At the end of Kevin Can F**K Himself’s first season, Kevin McRoberts (Eric Petersen) is still alive and thriving, much to the chagrin of his aggravated wife, Allison (Annie Murphy). She’s spent the last several weeks plotting to kill him to seek retribution for facing a decade of his emotional manipulation, misogyny, and tantrums. Created by Valerie Armstrong, KCFH aims to revolutionize the approach to traditional sitcoms and sitcom husbands, whose often demeaning and simplistic humor overlooks the destruction it causes. Told from the perspective of a classic sitcom wife, the dramedy shifts from multi-cam to single-cam when it focuses on her struggles to escape a failing, abusive marriage. Allison and her friend Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) juggle both the disparate worlds, while Kevin bolsters their gritty single-cam narratives by being the bubbly man-child whose snide comments are masked under bright lights, a laugh track, and equally dopey friends.
Petersen spends all eight episodes under those bright lights, wearing a slapstick grin and performing various antics, including running for the city council to elevate his ego in the finale, “Fixed.” The actor, whose credits include The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, and playing Shrek in Broadway’s Shrek The Musical, tells The A.V. Club he attempted to layer his goofy performance such that when Kevin says or does casually horrible things to Allison, it’s even more biting to witness. His performance evokes eye rolls, irritation, and rage to varying degrees, which means Petersen accomplishes his task of chipping away not just at Allison but also the audience. We spoke to him about Kevin’s significant finale events, the impact of Allison’s brief moment of honesty in “Fixed,” and the sitcom insights he gained while making the show.
The A.V. Club: When the finale kicks off, Kevin is surprisingly vulnerable after experiencing a break-in and shooting the intruder. What was it like to switch things up and bring out somewhat of a softer side to him?
Eric Petersen: It was great to show that side of him. Kevin is obviously in one mode most of the time, which is important to who he is as a character. But this moment of actually shooting someone does rock him. He has emotions flowing out of him but he has absolutely no idea how to deal with them. Do you talk to someone, do you drink, do you just sleep? What do you do? He has no clue. It’s indicative of a lot of American males who are taught from a young age to not feel anything or to not cry. There are men who, when they go through something traumatic, they feel something in their being but with no idea of how to articulate it. In this case, I also found it interesting that all it takes for Kevin is couple of people telling him at that bar, “Oh, you’re great,” and giving him free beers, and he’s like “Boom, I’m back.” He runs for city council and pushes it all away.
AVC: He goes back to his comfort zone; to the part of his personality he knows has worked for him thus far, so why be vulnerable? This side of him doesn’t alleviate his behavior, but was the goal to make him a bit more sympathetic?
EP: I was always fighting to make him as sympathetic as possible. I know it sounds crazy because be does and says terrible things. One of the things I learned early in my acting career was when you’re playing any character, your job as the actor is to defend him, even if it’s some terrible guy, because every person thinks they’re the hero of their own story and not the bad guy. This is especially true for Kevin. I’ve always tried to make him lovable so that when he is saying the terrible things he does to Allison, it’s hard to hear them. Anytime I could play a scene or say a line as goofily as possible, it would make the terrible lines really cut and feel hurtful. My job as the actor was to bring joy so the negative stuff is more effective.
AVC: It’s also what makes it conflicting for the audience. We do understand how everyone is sucked into his world but at the same time, we’re now finally seeing Allison’s side.
EP: That’s exactly it. If I had played just a real “Here’s Kevin and he hates his wife and is bothered by everyone,” and if he was miserable, that would be one story. That’s not what a sitcom husband is. He is buoyant and positive. If you lean into that, the negative stuff is that much more shocking.
AVC: In one of final scenes of the finale, Allison finally calls him out and says he’s a dick. There’s definitely a quiet beat where Kevin is taking it in. What do you think it signifies for him to hear her say that?
EP: Of anything in the whole season, that is the moment, even more than shooting a human being, that rocks him. He sweeps it under the rug once he sees everyday hero could be a campaign slogan, but her saying “You’re a real dick” to him is huge. I think his first thought isn’t that he’s hurt, it’s confusion. For him, it’s out of left field. He probably feels blindsided. If we get a season two, we’ll see that what she said has really affected him deeply. In the moment, he hasn’t even comprehended it. I don’t know why this example comes to mind, but it’s as if you’re in a happy family and one day, the dad comes home and says I’m leaving, I have another nice family in Vermont. It’s random but also too much to take in. He’s shocked but he has no sense that his actions are causing her to feel this way and he should do something differently.
AVC: Do you think this brief confrontation opens the door for him to think about consequences now that someone in his life has held him accountable?
EP: Yes, definitely. It is a tricky line with Kevin because I think it is important for him to stay in the sitcom world, and sitcom characters don’t drastically change. But in this show, characters like Allison and Patty are having massive life changes. It feels odd for another character to then be completely stuck on point one. I do think it’s important to see Kevin peel back layers of realization.
AVC: You said it’s important for Kevin to stay in the sitcom world, but do you know if we’d actually ever see him in single-cam? What might that look like?
EP: I don’t know if and when we will, maybe at some point? It’s above my pay grade and a choice for Valerie Armstrong and [series co-producer] Craig DiGregorio. I do know what he would look like though. I think the smile I try to have in every scene would be gone. He would be smoking and drinking a lot more. I feel like he’d be sad. You would see him at the end of the bar by himself and not having anyone. He thinks he has it all and everyone loves him, but the reality is he has his best friend and he has his dad. He’s the king of his small world but beyond that, there’s not much else, not even local friends. I think watching him in single-cam would be depressing.
AVC: What was it like for you to play a version of a character we’ve seen plenty of times before but are now thinking about in a different light?
EP: The experience of making Kevin Can F**K Himself was a true joy. It felt cool the whole time we were there because we knew we were making something smart and hopefully important. It’s not always the case with everything you work on. I’ve done a lot of multi-cam sitcom stuff in the past, and some of those shows can feel a lot lighter and more frivolous, or just like a half-hour comedy to make people laugh for a minute. This felt like it was saying something and had a strong point-of-view.
AVC: You’re familiar with working in sitcoms, you were even teaching a multi-cam class before you got the part of Kevin, but how has working on KCFH given you a new perspective or new insights of the genre?
EP: Yes, I’ve enjoyed teaching over the years as a side hustle and I jump in and out of it when I’m not working. I had just finished teaching a semester of multi-cam sitcom acting to college students here in Los Angeles. I understand the genre deeply but I do have new perspective on shows I’ve loved for years. As we see what Annie’s character Allison says in episode four, something on the lines of “What were you laughing at when you laughed at Kevin?,” i.e. all male sitcom husbands who act like this.
As I was working on creating the character and getting ready to go into production, I was watching old episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, King Of Queens, Honeymooners etc. It gives you a new lens to see those guys, their plot points, their jokes, and you see that they were at someone’s expense as opposed to a joke that stands on its own merit. It’s a joke that probably chips away at something, whether it’s the wife character or a racial group, it always had that sting being covered up by the laugh track. Watching sitcoms from this point on will be different.
AVC: KCFH is trying to prove there’s a need for improvement in the genre. How do you think this can happen?
EP: I think the genre of multi-cam won’t shrivel up and go away suddenly. But yes, there is room for improvement. It can happen in a few different ways. You need more voices in the room. I can say confidently that most writers rooms of good old-fashioned sitcoms were old white men. I get it, it’s how it has happened in the past, but if the form needs to be changed with fresher voices, we need diverse voices in the room.
The second way is to break tropes. I would be interested in seeing the wife character who was the dopey, always-coming-up-with-jokes kind. I Love Lucy, basically, but haven’t seen something like that in years. If we can realize we can still have archetypes in sitcoms but we have to put them on a new type of person, we can have the familiarity that makes us comfortable, but with new voices and jokes that are actually good and not at someone’s expense.