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Kevin Can F**k Himself wastes a premise that looked thrillingly subversive

  • The AMC series responding to sitcoms like Kevin Can Wait doesn't live up to its great trailer that was released in February, says Judy Berman. "The overarching problem is inertness," Berman says of the decision to have the show actually contain a sitcom. "The show spends so much time vacillating between styles that it neglects to move what should be a thrilling plot forward. By episode 3 (Kevin and Neil go to war over who can make a better chili), Kevin is spinning its wheels. It also seems to lose track of the argument it’s making. It’s true: couples like the McRoberts are everywhere in what remains of network-television primetime, and they perpetuate ideas about men, women and marriage that are unrealistic at best and virulently sexist at worst. That’s enough of a critique to fuel a seven-minute comedy sketch. An eight-episode season needs to say more. What’s frustrating is that there’s plenty more Kevin could say, and maybe even starts to say before trailing off. From the point of view of gender, isn’t there more to explore than the awfulness of one stock character? And couldn’t we have an episode that digs into the shame Allison feels about their working-class lifestyle? What about the role of TV itself? Along with its multicam sitcom and prestige drama modes, there are references to premium-cable soaps about posh women with man problems, like Big Little Lies and The Affair, plus some nods to police procedurals when cops enter the story. Yet the show doesn’t expand its meta-commentary on the sitcom wife into any broader insights into what it means to live in this age of Peak TV, when fictional characters play such a large role in shaping our identities, ambitions and expectations. I don’t hate Kevin Can F**K Himself, but the gulf between the thrillingly subversive series teased in the trailer and the slower, tamer final product makes the early episodes that much more disappointing. Still, between the dynamite premise and the excellent cast, the show could easily be salvaged. It would be a shame if, in the end, the boldest thing about it was the title."


    • The format switcheroo may remind some viewers a little of WandaVision, but Kevin Can F**k Himself is grounded in something more akin to reality: Kevin Can F**k Himself "also engages much more pointedly with the way television reinforces misogyny, rather than using it as a vessel for expressing grief," says Jen Chaney. "For Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda, the sitcom fantasy provides an escape from feelings she is trying to avoid; for Murphy’s Allison, the sitcom construct is precisely what she wants to escape. The title flips an obvious middle finger at Kevin Can Wait, the CBS Kevin James sitcom most famous for bumping off the wife of James’s character, played by Erinn Hayes, and making Leah Remini, who starred opposite James in King of Queens, the new female lead. Though it’s not specifically sending up that series, Kevin Can F**k Himself uses that sort of insensitivity and devaluation of women as a springboard into a much more meta consideration of onscreen gender roles. This is the kind of show that is entertaining, wry, and thought-provoking, and also seems destined to become the basis for a film-study major’s senior thesis."
    • Kevin Can F**k Himself is the explicit revenge of the sitcom wife against her husband, his world, and the sitcom medium itself: "Most men on the show are two-dimensional at best, all half-baked schemes and ham-fisted punch lines — a glaring indictment of countless female characters boiled down to wife, girlfriend, or otherwise hapless participant in the man's world," says Proma Khosla. "Even the physical gags are deliberate. In Kevin's show, his wife always bears the brunt of a beer bong or spoonful of chili, while Allison repeatedly causes accidental physical harm to men who misconceive her...Kevin Can F**k Himself is a a dark comedy in the most literal sense, splicing sitcom laughs with true AMC drama, down to the color palette — but that juxtaposition redefines this hybrid genre. As an audience member, you can’t resist chortling along with a laugh track, out of habit or brain chemistry or both. This makes the comedown to Allison’s private world even rougher. You can feel the ache of regret and resentment in Murphy's every minor facial movement, as compelling and in command of the character as she was on Schitt's Creek. She slips into Allison with ease (accent and all), creating a living, breathing, irresistible character who we can't tear our eyes away from."
    • Kevin Can F*** Himself is unlikely to put an end to the epidemic of half-a**ed female characters -- it’s a worthy goal nonetheless: "A solid theory gets borne out by execution," says Alison Herman. "The pure sitcom parts of Kevin Can F*** Himself are almost a self-contained show within a show, with high jinks like neighbor feuds and get-rich-quick schemes played impressively straight. The series may belong to Murphy, who’s been doing plenty of press to promote her next move after the final season of Schitt’s swept the pandemic Emmys, but (Eric) Petersen is admirably committed as an oblivious oaf. The show also has its fun with transitions from one mode to the next. Sometimes, the tone shifts when Allison leaves the room, as if she’s literally walking offstage and into “real” life. Sometimes, it’s Kevin who departs, taking the jokes with him as Allison stays behind."
    • How Kevin Can F**k Himself created the best/worst sitcom husband with actor Eric Petersen: "The two main influences I had were probably Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners and Peter Griffin in Family Guy, voiced by Seth MacFarlane," says Petersen. "I think that both of those guys have that Kevin definitely has, and is definitely one of the points that we're trying to make is, so many of these classic sitcom husbands are blindly confident in their own ideas, and they're so full of bravado and gusto with no backing for it."
    • Kevin Can F**k Himself has led its cast to look at sitcoms differently: “There is truly no going back,” says Annie Murphy. “I intentionally put on a sitcom that I know is gonna boil my blood and I sit there and shake my fist at all the insane amounts of misogyny, in particular, but there are also shades of homophobia and racism.”
    • How Kevin Can F**k Himself made two shows simultaneously: "Writing the show was a puzzle in which the multi-cam and single-cam plots became so intertwined that (creator Valerie) Armstrong admits they were like 'a fishtail braid," says Jen Chaney. "'You pull one thing and it all comes apart.' Switching back and forth so much was a risk — one false move could wreck the tone and all the plot machinations the writers had put in place. To avoid that, Armstrong says, she and the Kevin team needed to set 'some hard-and-fast rules.' For the multi-cam scenes, Armstrong and the writers set out to directly re-create that style without engaging in parody." As showrunner Craig DiGregorio explains, "if you took those scenes out of the show and smooshed them together, you’d have yourself a 12-minute real episode of TV." Chaney adds that DiGregorio and Armstrong "staffed the writers’ room with people who had experience working in a mix of genres — drama, multi- and single-cam comedy — and they all spent time rewatching sitcoms like Last Man Standing and, yes, Kevin Can Wait and The King of Queens."

    TOPICS: Kevin Can F**k Himself, AMC

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