Women in comedy are still grossly underrepresented. A well-received, progressive female comedic performance is rare. Too often, the form of comedy stems from the character’s idiocy, or the audience’s frustration. Often, these characters are caricatures bearing little resemblance to either reality, or indeed the reality inhabited by the other characters and existing within the diegesis of the narrative. Thus a female character, when used for the purposes of comedy, is usually there to be laughed at, and is often presented in contrast to the other characters as an extreme, hyperbolic version. Frequently, as in the case of Knocked Up, the audience is presented with both the unhinged female character (in the form of Lesley Mann) and the staid, dull and unreasonably demanding female (Katherine Heigl) – both extremes, yet neither particularly funny in their own right. It is still relatively rare that a female character is simply allowed to be funny, and indeed, equal to the comedic male performances.
It is this then, that makes Dee Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia both so unusual, and so worthy of praise. Dee is, like the male characters in the series, a terrible person. She is selfish, and mean, and affords little thought to the consequences of her actions. She will manipulate others to her own ends, and use them until she no longer needs them. While this may seem like another extreme, the crucial difference is that Dee is no different from the men around her. Dennis, Mac, Frank and Charlie are just as unhinged, and just as selfish. Thus, Dee is not presented as an isolated case, but rather, as a character whose actions are in keeping with the narrative established by the series.
She is allowed to be funny, and frequently is. Kaitlin Olson is afforded the opportunity to create comedy, both linguistically and physically. Dee is often the subject of scorn from the men around her, and they frequently comment on her perceived lack of attractiveness. Yet, unlike other less progressive comedies, the comments regarding Dee’s appearance do little to impact her. She is confident in her attractiveness, and cares little for their comments. Perhaps most importantly, Dee is witty and intelligent. Certainly, like the men in the show, her actions are often ridiculously executed, but that is never to suggest that she is not depicted as an intelligent person. Her ability to mock and undermine others through well-chosen, hurtful phrases frequently receives recognition from the men around her. They appreciate her droll ability to tear others down while maintaining her own sense of self.
Olson’s Dee is memorable, and genuinely amusing. The humour generated does not depend on gender, nor the interactions of others. She is entertaining in her own right.