Though AMC’s new sitcom dramedy Kevin Can F**k Himself isn’t strictly genre, it tells the story of a woman doing everything in her power to warp her bleak reality into a picturesque vision of domestic bliss. Much like WandaVision’s Westview, there’s a troubling chaos bubbling up in the show’s take on Worcester, Massachusetts. But where Marvel’s WandaVision often played its heroine’s home troubles for laughs, AMC’s new show goes for a much bleaker, soul-crushing route, and sticks with it.
At some point before the events of Kevin Can F**k Himself’s (KCFH from here on out because it is a mouthful) first episode, Allison (Schitt’s Creek’s Annie Murphy) obviously loved her boorish, layabout husband Kevin (Eric Peterson), and found his tendency towards obnoxiousness charming enough to agree to marry him. Growing up in the same town and running in the same social circles made it easy for Allison and Kevin to eventually find themselves romantically entangled, and despite the couple’s ups and downs, their relationship was an important constant that shaped their identities and kept them anchored in their hometown. KCFH leads with these ideas as it opens in the present day, 10 years into the couple’s marriage, but quickly establishes how Allison’s come to perceive their relationship and reality differently because of Kevin, someone comfortably stuck in the past.
In place of witchcraft, creator Valerie Armstrong’s (Lodge 49) KCFH leads with a disturbing conceit that speaks volumes to the mental spaces Allison and Kevin are in as the series begins. While the pair exists in the same reality in a literal sense, the series shows you how, in moments when Allison’s around Kevin, she experiences her life as if it were a multi-cam network TV sitcom like King of Queens or Kevin Can Wait where the quips are largely tepid and the canned laughter is plentiful. Though Kevin seems unaware of the disconnect between himself and his wife, the show repeatedly shifts to a single-cam setup where the despair and emptiness Allison’s surrounded by is shot at a sobering 24 frames per second, as opposed to the sitcom’s 30.
The tragedy of Allison’s circumstance is that depressing as it all is, she’s extremely good at playing the part of a put-upon, but still loving wife — so much so that no one has any clue that their relationship is a mind-numbing prison for her. Though there’s a vast emotional gulf between Allison and most of the people around her, KCFH weaves its contrasting depictions of the world into a surprisingly compelling story about what feeling existentially trapped can do to a person’s mind and their sense of self. As much passing similarity as KCFH bears to WandaVision, its story has much more in common with more recent takes on Harley Quinn as she grapples with her decision to break away from the Joker. When Allison isn’t busy willing herself to see the Kevin show, her frustrations bubble up as fantasies about murdering him, and it isn’t long before she begins to consider whether those fantasies are things she should make real.
In both the show’s sitcom trappings and its more serious scenes, Murphy is excellent as two versions of Allison who read as the same person who’s become comfortable wearing a mask to hide her disillusionment. As the star of his own show, Petersen delivers a performance that’s equal parts a send-up of, and a tribute to, the kinds of white men who’ve been the centerpieces of American sitcoms for decades. In Kevin and his friend Neil (Alex Bonifer), you can see characters like Homer Simpson and, more overtly, Family Guy’s Peter Griffin. But rather than simply play to that energy for laughs, KCFH takes care to emphasise how characters like Kevin represent a very specific kind of archetypical white masculinity that often manifests in toxic ways. As characters like their neighbour Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) and Allison’s old high school flame Sam (Raymond Lee) take on more prominent roles, KCFH builds out the world that exists beyond the sitcom pocket universe that overtakes everything when Kevin’s present. All of this makes for an interesting juxtaposition that reveals far more about who the characters are than anything they verbally express to one another. But the show’s sitcom elements can become a bit of a slog to get through, particularly if that genre of television isn’t your speed.
Because KCFH gets right to the heart of what it’s all about fairly early on (we viewed the first four episodes), what’s going to be interesting to see is what direction the show takes as the season progresses weekly, and Allison’s situation becomes more dire. After opening so strongly with its premise and execution of a tricky concept, KCFH has the potential to be one of the summer’s must-watches.
Kevin Can F**k Himself premieres June 13 on AMC+ in the U.S.
Stay tuned for where it’ll air in Australia.
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