Dina Reviews: Kevin Can Fuck Himself

 

In 2016, there premiered a sitcom called Kevin Can Wait, starring Kevin James and Erinn Hayes as a clichéd sitcom married couple… you know, the husband is an overweight, self-absorbed, lovably goofy manchild and the wife is a slim and pretty woman who’s much smarter than her husband but also a bit of a snarker and a killjoy. I’m sure you can think of several examples off the top of your head already.

Apart from overused and tired sexist stereotypes that even the critics of the time pointed out, there was absolutely nothing special about Kevin Can Wait. The show only ran for two seasons and would have been forgotten by everyone today if it hadn’t been for one thing: After the first season, Erinn Hayes was fired and the wife character was unceremoniously killed off… and the show barely acknowledged her death. Viewers were NOT happy about this.

And one person who wasn’t happy was writer and story editor Valerie Armstrong, who in 2021 created a response to/parody of the show, the crassly but clearly titled black comedy series Kevin Can Fuck Himself. (Okay, it’s often presented as “Kevin Can F**k Himself” because censorship, but here on my blog we say the word “fuck” without unnecessary censoring!

And I recently watched through the show. It’s only 16 episodes, so it was quick enough to get through… but I have a few thoughts.

See, Kevin Can Fuck Himself is not only a direct response to Kevin Can Wait, it’s also a parody and deconstruction of the “fat manchild husband, pretty sensible but snarky wife” cliché. .In this case it stars Anne Frances Murphy as Allison, the long-suffering — but slim and pretty — wife of a fat manchild doofus of a man named Kevin, played by Eric Petersen.

The interesting thing about the show is that whenever Kevin is onscreen, the show is shot and presented like a colourful, multi-camera sitcom from the early 2000s, complete with laugh track and broad comic acting… but whenever Kevin ISN’T onscreen, the presentation switches to that of a dark and gloomy single-cam psychological crime drama. Because Allison, after more than a decade of marriage to Kevin, is heading for a total mental breakdown. And without the “sitcom” filter to present Kevin as loveable and funny, you begin seeing what utter HELL it must be, being married to such an irresponsible, self-centred, insensitive person. And as the crime drama parts of the show dominate more and more, it becomes increasingly clear what a toxic person Kevin is not only to Allison but to everyone in his life.

Kevin’s sidekick/best friend Neil, in the sitcom world presented as a lovable idiot, is in the crime drama revealed as a borderline alcoholic with mental health issues and anger problems, not helped by his one-sided friendship by the manipulative and verbally abusive Kevin (whose zingers hit differently without the laugh track). Neil’s sister Patty, in the sitcom world the “one girl in the gang of guys” whose role is mainly to roll her eyes at the guys, is in the crime drama world an emotionally dead drug dealer incapable of feeling joy, who only puts up with her brother and Kevin’s immaturity and abusive behaviour because the alternative is not having anyone at all. Even Kevin’s schlub of a father Pete, who never shows up in the crime drama scenes, we sort of get a subtle deconstruction of because it becomes clear he’s realizing he totally failed to raise his son properly and now has to deal with a childish, sociopathic manipulator who thinks he can get away with anything as long as he’s funny about it.

Now, believe it or not, this isn’t actually a new idea. Back in 1954, MAD magazine famously published a parody of the popular comic strip Bringing Up Father, called “Bringing Back Father.” If you don’t know Bringing Up Father, don’t worry too much about it… it was basically one of those “domestic abuse is hilarious when it’s the wife abusing the husband” comedies — all you need to know is that the temperamental and domineering wife, Maggie, was constantly hitting and throwing things at the henpecked husband, Jiggs. The parody was an 8-page story where half the pages were drawn in an almost perfect copy of the comic strip’s silly cartoony style with tons of slapstick humour and Maggie throwing tons of dishes at Jiggs as usual… the other half of the pages were drawn in a more serious style with heavy shadows and darker colours, which showed a bloodied and bruised Jiggs suffering the aftereffects of the violence and berating the reader for finding it funny. 

 

 

Kevin Can Fuck Himself, then, is a much longer, more in-depth, more complicated version of this idea. While it doesn’t break the fourth wall and admonish the viewer for laughing at Kevin’s antics when they cause so much misery, it presents the same message of “it’s not so funny when you think about it, is it?” Complete with changing the visual style from cheery and colourful to dark and gloomy.

A lot of viewers seem to take for granted that the “sitcom” scenes are Kevin’s skewed, rose-tinted worldview and the “crime drama” scenes are the real world… but I don’t think it’s that simple. The “crime drama” scenes are just as unrealistic and over-the-top as the “sitcom” scenes, it’s just that everything the sitcom plays for laughs, the crime drama plays for, well, drama. Because this is Allison’s skewed perception of the world. Where he sees everything as fun, colourful and devoid of real consequences, she sees everything as bleak, dark and devoid of real joy. Hers is the world of a depressed cynic.

Again we see a similar thing in Bringing Back Father, where the “serious” pages aren’t actually any more realistic than the “silly” pages, they’re just grittier and are mainly used to point out that the cheery, cartoony style makes the horrible things that happen seem harmless and comical.  I don’t know if Valerie Armstrong ever read this comic, but the similarities are clear!

Really, Allison is in her own way just as toxic, just as selfish and self-centred, and just as much of a terrible person as Kevin. Where he pulls people into a goofy sitcom world where he can verbally abuse and manipulate everyone without consequences, she pulls them into a bleak and angsty crime drama world where everyone hurts and nothing is okay. She begins to plot murder, spending the first eight episodes trying to find out how to kill Kevin and get away with it, and she ends up not only dragging Patty along with her as an accomplice, but pushing Neil into a breakdown of his own.  

But when Allison still comes across as the more sympathetic spouse, it’s because her actions are so clearly driven by despair… and because, when all is said and done, and the series is moving to a close, Allison shows that she is capable of growing and changing, of breaking out of her destructive rut and becoming a better person… which Kevin never does. 

All in all, Kevin Can Fuck Himself has a really neat premise, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t cathartic to see the “lovable fat manchild idiot husband” character be so viciously presented as a bad and annoying person who ends up driving everyone away because he’s just so terrible. However… and there’s a pretty big however… despite the blatant send-up of Kevin Can Wait, to the point where Erinn Hayes guest stars in the last episode as Allison’s “replacement” Molly, and similar sitcoms…

…I’m not actually 100% sure that Kevin Can Fuck Himself is completely successful as a deconstruction.

For one thing, the crime drama takes up too much time… a 44-minute episode is, if I’m to make a guess, about 25% sitcom and 45% crime drama… but the crime drama, sadly, is the less interesting part. As a response and deconstruction of the sitcom, it’s AWESOME, and the characters switching back and forth between their “sitcom versions” and their “crime drama versions” is effective and genuinely well acted all around… especially Kevin, who is only depicted through the “crime drama” lens once in the entire show, but the way he just morphs from annoying but amusing douchebag to intimidating total monster just with a subtle change in acting style (and helped by music cues and lack of laugh track) is absolutely masterful. But the thing is, the crime drama on its own isn’t actually that interesting. It’s kind of shallow and one-dimensional, and it DRAGS. The characters are generally not very engaging when they aren’t attached to the sitcom versions of themselves, the plot takes AGES to get anywhere, and more than half the scenes are filled with dramatic or awkward pauses where characters just stare into space and it’s supposed to be angsty but really just comes across as dull. 

It’s probably why, despite always being on board with LGBTQ representation, I had zero interest in the lesbian relationship that formed between Patty and the female cop Tammy. The relationship was solely confined to the crime drama, and in the crime drama the two have zero chemistry. They don’t even look like they’re enjoying each other’s company because they’re too busy being angsty and not talking to each other. 

I think Kevin Can Fuck Himself would have worked better if, instead of 44-minute episodes where you get twice as much crime drama as sitcom, it had 22-minute episodes that split the attention evenly between sitcom and crime drama. It would have forced the crime drama to be more focused, it would have kept the focus on the deconstruction part, and it wouldn’t have had the time to get boring and awkward. “Bringing Back Father,” while certainly not free of flaws (the ending goes full on chauvinist), had the right idea by giving the two sides about an equal amount of attention. 

But for all that I’m glad I watched it, and I hope Erinn Hayes found her guest role in the last episode cathartic. 

 

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