Two different yet interconnected shows exist within Kevin Can F**K Himself. One is a brightly lit, familiar sitcom, while the other is a grittier takedown of the classic trope of the intelligent, beautiful sitcom wife engulfed by her boorish husband’s tantrums. This character has been around since the sitcom genre began on TV—from Mary Kay And Johnny, down through the years to According To Jim, The Drew Carey Show, and The King Of Queens, which starred Kevin James and Leah Remini. However, Kevin Can F**K Himself takes more direct inspiration from James’ 2016 sitcom, Kevin Can Wait, which came under scrutiny after his character’s wife Donna (Erinn Hayes) was killed off-screen between seasons one and two without any explanation. It turns out the intelligent, beautiful wife is also often dispensable. Many sitcoms invite us into the world of a mostly petulant man-child, programming us to laugh at his misogynistic jokes with a loud laugh track. Kevin Can F**K Himself wants to upend this formula through Allison McRoberts (Annie Murphy).
Allison is a dreamer. After spending 10 years living in a shabby house in Worcester, Massachusetts, she still hopes to escape a domestic life that has crushed her individuality, essentially mothering her vexing husband Kevin McRoberts (Eric Petersen). At one point, their doofus neighbor and Kevin’s BFF Neil (Alex Bonifer) even jokingly refers to her as “Mom,” while making her the butt of his bad jokes. In the first episode of the two-part premiere, “Living The Dream” (B+), Allison opens by saying “I’ve been thinking…,” only for everyone in the room—Kevin, his father Pete (Brian Howe), Neil, and his sister Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden)—to groan. Allison? Thinking? Ugh. Her suggestion of celebrating their anniversary with a grown-up dinner as opposed to Kevin’s annual anniversa-rager is quickly shot down, and she exits the room just as she entered it: with no one giving a damn.
But as she leaves, there is a striking tonal shift. The multi-camera living room fades into a single-camera, dimly lit kitchen. Say hello to Allison’s world. The episode establishes that her anxious reality is humorless and dreary. Allison puts all her focus into manifesting the next best thing for a fresh start, including buying a nicer home. She has a brochure for the swanky Amherst Gates on her fridge; she stands outside their real estate office to stare at listings while snacking on Dunkin’ munchkins (how else would the show remind us it’s set in MA?); she assertively states to Kevin that they’re moving and gets them an appointment with a loan officer. Her joy is short-lived because at the end of the night, Patty reveals that Kevin lost all their savings years ago but never told Allison. This is a breaking point for her, and it’s also when we collectively agree with the show’s title. But not Allison, who transforms her frustration into murderous rage. In a vision, she has a glimpse of the relief she’ll feel if she stabs Kevin, and decides to actually kill him.
It’s an intense fantasy. Allison could just as easily pack up her things and get a divorce. She doesn’t love her husband, her town, or her job working at a liquor store. She doesn’t seem to have any real friends and while she’s reconnected with her ex, Sam (Richard Lee), he is married. But as Murphy told The A.V. Club, “The decision is symbolic of how his death is the only way out, it’s how she gets her freedom and the ability to keep on living.” Allison even explains it briefly in episode two of the premiere, “New Tricks (B).” She tells her idea to the librarian by masking it as the premise for a romance novel. “Why wouldn’t she just leave?” the librarian asks. The way Murphy tilts her head up and repeats “Leave?,” part confusion and part wonder, like it’s a novel concept, is a great line delivery. Then Allison expands her answer, reminding us that she has only $194 to her name with nowhere to go. She’s also sure that Kevin will find her and suck her back into his world, like he does every single day. If she wants to live out her romanticized dream of reading Ulysses peacefully by the river, killing him is the only way.
She initially has no plan for executing her mission but stumbles into the idea of an overdose, which a police officer notes is increasingly common in their town. So, in “New Tricks,” she sets out to find pills. Her ploy to use a doctor’s visit to get prescriptions backfires when the good doctor suggests therapy instead, which is another rational approach to Allison’s obvious sadness. The show’s attempts to deconstruct the sitcom wife are notable, but at the same time, by not fully addressing her mental health, it veers into a dangerous territory. Allison’s pent-up rage and her actions make for an interesting character study, but Kevin Can F**K Himself also wants to be Breaking Bad and Claws, and there’s only so much genre-bending a dramedy can tackle.
Allison seeks out illegal ways to attain pills, including approaching the mechanic she did cocaine with in “Living The Dream.” In her attempt to finally go to therapy, she discovers that Patty is secretly selling pills from her salon. The closing shot of both of them one-on-one realizing what they’re each up to sets up an intriguing enough cliffhanger. Allison and Patty are two disparate women but the former clearly needs an emotional anchor. Their bond seems frayed, but an unexpected friendship might just help Allison open her eyes to possibilities outside of turning into a criminal even if her outrage is justified. The crime angle helps push the story forward, but it’s not a strong hook if Allison doesn’t see and put her own self-worth first. Hopefully, that’s the journey the next six episodes will take us on.
- These recaps will follow Kevin Can F**K Himself’s broadcast airings on AMC, but the show is also streaming episodes early on AMC+.
- Let’s start with the obvious: The accents! Are they… actually good? Yeah, I think they are, but I’m not from anywhere near Massachusetts so don’t quote me on it.
- Annie Murphy is a treasure, and it’s fun to see her flex her muscles outside of Schitt’s Creek’s Alexis Rose, but Mary Hollis Inboden as Patty is the real discovery here. I can’t wait to see her role expand.
- Also, Murphy has quite a knack to pick shows with cuss words in the title. Insert GIF of Lucille Bluth saying “good for her.”
- Which was the creepiest, cringiest joke that Kevin made in these two episodes? Is it “You’re lady 35 and I’m boy 35… I’m just hitting my prime and [long pause] you are too,” or “Blood doesn’t mean you get to be moody, you already used that excuse this month.”
- Speaking of Kevin—because have you checked what the show is called again—kudos to Eric Petersen for a performance that really makes me want to at least slap him if not brutally stab him with a piece of broken glass.
- Flashback episodes don’t always work and are rarely needed, but this story could actually use one to explain exactly how Allison ended up with Kevin and why she isn’t with Sam anymore.