A man-child husband. His nice, supportive wife who becomes the butt of the joke. A suburban house. A laugh track. You’ve seen it before. Plenty of sitcoms have been exploiting this setup to mine easy humor — many of them to an infuriating end. But in AMC’s genre-bending Kevin Can F**k Himself (created by Lodge 49’s Valerie Armstrong and executive-produced by Rashida Jones), these tropes are being blown off to explore the character of sitcoms who’ve been mostly sidelined: the wife and her side of the story. The result, albeit flawed, is not only an enthralling deconstruction of the tropes, but also a compelling drama that raises a question about our complicity in making sure this kind of degrading sitcoms live on for a long time.
Emmy winner Annie Murphy (Schitt’s Creek) plays Allison, the wife in question. At home, she plays the role of a supportive wife to her husband Kevin (Eric Petersen). She fetches him a meal. She cleans up the kitchen. She laughs alongside him. And even though Kevin always treats her badly, Allison is always there by his side. The bright, colorful, and full of laughs multi-cam setup certainly thinks that Kevin and Allison are a happy couple, just like the one on your favorite family sitcom. But that’s not the truth. Allison is actually suffering on the inside. We see this in her face, and we see this even more clearly anytime the multi-cam setup shifts into a grimmer, lowly-saturated single-cam one whenever Allison leaves the house — a tonal change that the show pulls off almost effortlessly.
When Allison finds out one day through her neighbor Patty (a fantastic Mary Hollis Inboden) that Kevin has been dipping his toes into their saving for a stupid scheme — a saving that Allison dreams of using to buy a new house — she decides that she’s had enough. She wants out and she wants out for good. And to her, the only way she could think of to untether herself from Kevin is by no other than killing him.
So much of what happens in Kevin Can F**k Himself is about Allison’s misadventures to get her plan on killing Kevin up and running, and to the darker side of her neighborhood, mainly following her as she’s trying to get her hand on oxy which she will use to drug Kevin off until he’s overdosed. And it’s at these parts of the story where the show is at its most interesting — not just because it has to do with drugs, which to some extent recalls another AMC prestige drama Breaking Bad, but also because this part of the show is where Allison gets mostly fleshed out as she’s going through a journey of self-liberation.
This is also where Patty gets more integral to the story. While at first, it seems that she’s just there to fill the role of the sitcom neighbor, more layers about her character are revealed as the show goes on. In a lot of ways, Patty represents Allison’s opposite side of the same coin. They both can’t stand Kevin; that’s clear as day. But where Allison’s desire to survive him and everything he’s put her through leads her to make a major decision of killing him, Patty’s way of self-preservation, on the other hand, is by playing along with him and his jokes. If she laughs at the same thing that he laughs at, which in this case is Allison, then it means she won’t be the target of his cruel jokes.
More than that, Patty also becomes the proxy for any sitcom audiences and their complicity at finding sexist jokes, like the one Kevin makes, funny and more than anything, okay. In the show’s fourth episode ‘Live Free or Die,’ this is made even clearer. Allison, exhausted and angry, expresses her disappointment, not just toward Kevin but also toward Patty, who just helps her in getting her oxy. “Right when I felt like I was worth something, Kevin ruined it,” Allison says to Patty inside her car. “And you just watched him and laughed.” Murphy’s performance in this scene, particularly, is outstanding. She turns the frustration and anger Allison has been repressing inside into one emotional confession and it’s her display of emotions that eventually adds more depth to the show.
That isn’t to say that Kevin Can F**k Himself hits all the right notes. The multi-cam sections, which mostly focus on Kevin, his buddy Neil (Alex Bonifer), and father Pete (Brian Howe) constantly doing dumb things, can at times bog down the show’s emotional and more interesting counterpart. And it’s not because the jokes are intentionally unfunny, but rather because, at times, the sitcom side of the show obnoxiously goes on longer than it should have. Of course, it’s understandable that the show wants Kevin’s side of the story to be purposefully long so that we can directly feel what Allison has been feeling for a long time. But it doesn’t make the experience of watching it any more enjoyable. If anything, this seems more like an easy way out anytime the show doesn’t know what to do with Allison. Had the runtime been cut a bit shorter and had the story not been afraid of just focusing on Allison, the show would’ve been a lot sharper.
In spite of those minor narrative shortcomings, Kevin Can F**k Himself delivers, largely thanks to Murphy’s excellent turn as Allison and the show’s intriguing examination on complicity.
Kevin Can F**k Himself premieres on AMC+ June 13 and AMC on June 20.
Photo: Jojo Whilden/AMC