On new AMC show, actor from Chicago says callous lines ‘that I hated’
Carol Stream native Eric Petersen, who plays a ‘schlubby’ sitcom husband dismissive of his wife on ‘Kevin Can F- - - Himself,’ hopes the series will give viewers ‘a deeper sense of empathy.’
Sitcom TV usually follows a similar trend in scripts and storylines where mediocre men are centered at the expense of the women who play their wives.
But what if the sitcom TV wife lashes out, and has a visceral reaction to being the butt of so many jokes?
“Kevin Can F- - - Himself,” an AMC series premiering June 13 on the AMC+ streaming service and June 20 on AMC, aims to buck a longtime trend.
“Most classic sitcoms have a schlubby husband — [like the one] played by myself — who we’re following his hijinks throughout his day,” said Chicago area native Eric Petersen, who plays Kevin McRoberts, the doofus-like husband. “And a lot of times, the sitcom wife will say, ‘Oh honey,’ and roll her eyes and go into the kitchen and then we don’t see her for two, three, four scenes. In our show, as soon as she crosses into the kitchen, she is the hero of our story.
“There’s no laugh track and there’s not as many jokes, it’s more about the reality of what she’s going through in her life and how living in a world that’s dominated by male-centric jokes can kind of really take a toll on a person.”
The fed-up wife, Allison McRoberts, is played by Annie Murphy, an Emmy winner for playing Alexis Rose on “Schitt’s Creek.”
Petersen, who grew up in Carol Stream and attended Glenbard North High School, says the variety of camera angles — single and multi-camera — conveys how Murphy’s character navigates the nuances of being a stereotypical sitcom wife.
“I definitely view sitcoms a little differently,” said Petersen. “I think this show is really encouraging our audiences to take a step back and say: ‘What have you been laughing at for 60, 70 years on television?’ It doesn’t mean we can’t make sitcoms anymore or that we can’t make good multi-camera sitcoms anymore, it just means we need to have writers writing characters that are a little more multi-dimensional and maybe not quite so stereotypical.”
And the script, Petersen says, shows how his character’s behavior is problematic.
“There were times where I said lines as this character of Kevin McRoberts that I hated, and I really do not want to say,” said Petersen. “[Writers] made sure to put in lines here and there that pointed out how the character of Kevin is really dismissive of his wife. He’s not being physically abusive to her, but he is emotionally putting her through the wringer and does not really care about what she wants or needs or says. He’s living in his own world with his own problems that he’s trying to figure out, and his wife Allison is just there to serve whatever his needs are.”
Petersen said he hopes the TV/film industry takes notice and makes systemic changes.
“One of my heroes is Jackie Gleason, and I’ve watched all the ‘Honeymooners’ episodes,” said Petersen. “Obviously when you say things like, ‘You’re going to the moon!,’ threatening to hit his wife — when I was a lot younger and more naive, I didn’t think anything about it. Now I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s a terrible way to speak to your wife and partner in life.’ ”
“If you go back and you watch almost any sitcom over the last 50, 60 years you’ll see [abusive dialogue] everywhere once you’re looking for it. And so, hopefully, our show is pointing out that has been the case. As the industry goes forward, it will take steps to [correct] that.”
And what’s Petersen’s retort to people who might say “Kevin Can F- - - Himself” is in lockstep with “cancel culture?”
“I’m hoping that they will have empathy for the fact that, ‘Oh, wow. Yeah, what we just laughed at two minutes ago maybe that wasn’t as funny as we thought or maybe we should have thought about how it’s actually affecting somebody else,’ ” said Petersen. “What I hope people will get out of [the show] is a deeper sense of empathy. … I think sitcoms are a reflection of the times — and they always have been. That’s why they feel safe and familiar and comfortable. And hopefully, if we’re reflecting the world that currently is back to people, that reflection will lead to conversation.”
Despite living in California, Petersen keeps Chicago close to his heart — and his daughter, Sophie, was born at Northwestern Medicine Prentice Women’s Hospital while he was in the city starring in a tour of “Shrek: The Musical.”
“Most of the things in my house have Chicago flags on them and most of my clothes are Bears, Cubs, and Blackhawks shirts that I wear daily,” said Petersen. “I am so insanely proud to be from [Chicago]. And, in all honesty, the reason I didn’t move to Chicago as an actor right after college was that I knew that if I did I would never be able to leave because I love the city so damn much.”