Directors: Anna Dokoza, Oz Rodriguez
Writers: Shukri Abdi, Valerie Armstrong, Lindy Jamil Gomez, Mel Shimkovitz, Craig DiGregorio, Sean Clements, Kevin Etten, Dana Ledoux Miller, Kate Loveless, Tom Scharpling, Noelle Valdivia
Cast: Annie Murphy, Eric Petersen, Mary Hollis Inoboden, Alex Bonifer
Cinematographer: Adrian Peng Correia
Editors: Kenneth LaMere, Ivan Victor, Dan Schalk
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Kevin Can F*** Himself is the second show this year, after WandaVision, to adopt, and adapt, the sitcom format. Both lure audiences in with the comforting familiarity of the genre, cheesy one-liners, easily resolved shenanigans and laugh tracks, before hitting them with the darker implications of that universe. The pilot episodes of both even share an amusing subplot — the husband’s boss coming over for dinner. But that’s where the similarities end. For WandaVision’s witch Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), the sitcom world is a refuge from the horrors of her everyday life. For Allison McRoberts (Annie Murphy) of Kevin Can F*** Himself, the sitcom world is the horror she’s seeking refuge from.
While WandaVision used sitcoms to illustrate the dangers of escaping into entertainment as a coping mechanism, Kevin Can F*** Himself highlights the regressive gender roles that these shows are often founded on. The opening scene, a nod to sitcoms like The King Of Queens and Kevin Can Wait, introduces the sloppy, infantile husband Kevin McRoberts (Eric Petersen) and his more attractive, more level-headed wife Allison. He’s playing beer pong, she’s doing their laundry. He wants to throw a rager for their anniversary, she’s so responsible, the neighbours call her ‘mom’. So far, so sitcom. Then Allison walks into the kitchen and it’s like she’s walked backstage, leaving the sitcom to play on in the living room behind her. The bright, artificial sitcom lighting is now dimmed, a high-pitched noise mimics the ringing in her ears and her bemused exasperation, a staple of sitcom wives everywhere, morphs into a look of quiet desperation. Allison is the long-suffering sitcom wife, and when she finds out later in the episode that Kevin’s drained their savings account, it’s the final straw. She begins putting together an elaborate revenge plot.
The premise, and the cross-cutting of genres it entails, are fantastic ideas on paper but soon wear thin onscreen. In blending two worlds that are so visually and tonally different, the show loses the element of humour integral to the sitcom. Kevin’s jokes are pointedly misogynistic, more a facsimile than a parody of the shows he’s meant to be referencing. On the other hand, Allison’s private hell is too grim to elicit laughs, but still has occasional moments of cleverness. When she uses a computer at a public library to look up ways to kill her husband, the results are blocked for having ‘inappropriate content’, a nice jab at the sanitised world of sitcoms. In another scene following a rock-bottom moment, she sticks her head into a gas oven for a beat too long, only to emerge right back into the sitcom universe with a freshly baked tray of cookies.
The show’s sharpest writing is reserved for scenes outside the sitcom setup, which makes the scenes set within it even more disappointing. There are times Kevin is so insufferable and Allison’s responses to him so full of barely restrained disgust, it’s hard to fathom how or why the two even got together in the first place, let alone how Allison let a decade of marriage go by in quiet resignation before snapping. It’s great fun to watch her finally break out of her templated sitcom housewife role and give in to her impulses, whether they’re as mild as buying lipstick without asking the saleswoman if the shade suits her first, or as reckless as driving out of state to score drugs. At 43 minutes each, however, the episodes drag out the arc of a woman who finally comes into her own by repeatedly piling up the indignities she has to suffer at home.
It’s two steps forward, one step back every time the show layers in thoughtful depictions of internalised misogyny and the sexist systems that grind women down every day, only to cut right back to Kevin’s bluntly regressive attitudes. While Allison drives the plot forward, her arc playing out like a high-stakes prestige TV drama, he’s stuck in the vacuous loop of easily resolved sitcom shenanigans. It’s a dichotomy that grates most in episode 3, in which her escape from a hellish marriage involves a dangerous cross-border trip while his idea of an escape involves building an escape room in his basement for easy money. Maybe a pared-down plot within a tight 30-minute episode runtime is one sitcom convention Kevin Can F*** Himself would have been better off adhering to.