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Bold ‘Kevin Can F–k Himself’ delivers dark laughs in sitcom deconstruction

Bold ‘Kevin Can F–k Himself’ delivers dark laughs in sitcom deconstruction

Bold ‘Kevin Can F–k Himself’ delivers dark laughs in sitcom deconstruction
September 12
11:50 2021

“The whole world is rigged! It’s made for guys like Kevin!”

Having finished its first season run just over a month ago, “Kevin Can F–k Himself” was recently renewed by AMC for a second season and it’s not hard to see why. Created by Valerie Armstrong, the first run of this dark dramedy took a hard look at the classic domestic sitcom and asked, “What would being married to a person constantly throwing themselves into schemes and embarrassment do to someone?”

In this case, the effects of being married to someone who a.) schemes in ways leaving no room for a life of your own, b.) doesn’t respect your desires and c.) isolates you from any outside life, drives protagonist Allison McRoberts (Annie Murphy) to the realization she wants husband Kevin (Eric Petersen) dead. No matter what lies in her future, she will ensure Kevin isn’t in it.

Still, murder is murder. Kevin may be an insensitive and extreme egotist, but is Allison going a bit too far? That’s one of the questions at the core of the show, itself split between two antithetical halves: Kevin’s “sitcom” section where everything’s a laugh-a-minute and the colors are saturated, and Allison “reality,” where the colors are bleaker and closer to your standard crime show. Thankfully, Allison’s eight-episode odyssey through working-class Worchester is compelling from near start to finish. 

As the beleaguered housewife, Murphy’s performance garners a lot of sympathy for a supposed murderer-to-be, along with the writing. In the sitcom sections, she’s the beleaguered, snarky spouse ubiquitous in the genre, while in the reality sections she rediscovers life outside of Kevin, the dark corners of her hometown and just how miserable Kevin has made his friends. Watching her redevelop a spine, act out and also share honest human moments with her comrades is rewarding. Some highlights near the end show up when her further developed personality starts to seep into the sitcom.

Opposite of Kevin, Petersen excels at playing this pastiche of the sitcom dad, the worst aspects of the archetype turned up so high on the douche-o-meter, it breaks. Petersen hasn’t had any notable roles before this, yet he slips into the role with ease. Kevin is never outright evil, but there is something unnerving about him. With seemingly little effort, he exerts extraordinary control over his tight-maintained, comfortable bubble. 

However, the dark horse candidate is Mary Inboden as Patty O’Connor, one of Kevin’s friends who becomes wrapped in Allison’s escapades. She’s basically been nonexistent in the marketing, yet Inboden makes her probably the highlight of the show. Someone who had been content to spend the rest of her life in Kevin’s little gang, her own path to realizing just who Kevin is and what she can achieve outside of him could have been a show in its own right, yet it complements the main narrative flawlessly. 

The show’s handling of both realities also deserves praise, with the writing in both receiving considerable care and attention. The usual zany sitcom plots have this added edge of unease, while the reality sections thoroughly pull apart these same shenanigans via tight continuity. Rarely is any thread fully tied off at the end of an episode — Kevin’s actions continue to haunt Allison from one setting to the next. The mistakes, pain and consequences all build. 

The sitcom itself also revels in little details, highlighted in the stock canned laughter. Not only is a distorted version used for some disturbing title cards, but the laughter itself also becomes something of an antagonist as if the spectators are cheering Kevin’s abuse on. In particular, how the sitcom affects another character is rife with implications and even payoff.

However, much like the show’s real-world setting, some things are rotten in Worcester. 

For one, the reality setting is barely above most crime dramas in the post “Breaking Bad” age of television. It’s well done, but it doesn’t raise the bar aside from some very well-handled drama. Pacing is sluggish in the middle batch of episodes until the twist at the end of episode five and seeing how much Kevin gets away with can be frustrating.

There’s also how the show views Allison in relation to its own moral core. It’s nice to see Armstrong and her writers allow the protagonist to do questionable things and risk sympathy. However, there are moments where the intention of the writers becomes obscured.

The show is also a bit broad in how it skewers tropes. While Armstrong based the show on her own observations of sitcom housewives, none of the deconstructing is quite specific. The whole setup is more the broad strokes of an idea of a sitcom and sometimes fails to say a whole lot about the misogyny of the genre itself, even if the story is tight. 

Regardless, this didn’t stop me from becoming invested in Allison and Patty’s struggles and their very palpable fantasies. This led to the season finale having one of the best cliffhangers in recent memory, paying off on conflict and leaving some tantalizing threads for the now-confirmed following season.

Above-average at worst and riveting drama at its best, the inaugural season of  “Kevin Can F–k Himself” does what first seasons are supposed to do: lay out a plan for future stories while remembering to entertain and enrapture the first go-around.

Final rating: 3.5/5

Image source AMC

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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