The premise behind AMC’s new dramedy Kevin Can F**k Himself came together a few years ago when the devoted wife in Kevin James’ CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait was dumped between seasons so that James’ could reunite with his King of Queens co-star Leah Remini. Not only did Erin Hayes unceremoniously lose her job, but her character Donna Gable died offscreen during the summer hiatus and was only mentioned in passing as the family carried on with their lives one joke at a time. The disposable nature of both the actress and character as she related to the titular husband posed the question: What happens when the wife exits the frame? Does the smile drop from her face? Does she curl her fists in rage as she lets out an inaudible scream?
Kevin Can F**k Himself shows us the answer and it isn’t pretty. When Allison McRoberts (Annie Murphy) steps away from her schlubby man-child of a husband Kevin (Eric Petersen), the show pivots to a dank, single-camera depiction of a desperately lonely, isolated woman. The show oscillates between this gritty realism and the type of bright, multi-cam sitcom fare that will feel immediately recognizable to anyone who can pick James, Ray Romano and Jim Belushi out of a lineup.
While it takes a bit to get used to the whiplash of alternating between the two vastly different perspectives, creator Valerie Armstrong and showrunner Craig DiGregorio have crafted two distinct programs that inform each other, but could easily stand alone. The multi-cam scenes present as a fully-fleshed out comedy that would seem perfectly suited to follow, say, The United State of Al, if not for the disorienting plunge into the inner world of Allison, laying bare the tropes we’ve been conditioned to root for.
In Allison’s point of view, the central living room set looks drab and worn. Cockroaches scurry across the floor. The stains on her clothes are visible and the general shabbiness of her universe declares itself loudly. Exhausted from the barrage of put-downs and zingers from Kevin, his loudmouth father and omnipresent neighbors, Allison dreams of a better life. In Worcester, Mass., the dreams are small. Allison thinks a new house in a shiny subdivision bought with the money the couple has been saving for a decade will solve her problems. That is, until Patty, the aforementioned neighbor played by Mary Hollis Inboden, informs her Kevin spent that nestegg on sports memorabilia long ago. Crushed and desperate, Allison devises a plan to murder her husband as the only means of escape.
This morbid fantasy forms the arc of the remaining seven episodes. Playing fast and loose with the show’s censored title, here’s five ways Kevin can you-know-what:
1. Kevin’s Appearance
Ripping on the way someone looks is the stuff of unimaginative high school bullies, but Kevin's costuming choices—even down to the gelled-up, askewed hair—are meant to rouse absolute disdain and tell you everything you need to know about his self-involved personality. The knee-grazing mesh shorts coupled with a rotating array of sports tees and jackets scream after school hangs with the boys, and Petersen imbues Kevin with an impish charm that rots on impact.
2. Kevin’s Choice in Friends
We actually only meet one of Kevin’s friends - his lunkhead neighbor Neil (Alex Bonifer) who enables every dim-witted and insufferable shenanigan that pops into the titular character’s head. He’s always hovering and dropping by unannounced. He also irritatingly follows Kevin’s lead in how he addresses Allison. You’re just the neighbor bro, where do you get off? Even the most obnoxious significant others put on an air of gallantry when someone else disrespects their wife.
3. Pitting The Women Against Each Other
Patty is the only character in Allison’s circle who dips in and out of sitcom-land. When she’s under the bright lights, the hairdresser feeds into the boys’ mistreatment of Allison. This disdain carries over into the bleak surroundings the women share, until Allison confronts her about her two-faced nature. It’s obvious Patty loathes Kevin and her brother, so why is she so eager to join in the thinly-veiled nastiness? Feeling left out is a grave motivator. Allison slowly chips away at the hold Kevin has over Patty—although he may not live to regret it.
4. How Did Kevin Nab Allison?
So far we haven’t been clued in as to how Allison fell for Kevin in the first place. Surely, he wasn’t able to hide his self-centered ineptness during their courtship. From the bits of backstory Allison allows the audience to know, she was fairly popular and ebullient in high school and destined for a path more fulfilling than sitting stone-faced behind the counter at a liquor store and cleaning up after her husband’s hair-brained schemes. How did Kevin break her spirit and strip her shimmer away?
5. Ruining Other Sitcom Husbands
After spending time in Allison’s grim, tepidly-lit world, devoting a half-hour of TV time to men who use their wives as punchlines makes us wince. (Thanks. Thanks a lot). Tuning into silly sitcoms to help us drift off to sleep is now tainted. Are we supposed to just lay in bed in silence, staring up at the ceiling and hoping to nod off without the comfort of mindless entertainment? Maybe that’s the point - to stop allowing the Dougs of the fictional world to thrive in unequal partnerships at the expense of their Carrie’s sanity and autonomy. Unlike this Kevin, we would never want to kill comedy, but maybe we should stop normalizing laughter at someone else’s expense, even subconsciously.
Kevin Can F**K Himself airs Sunday nights on AMC and is available on demand.