It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is one of those shows that took me a good few goes to understand. I watched the first series myself, and it left me stone cold. Why would I want to watch a show about a bunch of arseholes who are the physical manifestations of the Macdonald Triad of sociopathy? And yet, when I asked others about it, they would all do the same thing; they’d look off into the middle distance, a smile spreading over their faces as they started with ‘have you watched the one where…?’ and they’d be off into fits of breathless giggles trying to explain the premise. This would always end with them saying ‘It gets better after the first season, trust me’.
I was definitely missing something.
So I set aside loads of time, got comfy on the sofa, didn’t concentrate overly hard on it, and got through to the second season. And it worked! The general consensus seems to be that the addition of Danny DeVito in the second season, coupled with the actors settling into their characters, really helped the show come into its own. There are some funny moments in the first few seasons, but it really is a show that benefits from some solid character development.
It is set in a grimy area of Philadelphia in Paddy’s Pub, owned by Dennis, Mac, and Charlie, three friends from school and also known as ‘the gang’. Dennis’s sister Sweet Dee also works there, although her share in the bar is negligible. All of the characters are, without exception, horrible, self-serving, arrogant people. Like, you would leave a party if they were there, types of people. They are joined in the second season by Frank Reynolds, introduced originally as Dennis and Sweet Dee’s dad (played by Danny DeVito). The apple clearly doesn’t fall too far from the tree, as Frank himself is a grubby lowlife hell-bent on making money by any and all means possible, and at any given moment seems only a few steps away from stripping naked, taking a unhealthy amount of drugs and slathering himself in some sort of greasy substance.
The gang spend their days in the mostly empty pub, coming up with various implausible schemes to make money and become successful. These schemes always end in disaster, mainly because the Gang are awful people, and their misdeeds are always thrown into stark relief by the various straight-man characters who pop up throughout the show. They are treated with absolute disdain most of the time, despite being flawed but on the whole, good people. Amongst all these misfit side characters, one shines out like the pure, bejewelled goddess she was named after. I am of course, talking about Artemis Dubois (played by Artemis Pebdani). This is why I love her:
1. Her larger than life personality
Artemis is Sweet Dee’s friend from drama class, and pops up in almost every season. The first time we meet her in Season 1, she is dry humping her way across the bar in Paddy’s Pub, licking Dennis’s face as part of a Coyote Ugly act. Dennis, a narcissistic misogynist with a God complex, looks horrified as he realises she is not the size 8, blonde busty beauty he was hoping for.
This really sets the tone for Artemis- she bounces onscreen, all big hair and bigger earrings, like some kind of Bacchanalian priestess with no filter. And like the Bacchae of Greek legend, everything is excessive and outrageous. Sweet Dee describes her as ‘the sassy one who always plays by her own rules’ when they go out on a classy, Sex and the City-style night out, and she lives up to this by only ordering drinks with the word ‘bomb’ in the title, and loudly announcing shes going to take her bra off to ‘blast my nips’.
Over the course of the show she gets naked A LOT, even when (and sometimes especially) when shes not asked to. She also shuns societal rules about how women should act in front of men, and is incredibly open about her sexual proclivities. When she wants something, she goes for it, and by all accounts she’s pretty successful. In the episode ‘Who Pooped the Bed?’ (my favourite Artemis episode, but much more on that later), she announces loudly to the men who approach her in the bar that she has a bleached asshole, without batting an eyelid. Although not mentioned again, I don’t doubt she took both of those men home for a closer look.
2. Her very modern relationship with Frank
Her on-off relationship with Frank is played for gross-out laughs, but it’s actually a pretty sweet, caring relationship. They are both respectful of each other and have found a mutual outlet for their kinks. It just so happens that this is a food fetish (no kink-shaming here, but safe to say I’m going to avoid researching this further), and seems to revolve around feeding each other the contents of Sweet Dee’s fridge, before indulging in some ‘dumpster humping’ at the back of a Wendys burger joint. But hey, the world would be a duller place without such quirks, right? Thankfully the Gang cut Frank off just as he is divulging the details of their nights of passion, so we never find out exactly what he does with a Wendys bun that Artemis enjoys so much.
Their relationship cools somewhat when he tells them that a sex act he performed on himself with an onion caused her to get upset (again, thankfully never explained), but aside from this, she does seem to genuinely care for Frank. When he gets stuck in a trailer toilet whilst high on acid she keeps an eye on him, albeit a bemused one. And she introduces him to her parents as her ‘part time lover’ when he barges in on a family gathering looking for a rug in the episode ‘Being Frank’.
These feelings are reciprocated by Frank in his own special way: in ‘The Waitress Is Getting Married’, Frank asks Sweet Dee for some bacon bits that he can sprinkle through Artemis’s hair, so they can shower down on him later. Everyone deserves to be made to ‘feel like a Cobb salad’ at least once in their lives.
3. The fact that she actually helps the gang in their ventures
Talking of bemused, Artemis is involved in a lot of the gang’s adventures, almost always as a force for good. Although the schemes never work out, a number of them wouldn’t even come into fruition without Artemis’ creative input. I never really know if she is there out of a misplaced desire to help, or whether she has nothing else really going on that day. I highly suspect the latter.
Anyway, throughout the seasons, Artemis puts many of the Gangs plans into action; she does the soundboard (albeit incompetently) for the beauty pageant in ‘Franks Reynolds Little Beauties’, she dresses up for a street theatre performance with Sweet Dee in ‘Charlie Goes America All Over Everybody’s Ass’, and acts in a number of productions of Lethal Weapon, the Gangs highly problematic action- movie sequels. The fake beard she wears for her role as a priest is surprisingly fetching.
She somehow also manages to translate Charlie’s play, The Night Man Cometh. I say ‘translates’ since due to Charlie’s illiteracy, his Magnum Opus is depicted in crayon as a series of drawings, and somehow she turns it into a complete musical. Granted, the musical doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and there is A LOT wrong with it (seriously, I cannot stress how much is wrong with it), but she gets it done, with a work ethic rarely seen in the other members of the gang.
Artemis is also given her chance to shine when she takes an unhealthy interest in the nocturnal defecation habits of the Gang, in the episode ‘Who Pooped the Bed?’. I would try to supply some context for this, but it’s as simple as a tin of Ronseal – Charlie and Frank share a bed, and for two consecutive nights, a rogue turd is discovered. A number of theories are put forward, until Artemis gives a quite frankly stellar performance, with her own slightly deranged theories as to the perpetrator. Not since Poirot has an investigator taken so much joy in long drawn out ruminations, where everyone is a suspect, and I’m not sure there has ever been one that has peppered their musings with phrases such as ‘turd merger’ and ‘committing faecal forgery’. It’s toilet humour at its most literal – call me puerile, but it’s one of my favourite scenes in the whole show.
4. Conversely, Artemis Takes None of the Gang’s Crap
Speaking of which, although she takes an active role in the gang’s activities, shes no pushover and doesn’t take their shit. No feelings are spared, and she takes an almost gleeful approach to reminding them of their misdeeds. In the episode, ‘Who Got Dee Pregnant?’, the gang only have fragmented memories of the night, so call in Artemis to shed some light. Despite admitting to not really remembering much herself, she drops Mac in it, stating that she ‘heard the sounds of hot passionate lovemaking coming from the bathroom’. Incidentally, she says she heard it with her own two earballs, a phrase I thought was coined by animated spy comedy Archer. I am reliably informed that it was actually an Artemis original, which just makes me love her more.
Her willingness to help up to a point is explored further in ‘The Gang Wrestles for the Troops’, when she temporarily becomes the alter ego Desert Rose. When Sweet Dee arranges to meet her internet paramour (Ben the soldier) and sees he is in a wheelchair, she enlists Artemis to pretend to be Desert Rose instead, so as to get out of dating him. Artemis agrees, but when Sweet Dee realises the wheelchair was only due to a sprained knee, she tries to get Artemis to leave him alone so she can date him again. Now, there are some interesting points I gleaned from watching this again. It is one of the few times I feel Artemis’ character slips from being totally true to self – she says she likes dating handicapped men because she ‘likes the power’. Although she is an outgoing woman with a voracious sexual appetite, this feels needlessly cruel, and something about it just doesn’t ring true.
I don’t like to pin it solely on the fact its an all male writing crew, because they do a fairly decent job of writing for women; Sweet Dee has just as many side stories as the male cast members, and most episodes with Artemis in it pass the Bechdel test. It’s genuinely believable that Artemis and Sweet Dee are friends, even when it comes to the love triangle with Ben the soldier – the phrase ‘back off you stupid bitch!’ from Artemis is snarled with such gusto as to be totally and utterly relatable within female friendships. All’s fair in love and war, after all.
And that pretty much sums up It’s Always Sunny and its best side character. Artemis plays it just straight enough to highlight how problematic her friends are. If the gang are the sticky, grubby floor detritus of a dive bar after closing time, then Artemis is the no-nonsense sweep of the broom as they are brought out into the open, exposing them for what they are and making the place brighter and more pleasant to be around, if only for a short time. And if that broom has a bleached asshole, so what? In her own words, you were going to find out anyway.