Spoilers for Kevin Can F**k Himself episode 6 are ahead. Mary Hollis Inboden had to read the pilot script for Kevin Can F**k Himself a few times before she really understood how the show was straddling both the multicam sitcom and the single-cam drama. It took her a few more reads to decide to audition for Patty, the nextdoor neighbor who starts out as one of Kevin’s (Eric Petersen) sidekicks in the multicam world and ends up bonding with Allison (Annie Murphy), Kevin’s unhappy wife, in the single-cam. “I set the script down and really had to consider going in because at first blush, without having all eight scripts, I really did feel as if Patty was another trope — that she was going to be one-dimensional,” she told Refinery29 over Zoom.
“The thing that really got me into the audition room was the scene on the porch, in the first episode, where Patty says to Allison, basically, stop being pitiful and pay attention to your life. I couldn’t figure out why, after 10 years, Patty would be so upfront with Allison.” Now that she's wrapped the eight-episode first season (they should hear about a possible season 2 pick-up any day now), Inboden has done the work to take Patty from sidekick to crucial player on Kevin Can F**k Himself.
In the first six episodes alone, Patty has gone from sarcastic sidekick — a “Carla (Rhea Perlman) from Cheers type,” per Inboden — to secret drug dealer and an accomplice in Allison’s plans to kill Kevin. Episode 6, “Chaos Theory,” featured Patty’s biggest character development yet, when she ends up going out with Detective Tammy Ridgeway (Candice Coke), the same detective trying to find the town’s local dealer… Patty.
Inboden’s road to Kevin Can F**k Himself wasn’t quite as wild as Patty’s dangerous date. When she first moved to Chicago at age 20, her goal was to become a character actress on the New York stage. “I never thought that I would be in front of a camera,” she admitted. But then came her first commercial, a 2008 ad for the seafood chain Captain D’s that she thinks she booked because “I would sit quietly and wait to speak until spoken to and do the gig.” More on-screen work followed — playing Jodi on The Real O’Neals, Mandy on The Righteous Gemstones, and Connie on Shrill — in part, she told Refinery29, because of her stellar professional reputation.
And then came Kevin Can F**k Himself.
Refinery29: We’ve learned so much about Patty since episode 1, but when you started, how much did you know about Patty’s character and did that change how you approached filming the sitcom scenes?
Mary Hollis Inboden: “Patty is peeling back the layer of an onion, so the important thing for me was to not know too much about Allison, to not be sympathetic to Allison in those first several episodes in single-cam, because the story that we’re telling is of Allison being dismissed. The story that Kevin evolves into is two women, not ever realizing how much they actually had in common [who] are both equally dismissed. To sprinkle in anything that I knew about Patty and her deeper level early was something I was really fearful of, because I think she does need to be a trope. She needs to be one-dimensional. She needs to be seemingly basic. And the fun part is realizing that she has secrets, just like Allison does.“
Establishing Patty as one-dimensional in those early episodes also makes her journey in episode 5, when she gets kicked out of the group and then returns, so much more bittersweet.
“Yeah, they’re terrible to Patty! When [Patty and Allison] come back from their road trip, Patty is stuck. All Patty knows is,’“I’m finally not doing the normal thing that I do, which is sit on the couch and watch these guys play beer pong. I’m having adventures with my new friend Allison. And, yes, it’s new, but I want to keep doing that.’ So, the things are going to end with [Patty’s boyfriend] Kurt (Sean Clements), and they’re going to hell in a handbasket with Kevin and the group. Kevin calls Kurt to tell on Patty, and it’s pretty abusive, honestly, and very, very controlling. It really is the great equalizer between Allison and Patty.
Even before that happens, though, Patty is shockingly chill when Allison reveals her plans to kill Kevin.
“Patty gets to be chill because Allison is such a wallflower and Patty’s witnessed her for 10 years never stand up for herself. Patty gets to be the audience throughout Kevin Can F**k Himself. I think Patty gets to be the one who says, ‘We all thought [Kevin’s] behavior was harmless. That toxic, controlling, abusive behavior was toxic, and we were all laughing at it.’ And she also gets to be somebody who’s like, ‘Why would you do that? Just leave him,’ or, ‘You’ll never do that.’ It’s not until Patty gets really scared and needs to ask for help that she comes up with a plan that might help them both.”
"While we’re not condoning spouses murdering their husbands to get out of toxic situations, we’re killing the idea of Kevin. We’re killing the toxic masculinity that exists everywhere for women."
Mary Hollis Inboden
Murder does seem like an extreme solution to Allison’s problem. Do you think Kevin deserves to die?
“I do think Kevin deserves to die. Number one, because we’re making a TV show and it turns out if you put a woman going through a divorce on TV, it’s just sad. And there’s something about the drasticness of a murder that makes it funny again. While we’re not condoning spouses murdering their husbands to get out of toxic situations, we’re killing the idea of Kevin. We’re killing the toxic masculinity that exists everywhere for women. The interesting thing about Kevin is that you never see him in single-cam. You never see him in a real world scenario, but if you listen to the things he says — he got a mail woman deported, he is constantly putting down Allison, and spent all their money on sports memorabilia and stuff off Amazon. He lives a life of no consequences. And he is also extremely abusive to Allison. Kevin is extremely controlling, he isolates Allison. He makes her life a living hell, he doesn’t let her have her own car, he got her in trouble with her boss. These are abusive behaviors. So, yes, I want to kill Kevin. I also think that divorce is not always as easy as you think, especially when you’re in an abusive relationship with someone and have no money. Again, I don’t want everybody to go kill their spouses, but…"
Let’s talk about Patty’s new relationship with Detective Tammy Ridgeway. I interpreted it as Patty’s first time dating a woman. Is that how you interpreted it too?
“Yes. I think Patty has been so repressed — her whole life has been about keeping her brother Neil alive, that’s her job. There’s not been a lot of time for Patty. And certainly stepping outside of any box and making decisions to live more for herself is entirely too scary. I interpreted her relationship with Tammy as the first time that she’s going, ‘I’m confused about this, but I’m not interested in saying no to a date with Tammy.’ She doesn’t quite know if this is a date or not at the end of [episode 5]. She doesn't know if this is a date or if she’s going to be interrogated. And I think after [episode 6], she realizes that she is having a very, very good time with Tammy, and is ultimately embarrassed that Allison sees that. And only time will tell why it’s so powerful for both of them… Allison seeing Patty out, exploring her real self and her real desires is very, very frightening for Patty."
Patty and Tammy’s relationship also marks a really big departure for Patty from Kevin’s sitcom, a genre that hasn’t always been welcoming to LGBTQ+ stories.
“When we got the episodes last summer, before we started filming, I was so completely enamored and enthralled with Patty’s sexuality journey because it really is one of the theses of the show. What you see is not always what you get in sitcoms, right? Everything’s super shiny in sitcoms, we look great. You’ll never get to see the cracks there. And in fact, when female characters are on stage in a male-lead sitcom — in the male-lead world which is Kevin’s — you don’t get to know who they actually are. And Patty’s sexuality was really, really important. It’s a really important piece to see her truly walk out and start to try to live the life that she wants outside of Kevin’s universe. And I think she’s super inspired by Allison’s now manic and single-minded focus of really doing something for herself.”
After episode 6, for Allison, happiness still looks like getting rid of Kevin. What does happiness for Patty look like?
“It looks like getting to help people [openly]. It looks like being herself, not a caricature of a person, or a tomboy, or a guy’s girl. I think that happiness for Patty is being able to — perhaps not sell illegal drugs — but in some way continue that sort of altruistic, Robin Hood spirit of helping people out. I think that really feeds Patty. But Patty wants freedom to be herself, without being a joke. A lot of times people are fearful — certainly [Patty] was fearful in Kevin’s universe because everybody’s ripping on each other all the time. It’s hard to take a deep breath. It makes for inauthentic people who have to sit around worried that they’re going to be the butt of the joke, and if they are the butt of the joke and they don’t take it well, they’re going to be told to suck it up. I think Patty would like the space and freedom to be who she is and for it not to be made fun of, and for it to be accepted. And, in fact, loved — [in] her relationship with Tammy and perhaps even Allison.”
I really hope Tammy doesn’t end up arresting Patty. I want her to get away with everything.
“Me too. Girls like Patty and Allison are really special to me because they speak for a lot of women right now who are in a misogynistic society. It happens a lot with females, where we decide there’s a woman we wouldn’t get along with — ‘that kind of woman.’ And it happens very early. It happens in high school a lot, where we divide and we go, ‘You’re that kind of girl, I’ll never hang out with you.’ And that girl says the same back to you. And I really do think that it’s partially because of this that we’re all fighting for equality. We’re all under this umbrella that is led by a straight white male, and then nobody can come up and we all have to put ourselves against each other. And I hate that because women, when they get together, can really make things happen, and we don’t need all this competition and we don’t need all this one-upping, or ‘I’m going to get you under my thumb so that I have a little bit more power in this room of men.’ And I think that only happens because of the Kevins.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.