristotle’s credibility in the eyes of at least one of his friends.
As viewers, it’s the absurdity of Mac’s manipulation of facts and the spectacle with which he does so that makes the scene humorous and fit perfectly in a comedy like IASIP where basic morality and social norms don’t really matter at all to the main characters. The fact that Mac is already winning some of his friends over so easily with such an argument so far removed from sound logic is even funnier. But Mac himself, of course, is serious. He continues to discuss Galileo’s wrong conclusions that “comets were an optical illusion, and there was no way that the moon could cause the ocean’s tides.” And since he was regarded for his intelligence, everyone believed him which Mac uses to again label Galileo and “everyone else on Earth” a “bitch.” Once again, a bell tolls as if this is a revelation that actually holds any water. The pattern continues with the final scientist on Mac’s poster-board: Sir Isaac Newton whom Mac uses his alchemy experimentation and mercury poisoning to give him the title of “another stupid bitch.”
The third bell tolls and Charlie is quite shaken up by the whole presentation. He’s looking between Frank and Mac, eyes wide with realization as Mac drives his point home. Dennis and Dee are still unimpressed, however, and Dennis tells Mac he doesn’t see a pattern which prompts his enthusiastic friend to explain plainly, “these were all the smartest scientists on the planet. Only problem is they kept being wrong… sometimes.” The final bell tolls. Charlie is nodding his head, Frank raises his eyebrows and seems convinced. Even Dee is taking a deep breath like she’s fighting back buying into Mac’s faulty generalizations of the knowledge of some of the greatest thinkers and those who follow and learn from their teachings. Dennis vocalizes his discontent by calling Mac a fool.
Mac isn’t ready to back down, however, even after Dennis calls him out for reading the Bible and believing everything in it on faith alone. Scientists are still more trustworthy a source to Dennis because of their proven data, numbers, figures, and fossil records. The actor who plays Mac smacks viewers with another great moment when he pretends like he’ll concede after Dennis countered him and then seemingly remembers one last thing. It’s clear he was prepared for Dennis to make this point because he asks his friend then, “Have you seen these fossil records?” Again, the bell tolls and Dennis is now confused. Mac continues to ask him if he’s “pored through the data” himself, and Dennis is forced to admit that he hasn’t. Mac has already used pathos in his argument to get his buddies’ attention, he’s attacked the ethos of Aristotle, Galileo, and Newton, now we are starting to see his version of logos as he begins to come down on his friend for taking it on “faith” that science is right about evolution. A few more bell tolls as Dennis struggles to come back from this blow, even attempting to tell Mac he’s using a false equivalency which is actually true; Mac believing in saints over scientists is not logically equivalent to Dennis believing in scientists over saints since the Bible has been nearly unchanged for two thousand years old and it’s original authors are long dead, but new scientific advances and discoveries are being made everyday by people who are alive and well-educated and constantly providing the data and facts necessary to prove their conclusions. Yet, Mac presented his argument in such a way that it was enough to sway his friends to being on the fence and rebuild his own ethos in their eyes.
This argument pretty much ends here and the gang finds themselves getting back on track to solve the cereal crisis with plenty of other logical fallacies and appeals to ethos, logos, and pathos, but this scene as a stand-alone bit is too good not to take a closer at. Not only do you have Mac creating a reasonable doubt of the validity of evolution but in the process he was able to take Dennis’s authority amongst their group down a notch as well. The absurdity of the argument and itself creates the humor to a sensible viewer, but it can also provide a moment of education for someone willing to research. Aristotle really did theorize Earth as being the center of the universe, but the geocentric model “was considered the best explanation for the workings of the solar system for more than 1000 years” (Palma) so it’s still a leap to call Aristotle a “bitch.” Mac’s argument from start to finish relies more on his ability to sell what he’s saying by appealing to the pathos of Charlie and Frank’s patriotism at the beginning and cherry picking evidence to strip the ethos from a handful of great scientists.
While it’s true that “science is a liar sometimes” it’s hardly an acceptable way to win an argument in the real world, this paired with the tolling bells at every point Mac makes, the expressions of the actors, and the complete irrelevance to the matter the gang is trying to arbitrate in the first place makes for a hilarious scene that’s going to be an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fan favorite for a long time.
Palma, Christopher. “The Geocentric Model.” The Geocentric Model, Penn State, https://www.e-education.psu.edu/astro801/content/l2_p3.html. Accessed Oct. 28, 2019.
“Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense.” It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, season 8, episode 10, FX, Dec. 20, 2012. Hulu, https://www.hulu.com/series/its-always-sunny-in-philadelphia-2171423f-3326-4dfa-b193-b40494e60109?content_id=708263.