When it comes to great moments in TV history that center on the toilet, history begins with Archie Bunker. Yes, there were oblique references to the toilet before “All in the Family” and even scenes that took place inside a bathroom. But toilet humor in its most literal sense on American television begins with the moment that a TV character finally did something that hundreds of millions of Americans had been doing during their favorite TV show for more than two decades.
All in the Family
The very first episode of “All in the Family” announced in a paradoxically startling and mundane fashion that all bets were off on what was acceptable subject matter on a TV show. Archie Bunker actually flushes his toilet and, believe it or not, it is believed that this was the first instance of that most common daily occurrence on a TV show.
Leave it to Beaver
About fifteen years or so before Archie Bunker flushed that toilet, “Leave it to Beaver” became the first American TV series to show a toilet on TV. But there is a caveat to this piece of Americana. In fact, the toilet shown on the episode of “Leave it to Beaver” about the Cleaver sons deciding to flush a baby alligator down the toilet was not complete. It is a toilet, so the show does get points for being groundbreaking. But only the tank of the toilet is shown. It was deemed too offensive to viewers to reveal that the Cleaver toilet actually had a bowl.
One of the beloved classic episodes from the Golden Age of the Simpsons puts not only a toilet front center for its plot, but one of the age-old questions about the mechanism. Why does the water always go in the same direction when you flush your toilet? Lisa gives Bart the standard misinformation about the power of the Coriolis Effect. Bart Simpson actually reveals a greater intellectual capacity than his genius sister Lisa by refusing to buy her explanation. His collect call to Australia to discuss the scientific situation with a little boy from Down Under drives the rest of the narrative.
The upbeat little sponge never intended to offend the bully flounder named Flats. He only said three words to the big jerk. And then Flats announces he’s going to kick SpongeBob’s butt. Looking for a place to get away from the danger. SpongeBob SquarePants heads for the bathroom and hides in the toilet. As ponders over what could have set the bully off, a fish comes in to use the facilities. He opens the toilet lid and looks down. He and the audience now see an actual yellow sponge to which the fish with the unfortunate bladder says, “Oh, that’s real nice.”
King of the Hill
Hank Hill may well be a candidate for the title of Most Uptight Dude in TV history. Hank doesn’t like sharing any kind of deep emotions; heck he asked his wife to marry him on a handshake. I’m saying Hank Hill is not the type of guy who would ever want to share what goes on inside the bathroom, especially those things that happen while sitting on the toilet, especially those things that don’t happen. When Hank comes down with a very serious case of constipation, it becomes a living nightmare. His every visit to the toilet becomes an event weighted with expectation and, usually, disappointment. We get to take a peek at Hank on the toilet when he falls asleep and when the plopping sound made by his glasses falling into the bowl are mistaken by his wife Peggy for something else entirely.
The IT Crowd
If you love British comedy series, then surely you must be familiar with “The IT Crowd.” The show centers on computer geeks who work in the bowels of a building who are called upon to keep the business’s computer infrastructure running efficiently. Just about everybody’s favorite character is Moss: a black man sporting Samuel L. Jackson’s afro from “Unbreakable” who sounds like a white guy nearly as uptight as Hank Hill. Upon discovering the beauty of keeping his cell phone in his shirt pocket rather than his pants pocket, he almost instantly discover the singular downside to this decision as his phone falls down into the toilet bowl. This sets up what is arguably the funniest single subplot in the entire series when Moss discovers an iPhone inside a claw machine and manages somehow to get trapped inside the claw machine.