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?")
However, 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.
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