Allison begins to fantasize about not just leaving Kevin but killing him. It’s a drastic step, to be sure—but what sitcom wife could blame her?
On any given evening, you can tune your TV to one of the major networks and likely find a sitcom—or even catch an old one on cable, running in syndication. Likely, the cast will be mostly male, and the plot will revolve around a bumbling husband and father who week after week finds himself in some sort of mishap, as his pretty but nagging wife gets dragged along for the ride. He’ll land himself in trouble, she’ll grumble about it, and in the end, all will be resolved, no real harm done, and the questionably matched couple will crawl into bed and share a kiss, ready to repeat the formula following week.
AMC’s new drama, Kevin Can F**k Himself—the title itself a play on sitcom Kevin Can Wait— takes a much-needed critical look at this setup, combining the multi-cam sitcom with the single-cam drama to explore the world from the perspective of that hot, beleaguered wife.
The brightly lit sitcom scenes, complete with a laugh track, focus on Kevin, the typical sitcom husband, and his exploits with best friend and neighbor Neil—while Kevin’s wife, Allison, is a background character in her own life, an unwilling participant in Kevin’s typical sitcom schemes. In the pilot, Allison quickly gives up on her hopes for a nice anniversary dinner in favor of Kevin’s preferred “anniversa-rager.” The jokes and storylines are predictable, the laugh track used, as in many sitcoms, more like punctuation. When Allison tries to persuade Kevin to move to a bigger, nicer home, he insists their current one is fine—only for a curtain to come clattering down immediately.
When Kevin’s boss gets word of the rager, Kevin sets up a fake “boring” party with a charcuterie board that Allison “gets to” be in charge of, only for the boss to discover the real party after Allison leaves the room. Like so many sitcom wives, Allison is one-dimensional, good for a few snappy comebacks and the (mostly ignored) voice of reason, but little more. Even the setting of Boston is a caricature, with its recognizable but exaggerated accents, a “Shipping Up to Boston” ringtone, and an obsession with football.
But when Allison—or Kevin—leaves the room, the lighting gets darker, the camera angle shifts, and suddenly, Allison is no longer a supporting character but rather the star, increasingly frustrated with her life and role, so to speak. Here, Allison is a fully realized character, someone with a backstory and ambition whose purpose isn’t to serve as a foil to her husband.
It’s a refreshing look at a very familiar format, delightfully picking away at the structure of the sitcom and going deeper, and in the process, exposing not just bad jokes and lazy tropes but greater issues in both the sitcom and world at large—the most obvious being sexism. It’s no coincidence that the women of sitcoms are often nagging, boring, and swept up in a plot revolving around their husband where they’re forced to clean up the mess, figuratively and literally. Kevin Can Wait famously killed off its title character’s wife to make room for another, as though sitcom wives are expendable and interchangeable.
As a result of giving Allison depth and showing the world from her perspective, Kevin Can Fuck Himself also explores the sitcom marriage. Kevin and Allison, like many sitcom couples, seem mismatched. He says he loves her and often shows her physical affection, but otherwise, he’s condescending and inconsiderate. Allison buys Kevin a nice watch as an anniversary gift; Kevin tells her to tell Neil what she wants so Neil will repeat it to him. Kevin spends their anniversary with his friends at their rager and even forgets it’s an anniversary party; Allison is left to entertain Kevin’s boss and later drinks wine in the bathtub. To atone, Kevin surprises Allison with a nice, quiet dinner—but Allison has to cook it.
“What Allison wants, Allison gets,” Kevin says, though none of his actions reflect that. The most egregious example is after agreeing to move, he drunkenly announces at the rager—without consulting her—they won’t be moving to Allison’s dream house after all.
“Do I never finish things, or does he take them from me?” Allison asks, realizing that everything she’s abandoned—the new house, going back to school, even driving—has been because of Kevin. Not only did Kevin decide they weren’t moving, but he’s made it impossible by secretly spending the savings Allison intended to use as a deposit. If Allison isn’t in school, Kevin gets her to himself. Kevin needs the car and insists that Allison is a bad driver, despite the fact, she notes, that she’s never been in an accident.
Presumably like many sitcom wives, Allison is unhappy and ready to move forward in life, but there is no moving forward in a sitcom—it’s merely a new version of the same thing week after week. They’re trapped by their husbands, and, in turn, the writers who created them and the executives who keep putting them on television.
At last, Kevin Can Fuck Himself brilliantly imagines how those characters pulled into arbitrary conflicts and immaturity really feel and shows us what their lives outside of the machinations of the main characters must be like—and it’s bleak and stifling. No wonder Allison begins to fantasize about not just leaving Kevin but killing him. Maybe she’ll succeed and be free of him. It’s a drastic step, to be sure—but what sitcom wife could blame her?
Kevin Can F**k Himself debuted on AMC+ on June 13.