Kevin Can F**k Himself may just be one of the most audacious high-concept experiments since Norman Lear’s revolutionary Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman turned the domestic sitcom on its head in the 1970s. In this case, it’s not necessarily a compliment.
Sending up The King of Queens-style comedy with blunt, unfunny parody, this dramedy that dare not speak its name is all about Allison (Schitt’s Creek’s terrific Annie Murphy), instantly recognizable as that risible cliché of the proverbial long-suffering TV wife. As in: How did a jerk like Kevin end up with a catch like her? And why would she ever suffer this fool?
Whenever we leave the show-within-a-show sitcom fakery, the camera follows Allison offstage into what suddenly and startlingly becomes a dour, depressing real world without bright lights or laugh tracks. We watch her simmer in frustrated rage while wishing Kevin (Eric Petersen), her repulsive clown of an immature husband, dead. It’s like switching from Nick at Nite to a lurid Lifetime psychodrama without having to use the remote.
While the execution of these jarring transitions can’t be faulted, the real problem with Kevin is that once you get it, there’s not much else to get. This fails one of TV’s most essential tests: that you need to want to come back each week for more. Unfortunately, both halves of the show are mostly miserable. Allison’s life with Kevin turns out to be both a bad sitcom and a drab drama.
The mock comedy is just numbing, with a bellowing father-in-law (Brian Howe) and neighbors both dimwitted (Alex Bonifer) and wisecracking (Mary Hollis Inboden) among other stale conventions. Kevin even has the audacity to patronize his wife: “Hon, you know what happens when you try to be funny.” (Ray Romano would never have tried that line on Patricia Heaton, just saying.)
And Allison’s journey from wistful put-upon dreamer to calculating and hapless schemer, though authentically played, is a dull and dreary downer, lacking the dramatic or suspenseful pulse required as she tries to break bad.
Watching Kevin, I was tempted to tell the show to go flip itself.
Kevin Can F**k Himself, Series Premiere, Sunday, June 13, AMC+ (Premieres June 20, 9/8c, on AMC)