‘Kevin Can F*** Himself’ Missed an Opportunity to Say Much About the Shows It Was Supposed to Satirize

·6-min read

“Kevin Can F*** Himself,” which is concluding its first season on AMC this weekend and already streaming the finale on its streaming service, is a television show about television. As its title makes thuddingly clear, the series is intended to deconstruct a genre of sitcom that reached an apex with CBS’ “Kevin Can Wait,” on which lead Kevin James’ wife (played by Erinn Hayes) was so disposable as a comic element that the production literally disposed of her, killing her off between seasons.

Here, the beleaguered sitcom wife is the star: When this series’ Kevin (Eric Petersen) leaves the room, Allison (Annie Murphy) is able to see her situation clearly, with the laugh track and brilliant lighting that follows her goofus of a husband everywhere he goes absent.

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As an idea, this has a great deal of inherent promise: The tools of genre, here, suggest a way to ask real questions about men, women, and marriage. As it’s gone on, though, “Kevin Can F*** Himself” has shaped up into one of the great missed opportunities of recent TV history. It’s a show that has surprisingly little to say about anything other than the particulars of its situation — one that ends up looking as loopily implausible as the set-up for a Kevin James sitcom.

It’s easy enough to understand Kevin’s half of the equation. This fellow, when he walks into the room, defines his own reality and insists upon playing center of attention. He understands his life as a comedy in which his own bad behavior only cements his role as protagonist: So far, so simple. But what has increasingly felt like a stretch is Allison’s view of things: Her life when she emerges from Kevin’s shadow is defined not by sorrow or anger but by an impulse towards violent antisocial behavior that seems very familiar. Soon enough, she’s plotting to use the tools of crime, for which she has an unexpected aptitude, to take her husband out: Allison, in other words, is a TV antihero. She’s Walter White living in the “Everybody Loves Raymond” house.

Which plays out less like an intriguing collision of genres than like substituting one set of clichés for another. This show’s difficult man is not a man, and she has spent much of her life trying to accommodate others. But that twist only takes us so far: Allison is such a radically different person when the mood shifts that it can be hard to remember the show is intended as a takedown of family sitcoms and not a gender-swapped crime story, full stop. That show — the show “Kevin Can F*** Himself” seems to want to be, about a woman driven to murder — would be as worth a try as any other, if given space and time to try to break out of the “Breaking Bad” mold. So why drag the sitcom into it?

“Kevin Can F*** Himself” gives itself a great deal of credit for doing work that’s been happening elsewhere for years. To cite a single prominent example, a fun-loving boor of a sitcom dad and a wife with agency of her own sits at the center of … “The Simpsons,” which began its life in 1989 as, in part, a subversion of classic sitcoms in which father knows best. More seriously, in recent years, now-concluded shows including the “The Carmichael Show,” on NBC, and “One Day at a Time,” on Netflix, have used ultra-square frameworks — sitcom lighting, sitcom laugh tracks — to explore and to explode sitcom tropes. “Kevin Can F*** Himself” suggests that the only proportional response to the sitcom dad is to murder him. On “The Carmichael Show,” which was genuinely ahead of its time, making fun of him did the trick.

The uncertain sense of scale here suggests that the writers of “Kevin Can F*** Himself” aren’t deeply comfortable in the world they’re satirizing. The show’s sitcom landscape comes to feel stilted and strange as the show goes on, and not merely because Allison’s developed a consciousness: More and more, it feels apparent that “Kevin Can F*** Himself” is a satire intended for an audience with only a broad general idea of what’s being satirized.

That there’s little grain or specificity to Kevin and Allison’s relationship can, for the generous-minded viewer, be chalked up to the show mocking how underwritten these relationships are generally. That we never see a moment of what has ever worked in their relationship — that we start the series with Allison unhappy and shortly thereafter arrive at Allison homicidal — suggests a sort of fatal incuriosity about relationship dynamics. In denying Allison any legible backstory for why she ended up with this louse, “Kevin Can F*** Himself” ends up as sketchily written as the shows it mocks. It isn’t just sitcoms that aren’t willing to do the work in exploring what it means to be married.

And the show is also missing any sign that it’s aware that its non-satirical portion plays as satire, too. For a show that has at its outset declared itself an enemy of familiar tropes to try to become cable’s umpteenth “Breaking Bad” imitator is a surprising turn at best.

Allison’s decision to plunge into the rabbit hole of violent reprisal — in what we’re told and shown is a complete break from the docile spouse she’d been for her whole adult life — is treated as self-evidently what a person in this situation would do. For a show so willing to use the tools of genre to try and make points about relationships, the show lacks a certain fundamental imagination as to anticipating the obvious questions it raises. It works according to a sort of dream logic. The show seems to make its case that its enemy, the Kevin James sitcom, is so pernicious as to evidently demand an attack untethered from character or situation; Allison has it so bad that her snapping creates its own gravity.

The practical result, though, is that this show ends up having as little to say as the shows it’s lampooning. It goes so far, so fast, that character gets lost as the plot whizzes by. Turning the tables but keeping the fundamental lack of care and precision in place isn’t progress; not really. “Kevin Can F*** Himself” has shown it can do the things sitcoms and crime dramas do, and has given each genre half a show’s worth of attention. In a hypothetical Season 2, maybe it’ll get the chance to find a voice of its own, and use it to say something.

The finale of “Kevin Can F*** Himself” is now streaming on AMC Plus and will air Aug. 1 on AMC.

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