It’s amazing how much damage can be reset in TV. The chaos caused by reckless characters in comedy shows all magically melted away by the next episode, everyone comfortable in their unending archetypes. The selfish man-child husband may have his long-suffering wife ready with a deflating put down or two, but somehow a second of affection can wipe away the devastation he wrought in the preceding 20 minutes. But, what if it didn’t? What if, behind the scenes, bitter resentment boiled over into a whistling rage?
Such is the intriguing set-up of Kevin Can F Himself: part studio sit-com, part drama. And not in the sense of a blending of genres either. This is no dramedy, black comedy, or chucklefest with occasional pathos. The show very deliberately keeps the world of sitcom and the ‘real world’ at utter arms length. The former is all canned laughter, brightly lit sets, and multi-camera set up. The latter is dour single camera reality, where the fallout of the comedic japes are laid bare.
Kevin (Eric Petersen) is indeed a selfish man-child husband. Whenever he is around the gags keep coming, and the neglect of his wife, Alison, is played up for laughs. Yet whenever not in his presence, Alison (Annie Murphy) isn’t having fun. Not at all. She has no friends, no family, and has to clean up after Kevin’s messes. Alison is the subject of pity from her sardonic neighbour, Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden), yet when Patty lets slip that Kevin has squandered all their savings and there is no escape, Alison awakens from her trapped lifestyle. Something has to be done. Kevin, she decides, has to die.
It really is a fascinating set-up. It’s therefore such a shame that Kevin Can F Himself, having mined down to a virgin seam of fresh ore, instead chips around it without ever loosening valuable nuggets. There are glimmers of what could have been done with the concept, such as when Alison loses control and smashes a glass, causing the bright perfect sit-com kitchen to switch to a dark gloomy room in which Kevin sits arrogantly awaiting his dinner. The sit-com element works best when it is being subverted, especially as in the ‘real’ world, Kevin’s behaviour is revealed as controlling and manipulative rather than charmingly immature.
Sadly, for the most part, the sitcom world exists in the exact form that Kevin Can F Himself is apparently trying to undermine. The show quarantines the comedy, with very few characters getting to exist in both worlds and allow us to see counterpoint behaviours. The exception is Patty, and this is where show creator Valerie Armstrong saves Kevin Can F Himself because with a blooming yet contentious friendship between Patty and Alison, the dramatic aspects of the show are stand-alone superb. As Alison’s dark side comes to the fore, her company fills a gap in Patty’s equally unfulfilling life.
The drama side sees affairs, drug dealing, a murder plot, police sniffing around, conspiracy, and crisis of identity. Murphy and Inboden light up the screen and we are right there with them with every shared chuckle and stress soaked word. “I wanted to yell at you in person,” says Patty glumly, waiting in the dark having ignored Alison’s calls. Murphy breathes a greedy selfish energy into a woman who has repressed herself for so long, while Inboden stokes a fire of warmth within her initially cold presence. The work gone into these characters is stellar stuff, and will quickly make you be checking your watch for the sit-com parts to be over.
There are hints of how things could be. It’s when the veil is lifted for a peek that the scales can fall from our eyes in sit-com land. Kevin’s compulsion to keep Alison in his pocket is one thing, but what about his father’s constant put downs of her? Or Kevin’s buffoon best friend Neil (Patty’s brother) who wants to exclude everyone from being as close to Kevin as he is? The snippets of reality playing under the forced laughs are rare and I can’t help but think the show missed a trick by not having the trailing ends of each world intersect.
I still had enormous fun watching Kevin Can F Himself and can’t wait for a second series to see what happens next. I’ve not even mentioned Petersen’s performance as Kevin because, well, you can picture it, can’t you? The classic studio comedy idiot who somehow lucks through his awful actions and decisions. Let’s see a bit more of the darkness in the eyes in season two please. The laughter needs to ring loud, hollow, and into an empty room free from applause.
Words by Mike Record