Hey, here’s a head-scratching question for the universe: What does Jason Ritter have to do to get cast as a lead in a decent live-action TV series? He’s proven himself in shows from dramas like Parenthood to comedies like Another Period, as well as his impressive stretch as Dipper in Disney XD’s beloved Gravity Falls. And yet for the 2017 fall TV season, apparently Kevin (Probably) Saves The World, in which a man will hopefully save the world via a series of hugs, seemed like Ritter’s best bet. It also boggles the mind (or does it) that this show is debuting on ABC, a network known for chopping off fine shows (like Selfie and Downward Dog) before they’ve been given a chance, apparently to make room for this religious hugging dramedy.
It’s not the first time angels have invaded primetime, most successfully in Touched By An Angel, less so in spiritual-themed series like Joan Of Arcadia and Wonderfalls. Are TV creators so desperate to find the answers to life’s most enduring questions that they think they will get there by fictional explorations a week at a time?
It’s doubtful that Kevin will help anyone arrive at any insight, at any rate. We meet the suicidal main character as he arrives in his hometown to crash with his sister and surly adolescent niece. That very night, a series of 36 meteors pummel the Earth, each tied to an angel who is seeking out chosen beings. Kevin is apparently the last of “the righteous,” who must go out and find 35 new souls. But before then, Kevin must improve himself spiritually, letting go of materialist trappings, and increasing his powers with acts of kindness and selflessness. Once he’s done so, God will show him how to find the other righteous, who Kevin will then anoint with an embrace. This will save the universe. It’s a plot hackneyed enough to be absolutely confounding: Why 36? Why hugs? Why Kevin, of all people?
Kimberly Hebert Gregory plays Yvette the angel, who hounds Kevin to tell him of this universe-righting mission. Of course, only Kevin can see her, for a series of non-laugh-inducing setups that weren’t funny when Jimmy Stewart was the only one who could see Harvey the rabbit in 1950. Yvette also has a multitude of confusing rules on how Kevin has to go about righting himself to make right with the world, and is very into any spiritual signs that indicate that he’s on the correct path. Unfortunately, her continual harping on how the selfish Kevin needs to be living his life may offer painful Sunday-school flashbacks for the many non-righteous among us.
Similar to the plentitude of military shows this fall, Kevin also appears to be a reaction to the Trump election. Like the upcoming By The Book, in which a man attempts to live his life directly from the teachings of the Bible, it seems like an attempt to reach the Christian aspect of middle America that apparently made its presence known during the election. And at least it’s part of the effort of more women behind the scenes of TV, created by Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters, right off the heels of their well-received Agent Carter for the network. Not that there isn’t room on the schedule for any kind of spiritual journey—The Good Place, for example, is pulling off a fascinating exploration of afterlife good-versus-evil right now. But this one is so muddled, and poorly defined, it’s hard to imagine anyone being compelled enough to stick with Kevin and his plight of 35 hugs.
The cast is its strongest point: Only Ritter’s charm as Kevin makes this show watchable at all; JoAnna Garcia Swisher, who also deserves a better TV series, and Chloe East are his able counterparts. (The banter between Kevin and his niece is the best part of the series.) But even with their considerable efforts, it’s not enough. Despite the show’s lofty and ridiculously parenthesized title, Kevin’s world doesn’t seem in danger at all. But this series does from the get-go.