Watching Kevin Can F**k Himself might make you rethink everything you love about sitcoms. The new AMC series, starring Annie Murphy, sheds a completely inventive light on the tropes that have defined generations of TV — and were often littered with sexist, lazy, and problematic stereotypes. But Kevin Can F**k Himself isn’t a finger-wagging look back at popular shows that glorified the basic straight white man. It’s a dark comedy about one suburban woman who is done being the punchline and wants to deliver the punches herself.
When we first meet her, Allison (Annie Murphy)’s life is defined by her messy, unappreciative, and inconsiderate husband Kevin (Eric Petersen) who can’t do anything for himself. For their 10th anniversary, Kevin throws a party for himself and his friends, which Annie is expected to clean up. Worst of all, he’s spent all of their savings and has been lying to her about it.
At her wit’s end and desperate for a new life, Allison finally decides to take control and win back her independence. She finds ways to screw over Kevin — and maybe even get rid of him for good.
The heady and complicated role of Allison called for an actress who could seamlessly bridge the character’s conflicting emotions. She’s the dutiful wife at home, but seething with anger the moment Kevin leaves the room. Murphy, now an Emmy winner following her career-defining role as Alexis Rose on Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek, shines as the miserable, but resourceful, Allison. The leading role is on the other side of the spectrum from Alexis, but it still allows Murphy to tap into her humor and her best acting tool: physical comedy. The unexpected comedic elements of her character was a big priority for Murphy on set, and her dedication to making Allison funny, but totally unappreciated, displays the hopelessness of her situation.
“It was really important to me that the audience be able to see glimmers of who Allison used to be — before these 10 years had kind of chipped away at her personality and her heart and her mind,” Murphy told Refinery29 during a recent interview. “It was important to me that she had a sense of humor even though her sense of humor is not understood in the sitcom world, and she's told she's not funny.”
Throughout the first few episodes of Kevin Can F**k Himself, I kept thinking about that paparazzi image of Britney Spears wearing her “DUMP HIM” tee shirt in 2002. I wanted to print it out, and mail it to Allison. But instead, I hopped on the phone with Murphy to hear more about this fascinating and genre-bending role.
Refinery29: Tell me about your first time reading the script for Kevin Can F**k Himself. Were you surprised by the premise of it?
Annie Murphy: “One hundred percent — especially because I had been reading so many scripts and getting to a point, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what are people making? What are people trying to say?’ [The scripts I was getting sent were so] one note. Nothing seemed to be wanting to analyze or criticize or go in depth or really get into any kind of real content. Then this script came along. And not only was it a format that I hadn't seen before, but ... the female character in the show is so deeply flawed and so imperfect and such a mess of conflicting emotions. I was like, ‘I can relate to that.’ There's so much gray area when it comes to being a human being, and I don't think that that is talked about enough or written about enough.”
Were there any gray areas with Allison that you had trouble connecting with?
“It wasn't hard because I see bits of myself in her. I see bits of me, my dear girlfriends in her, both positive and negative ways. I think the one thing that I was a little bit worried about was like, Oh, she's really angry — really, really angry and really frustrated. In my head I was like, I'm not that angry or frustrated. And then I very quickly realized, ‘Oh, yeah, I really am,’ and I've just been stuffing it all down for a very long time so I could go about my day. When it came to the scenes of anger and the scenes of smashing glasses and punching things, it was alarmingly easy to do.”
I see bits of me, my dear girlfriends in her, both positive and negative ways.
Something that I felt when I was watching Allison is just how exhausted she is after she realizes how long she’s been pushing everything down. After a day of filming, how did you feel? What was the mood on set?
“It was really weird to think about because the single camera scenes, even though the content was so heavy and there's so much more angst involved, they were easier to do for me than multicam scenes. In the multicam world, [Allison’s neighbor] Patty and I, we're there to set up the punchlines for the men, to take care of the men, to scold them, feed them, and then go back into the kitchen. We were the spectators, but we were both also so desperate to get in there. We never got to because the writers wanted to stay as true to form as possible with the sitcom that we've grown to know. So, of course, the women aren't going to steal the scene. And of course, we're not going to [get] the funny jokes. We're not there for it. Those were the days that I found most frustrating.”
There’s a lot of people talking about how the show subverts sitcom tropes, but one plotline felt very not sitcom-y to me: the drug-murder plotline that touches on the opioid epidemic in small towns.
“It does open up into the world of the town that the show takes place in which we never really [see]. Usually [sitcoms] just exist within the house; maybe we go across the backyard to the neighbor's house, but we don't see the world surrounding them. We deal with socioeconomic differences and drug abuse and a whole bunch of things that we don't usually see in the sitcom world. What I love about the whole drug plot is if Allison wanted to, Allison could just get a gun, simple as that. But Type A Allison really deeply needs this to be done properly and she needs to do a very good job at the murder. That to me is just such a very funny conflict of interest.”
Did you grow up watching sitcoms, and did this change the genre for you?
“I didn't watch a ton of sitcoms growing up, but I watched Family Matters here and there and Home Improvement here and there and not ever think twice about it. That's just what it was — the funny husband, and the wife takes care of the kids and is kind of unhappy. But the guy is so funny, so what's the problem? It really wasn't until Erinn Hayes was fired from Kevin Can Wait ... that the gears started turning. [When] I started slowly working on this show, I started looking at sitcoms with a far more analytical eye and realizing how much terrible content was just shrouded by a laugh track. At this point, there's no going back. I can never just go back and enjoy a sitcom.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.