A broken premise, etched in tears
The Husband and a couple of friends are preoccupied with a game of high-stakes beer pong — the loser has to strip naked and run around the living room — when The Wife enters, carrying a laundry basket and dropping subtle hints about doing something special for their upcoming anniversary.
All but ignored, she half-halfheartedly joins in the banter until The Husband … having won the game and preparing to see his opponent disrobe and streak … tosses an empty beer mug into the clean laundry and orders himself up a refill.
Cue laugh track.
At which point you ask yourself several questions that begin with the word “Why?”
Why is there a beer pong table front and center in a living room that looks like the love child of the sets from “All in the Family” and “Everybody Loves Raymond”?
Why are these two married men making a bet where the winner gets to see the loser naked?
Why is this funny — at least funny enough to be underscored by canned laughter?
And, most importantly … why am I watching?
The show is the sledgehammer-named “Kevin Can F*** Himself” and it’s one of those series that depends on the viewer’s understanding and acceptance of its premise in order to find an audience.
This is always a risk for creators of TV products in a landscape where if you don’t find a show suits your sensibilities in its opening scene … there are hundreds of other options immediately at your disposal.
The beer pong game that opens the premiere episode of “Kevin” quickly dissolves into the true intent of the show. Carrying the laundry basket back through the swinging door into the kitchen — only in sitcoms do kitchens exists on the other side of a swinging door — the lighting dims and Allison, the wife played by “Schitt’s Creek” Emmy-winner Annie Murphy, drops her cheerful demeanor for a look of put-upon dread.
She slams the mug onto the countertop, cutting her hand on shattered glass and manages a whimperingly pleasant “I’m OK” — which goes unheard by those enjoying the strip show in the living room.
No laugh track.
And this is the world of “Kevin” … whose opening credits spell out the F-word a letter at a time, for those who have stumbled upon this show without advance warning.
The title is a play on “Kevin Can Wait,” a show that ran on CBS for two seasons and infamously killed off The Wife after Year One because, show runners said, they’d run out of storylines for the character.
Behind all the punching-bag TV sitcom wives — at least from that era of shows where such characters were a laugh-track staple — are women needing a valve to release the anger and frustration that comes from marrying the wrong Husband in the first place.
The scenes in “Kevin” that aren’t based in the stereotyped world grow increasingly dark, to the point where poor pitiful Allison decides that, this time, its The Husband whose storylines have run their course and therefore must be killed off.
It’s here, for those of you still reading, that I will stop talking about what goes on in “Kevin Can F*** Himself” — because it’s here that I made the decision to stop watching.
Dark comedies can be terrific fun, and TV shows or movies making a point about the making of TV shows or movies can offer insight while remaining entertaining or enticing enough to watch.
Your results might vary, but after watch the two episodes available on free cable (the show movies to AMC’s streaming service after that), I think I saw all that I needed to see.
It’s also when I started asking myself other questions.
How long, I wondered, has it been since sitcom wives were depicted in the manner they are here?
The set might come straight from “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “All in the Family,” but there’s no way Debra Barone would put up with being treated the way Allison is treated by Kevin.
Heck, even the iconic Edith Bunker finally had enough of Archie’s attitude and told him he could F*** … err, stifle himself.
I wondered whether television shows such as this are no long being created by “children of television” but by those who have been weaned on tropes and stereotypes rather than the actual shows themselves.
In the film “Pleasantville,” they solve this issue by transporting modern characters into a sitcom town from a much earlier time. The new arrivals are able to change their surroundings by getting the locals to see their misguided view of life.
“Kevin,” however doesn’t allow itself that sort of separation and, in doing so, traps itself within its own conventions. It can’t escape its need to be seen as clever.
There’s an entire genre out there of pop culture being self-reflective, a metaverse where the idea of being original or clever can be found only in premises that exist only to point out the originality or cleverness of their premises.
The issue becomes, where does a show like this go after that premise is established?
Will the “sitcom” scenes become increasing subversive, as Allison’s plot to get rid of Kevin turns the stereotypes inside out?
If so, it just becomes a show about a woman with an abusive husband and her desperation to get out of the situation.
All the canned laughter in the world isn’t going to get viewers at that point to chuckle on cue.
Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be found rewatching “Schitt’s Creek” from the beginning at firstname.lastname@example.org