I will let you in on a little secret: I’ve been quietly raging against Kevin Can Wait for about a year. My father, a newly-retired, middle-aged, suburban New Yorker, immediately felt a connection with the series since Kevin Gable (Kevin James) checked nearly all the same boxes as my dad other than the whole Being A Puerto Rican Man part of the equation. Every time I saw Kevin on my parents’ DVR, I begged them to ditch the CBS “comedy” since it is basically one of the most regressive shows on television at a time when everything from Jane The Virgin to Better Things is breaking the mold. Monday night’s season 2 premiere, "Civil Ceremony," proved to me I never actually understood the depths of Kevin’s lacking until that episode. What could finally bring the show’s alarming shortcomings to light? The moment the Gable family "deals" with the death of main character Donna Gable (Erinn Hayes), Kevin’s wife, which was announced in August 2017.
Obviously, the death of a major character should effect a series in some way. Especially when she’s the main character’s wife — not his girlfriend, his neighbor, or his executive assistant. No, his wife of countless years — and the mother of his three children. We’ve got no such luck here. The entire conversation alluding to Donna’s death between Kevin and his daughter Kendra Gable (Taylor Spreitler) takes less than 20 seconds and is spurred by the mail. A bit about fellow CBS-owned series Ray Donovan takes up almost exactly the same amount of time.
In the scene, Kevin, now acting as both dad and mom, shuffles through the mail, settling on a postcard from Donna’s gym, which has noticed her absence and "misses her." Apparently, they’ve forgotten the fact Donna shuffled off this mortal coil in service to Kevin James and longtime co-star Leah Remini’s chemistry. Kendra is outraged by the gym’s careless oversight, grumbling, "It’s been over a year since she died. They shouldn’t still be sending this." True.
This is where we could hypothetically get an emotional moment from Kevin, now a widower, at least recognizing his loss, or Donna, who’s dealing with the death of her mother; that isn’t the kind of pain that disappears in a just a year. Even a mere explanation of what happened would be appreciated. Instead, viewers were affronted with a martial arts joke. "But don’t throw that out," Kevin warns his daughter about the gym’s mailer. "On the bottom, there’s a coupon for a Kung-Fu lesson. I want to go there." Ha, ha, ha? While we hear audience "laughter" in the background, it’s impossible to believe that many people found a widower joking about a reminder of his wife’s death truly, knee-slappingly funny. We reached out to CBS about the potential use of a laugh track in this spot and await the network's response.
While all of this is disturbing enough, the rest of the episode makes the complete omission of any meaningful response to Donna’s death, or a simple explanation, even more troubling. As you can tell by the title, "Civil Ceremony" is actually about Kendra marrying her international boyfriend Chale Witt (Ryan Cartwright). This is a moment many young women look forward to spending with their mothers. Yet, Kendra barely mentions she wishes Donna could be there during the anxiety-ridden day. She doesn’t even say it when Remini’s character Vanessa, who has been made the female lead this season, gives the bride-to-be an powerful speech about love and marriage. It's the kind someone's mom gives them. "Thank you for being here," Kendra says. It would make character sense for her to continue, "Since my mother can’t be." No such addition is made.
At least everyone remembers someone important is missing when Donna walks out in her wedding dress, and Kevin says his late wife would be "so proud" of their daughter. Still, most of Kevin’s prenuptial pep talk is about how Kendra was "his" little peanut, he helped her learn how to ride a bike, and, oh yeah, someone else was there for all of that, right?
When the wonderful Erinn Hayes was unceremoniously booted off of Kevin Can Wait in June 2017, the Internet was understandably annoyed. It felt as as though the comedy was ditching the Children’s Hospital and Hotwives of Las Vegas actress in favor of lead Kevin James’ King Of Queens co-star Leah Remini, who only appeared in season 1’s final episodes as a "stunt." From the beginning of the show, it was unsettling to see Kevin revive the trope of an older, purposefully schlubby middle-aged sitcom lead with an impossibly beautiful, young wife. You had to ask: when did these two get married — the moment Donna hit the age of consent?
With Hayes’ exit, it looked as though she was being punished just for filling the exact role producers chose her for, and now they realized they simply wanted to recreate King Of Queens with a few tiny changes — even James’ real life brother, and Queens cousin, Gary Valentine would be there again. "Ceremony" proved all of this correct.
Hayes worked hard, and could have be easily written off of the series without killing her character — divorce is still legal on Long Island. Yet, Kevin went with the most extreme strategy to explain Hayes’ absence and Remini’s new status. Forget about the idea of two leading actresses on the same show. When the deadly switcheroo was announced, CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl promised, "It will be treated with dignity and respect and the show will move forward." An extremely vague reference to Donna’s still-unexplained death, a Kung-Fu-and-coupons joke, and the smallest of nods on Kendra’s wedding day isn’t exactly "dignity and respect." It’s barely even consideration.
Maybe that’s why Erinn Hayes is liking every tweet that mentions just how much fans already miss Donna.
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