Screenshot: Sweet Dee Reynolds, Inadvertent Gender Liberator

Among cable channels, I have a special affection for the FX Network, despite -- or perhaps because -- not being anywhere near its target demographic. FX is pretty much meant to be a guy-type network, where the definition of "guy" is defined by things like an affinity for sports, lousy American beer, and the kind of lovely, intelligent, competent women who have had their critical faculties surgically removed. In its own way, the FX dude is as limited and facile a gender construct as its female counterpart on Lifetime.

Since I fall well outside those boundaries, watching the FX Network as a woman is quite refreshing. I'm invisible to the programmers, so I don't have to watch anything they're putting on FX with any attitude other than anthropological curiosity.

Naturally, I'm hooked on the network.

My favorite comedy on there, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, looks like it should be a stereotypical sitcom nightmare: a nearly all-male cast and one token woman, and a situation that is basically an excuse for an extended adolescence.

The show could have been an exercise in eye-rolling -- so many of these sitcoms place their female regular in the role of Wendy cleaning up after the Lost Boys, thereby suggesting her sole reason for existing is to assist the real people on the show (i.e. the men), all while arguing "But she's smart and competent and the voice of reason!" (To which I always reply: "Really? If the one woman is supposedly so intelligent and competent, why hasn't she figured out a way to neutralize the idiots with whom she's saddled?")

Kaitlin Olsen as Dee ReynoldsHowever, Sunny decided early on to upend this formula: Sweet Dee Reynolds is not the voice of the reason in this crowd; she's the voice at the back of an angry mob agitating for more kerosene and a sharper pitchfork. Everyone on that show is a venal, unsuccessful schemer, Dee included, and it's refreshing that she's not cheerfully picking up anyone else's mess with a knowing sigh about how hard it is being smarter than the boys. The guys do attempt to marginalize her as irrelevant by virtue of being a woman and it always makes them look dumber. (Compare that to any schmoe-married-to-a-hot-wife show on the networks, where the woman gets to say her pious piece, and then is instantly ignored.) And finally, Sweet Dee gets to fling herself into physical comedy with abandon. As a viewer, I was startled the first time I saw her take a fall; Sunny presents actress Kaitlin Olson's slapstick gifts without any "But it's okay because she's hot" caveat.

Sunny is, in some ways, a shrewd look at gender tropes in sitcoms and societies at large. A recent episode, "The D.E.N.N.I.S system," did an elegant job of filleting the people who think all interpersonal interactions can be reduced to a marketing formula. Mercilessly mocking this sort of gender-stereotyped thinking is a step in the right direction.

The show isn't perfect -- there's a long-running gag about one character's so-called "harmless" stalking that sets my hackles on edge every time it surfaces -- but it is smarter and more honest than a lot of the focus-grouped pap on the networks. It's freeing to see women in sitcoms being allowed to fail on their own merits instead of being set up as irrelevant in the first place. Hit Hulu and check it out.

by Lisa Schmeiser
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5 Comments Have Been Posted

Sweet Dee, indeed!

I am glad to see that another IASiP lover feels this way. She is definitely a part of the gang, not the female outlier, and is just as ridiculous as the rest of them.

Wikipedia suggests that

Wikipedia suggests that initially Sweet Dee was meant to be the voice of reason, but after Olson's audition they decided to make her as appalling as everyone else.

I kind of love that story even more than them just writing her this way initiallt.

In the bonus material in one

In the bonus material in one of the seasons that is currently out on DVD, she talks about auditioning. She talks about not knowing at the time that they were having her read lines that were written for one of the male characters because they hadn't written anything for the female character yet. She convinced them that they needed to write her character like the male characters because that's what was funny about the show.

I love that show. It's so ridiculous. I love the episode where Sweet Dee gets tired of the gang and tries to start her own Sex in the City type group of girl friends. It's classic.

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This comment has been deleted by the administration because it violated our very simple blog comment policy ( of politeness. Let's keep it civil, folks.

I don't think charlie's

<p>I don't think charlie's behavior is meant to be seen as harmless. A large number of the other activities he frequently takes part in are either disgusting (eating old cheese from rat traps, eating catfood, walking around the sewers naked), destructive(cutting the brakes on a car he is in, huffing glue), or outright evil(faking cancer to manipulate the waitress, attempting to manipulate the waitress' feelings for dennis to his benefit, poisoning a group of people). His stalking only appears harmless in the show because:
<li>He is the show's underdog. He rarely is as evil as the other characters and usually is the victim of the other characters. This makes him more relate-able, although I think this is accidental.</li>
<li>His actions in comparison to everyone else's seem whimsical and harmless</li>

I think later episodes ("charlie kelly rules the world" in particular) have gone a long way to fixing charlie's character by showing that he is as evil and messed up as the rest of the gang when he has the slightest hint of power. His stalking is an obvious attempt to gain control over the waitress, and gains a much more sinister tone in that light.</p>

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