‘Kevin Can F- - - Himself’: A despairing sitcom wife steps off camera, where life isn’t so funny
AMC series toggles between intriguing, ‘Breaking Bad’-style drama and (too much) deliberately stupid comedy.
From “The Honeymooners” to “The Bob Newhart Show,” from “According to Jim” to “Still Standing,” from “The King of Queens” to “Grounded for Life,” we’ve seen sitcom after sitcom after sitcom featuring the schlubby and often immature husband and his far more attractive and more grounded wife, who puts up with hubby’s maddening antics because … well, because that’s the show.
Some of these comedies are classics. Many more are mediocre. But the essential formula remains the same.
A eight-episode series premiering with two episodes Sunday on AMC+ and at 8 p.m. June 20 on AMC. New episodes will premiere on the following Sundays.
The opening scene in the pilot episode of the dramedy “Kevin Can F- - - Himself” (premiering Sunday on the AMC+ streaming service and June 20 on AMC) is a perfect replica of a hacky network sitcom from this genre, starting with the bouncy play-in music and the establishing exterior shot of a cozy home on a quiet street and continuing to the brightly lit living room set, complete with mismatched furniture, tacky knickknacks and, of course, the staircase in the background made for entrances and exits. We are in extremely familiar territory.
Dressed like an overgrown 12-year-old, the loudmouthed and paunchy Kevin McRoberts (Eric Petersen) is playing beer pong against his dopey best buddy and next-door neighbor Neil (Alex Bonifer) while his wisecracking pops (Brian Howe) and Neil’s sister Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) look on.
Enter Kevin’s wife Allison (Annie Murphy from “Schitt’s Creek”), carrying a load of laundry and expressing disappointment that, once again this year, Kevin plans to mark their wedding anniversary with an “Anniversa-Rager,” with all the guys coming over for shots and beers and all-night partying.
Virtually every other comment from every character is a punchline, and none of it is remotely funny — but the canned laughter tries to convince us otherwise.
Just as we’re being lulled into a sense of comfort-TV semi-boredom, something startling happens. When Allison exits the living room and enters the kitchen, the brightly colored, three-camera sitcom look gives way to a grim, muted, single-camera style. The canned laughter is supplanted by a high-pitched ringing sound. And Allison smashes a glass, causing her hand to bleed. She is in despair.
This is the intriguing conceit of “Kevin Can F- - - Himself,” which, on the surface, has similarities to “WandaVision” in that both shows are about characters initially trapped in a sitcom. (In fact, the premiere of each series has the tried and true — or should we say tired and true — premise of the big boss coming over to the house, which, of course, sends the host couple into a frenzy.)
When Allison is in the house with Kevin and/or the rest of the gang, she’s the long-suffering wife who endures her husband’s crazy schemes and childish behavior with a shrug and a smile — but when she’s alone in the house or she ventures outside, we’re plunged into a “Breaking Bad” style drama in which Allison works long hours at a liquor store, renews her friendship with a sensitive and smart guy who has returned to town and opened a café, tries to score Oxy from a mechanic and keeps getting into harrowing situations involving sketchy criminal types.
The other characters remain obliviously ensconced in Sitcom Land, with the exception of Patty, whose one-of-the-boys cheerfulness gives way to a sour, depressed, deeply cynical persona when she’s in the outside world.
The title of “Kevin Can F- - - Himself” is clearly a shot at the Kevin James sitcom “Kevin Can Wait,” in which the star’s wife Donna, played by Erinn Hayes, was unceremoniously killed off after the first season so Kevin could have more interesting adventures and dilemmas.
It’s fascinating to see this series toggle back and forth between two vastly different genres — but that also means we have to spend a lot of time inside the profoundly unfunny sitcom world, as in an episode in which Kevin and his cohorts create an Escape Room attraction in the basement of the house while Allison and Patty are involved in a situation that plays like a subplot on “The Mare of Easttown.”
The show tries to explain why Allison hasn’t left her dimwit boor of her husband — much of it has to do with finances — and offers hints of becoming ever darker as Allison dreams about killing her idiot husband.
Things might get even more interesting if Kevin steps off the sitcom stage at some point and has his own single-camera storyline. Maybe there’s something deep and disturbing lurking behind that man-child exterior.
Or maybe there’s no there there, in which case Kevin Can F- - - Himself.