The TV bathroom, in those years, occasionally alluded to but rarely used, reflected an American entertainment industry that, echoing the culture within which it operated, preferred gleaming aspiration over accuracy. Today, though, American cultures both general and pop have evolved—and they have been shaped in that evolution by an internet that has extremely limited patience with formalities. The culture of the moment, under the influence of Tumblr posts and Facebook updates and “It Happened to Me”-style essays, tends to privilege confession, collusion, and community. It tends to value realtalk—about money, about love, about friendship, about sex, about bodily functions—over ceremony-standing.
And, so, enter the bathroom: a place where a character can talk directly to herself, and in that, also, directly to her audience. Enter the space that tangles intimacy and voyeurism—a fictional version of the “confessional room” defining the reality TV shows that have helped to make this moment what it is. Enter Earn in Atlanta, who is unable to stay at his parents’ house, thus compounding his financial burdens, because his mother hasn’t forgiven him for clogging the house’s toilets. And Maggie in Younger, who ends a romantic relationship after her girlfriend’s close-knit circle of friends descend on her while she’s in the bathroom: They, and by extension the partner, don’t share Maggie’s need for privacy—things could never work. On Fleabag, too, a relationship ends by way of an insensitive bathroom invasion (this time, via a cruel joke the eponymous anti-heroine plays on her hapless boyfriend). Divorce begins, in a moment of foreshadowing, with its core couple bickering in their bathroom.
Broad City, which, like Insecure, began its life as a web series, uses bathrooms not just as settings for scenes—of eating, of smoking, of sex—but also as, via Abbi’s “cleaner” job at Soulstice, a metaphor for the crushing difficulty of doing that once most American of things: improving one’s life by way of hard work. Girls, similarly, whose stories are also guided by frustration with fantasies, isn’t satisfied with that early bathtub cupcake; it has, throughout its seasons, explored bathrooms—the private ones of characters’ apartments and the decidedly public ones of New York City—as locations for personal and, often, sexual intimacies.
Bathrooms, certainly, were also elements of the shows that came of age just before the current Golden one. They were the settings of Ross’s gloriously awkward leather-pants-and-leg-paste in Friends, and of a big life decision for Lily and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother, and of Twin Peaks’s revealing finale. The Big Bang Theory first established the will-they-or-won’t-they romance between the neighbors Penny and Leonard when she borrowed his shower; Gilmore Girls used Chilton’s girls’ room as a setting for political intrigue; Veronica Mars used Neptune High’s girls’ room for similar ends; Mad Men used Sterling Cooper’s ladies’ room as a refuge for—and an acknowledgment of—office sexism. And, of course: “If you strip the cliffhanger details from the Breaking Bad mid-season finale,” Flavorwire notes, “you’re left with… a man reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on the porcelain throne.”