Spoilers are ahead. TV legend has it that Kevin Can F**k Himself, AMC’s new dark comedy, was born after CBS’ Kevin James’ sitcom, Kevin Can Wait, unceremoniously killed off its female lead (Erinn Hayes). The entire ordeal inspired sitcom fans to take a closer look at the genre, specifically how it treated its “wife” character. Why did she only exist to serve the male lead? And why was she always thin and gorgeous, when the husbands were not held to the same TV beauty standards— to put it bluntly — not? This has culminated in Kevin Can F**k Himself, in which creator Valerie Armstrong asks what happens to the sitcom wife off screen? The result is a hyper-specific show that is both built on gimmicks and shockingly honest.
Kevin Can F**k Himself follows Allison (Schitt’s Creek star and Emmy winner Annie Murphy), a 35-year-old woman who works at a liquor store and lives in a modest, if not slightly run-down, home with her immature husband, Kevin (Eric Peterson) — a self described “boy 35.” The first episode, “Living The Dream” starts in the sitcom world. Kevin is in the living room, aka the classic sitcom homebase that feels both working class and large enough to fit multiple cameras. He’s, practicing beer pong mid-afternoon with his best friend and neighbor, Neil (Alex Bonifer), Neil’s sister Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden), and Kevin’s dad Pete (Brian Howe). In walks Allison, carrying the sitcom wife prop of choice, a laundry basket, and the fun begins.
There’s no doubt that Kevin Can F**k Himself has mastered the art of the American sitcom. The multi-cam sitcom set up, the laugh track, the exaggerated delivery, and the jazzy ditty signaling the end of one scene and the start of another all set the scene. (The pilot even uses the classic “boss coming over for dinner” plot.) So, when we leave Kevin’s sitcom world and enter into Allison’s darker reality, it’s a pretty noticeable shift. All of a sudden, when Allison leaves her husband to go into the kitchen, the bright lights disappear, along with the laugh track and music. And that, in turn, only makes those sitcom tropes even more noticeable every time they reappear.
In a good sitcom, the laugh track fades into the background — ideally because audiences are laughing at the jokes too much to notice. But, because it flips between genres, Kevin Can F**k Himself makes the audience hyper-aware of the laugh track to call attention to the genre flaws. Once the show calls attention to the laugh track (or its absence in the scenes without Kevin), it shines a spotlight on which jokes the audience is encouraged to laugh at, and which barely earn a pre-recorded chuckle. It also becomes increasingly obvious how the laugh track is used to excuse Kevin’s inconsiderate and immature behavior. (It’s not frustratingly dumb, it’s funny!)
But Kevin Can F**k HiImself is more than just an expertly crafted deconstruction of the sitcom genre. After the first switch from the more realistic genre back into the sitcom world, there’s something else that stands out: Allison’s desire to play along. A few times in this first episode, Allison makes a sitcom-style joke that gets a lukewarm response from the laugh track. And, while the contrast between the sitcom and drama genres might make you think that Allison is as miserable in the sitcom world as she seems out of it, there’s clearly more to it. Yes, she’s stuck in Kevin’s world and she can’t find a way out, but she’s also trying to fit into it.
And she doesn’t just actively participate in the sitcom, she also actively hides the “real” parts of herself under the glaring lights of Kevin’s perfect comedic world. For example, in the first dramatic genre scene, Allison cuts her hand on Kevin’s beer glass. But the next morning, in the sitcom world, there’s no sign of her injury. It’s only when Kevin leaves the house to go to work, and the show reverts back to drama, that Allison has a bandage on her hand. Allison the sitcom wife is a front she puts on, a facade that helps her survive.
It would be easy for Kevin Can F**k Himself to rest on its premise. The gimmick of going from sitcom to drama is clever enough to intrigue viewers on its own. But, what’s particularly impressive about the show is how it embraces these tropes while telling a really relatable story of how people, particularly women, move through the world: putting on a brave, happy face, and just trying to get by in a world dominated by men.