Only some episodes were made available for review.
Conjure up your favourite sitcom. Perhaps you're visualising the Kyle family from My Wife and Kids, or you're standing in Tim's Flat in Not Going Out. Maybe you're browsing the shelves of Kim's Convenience, or the Alvarez clan from One Day at a Time instantly pops into your head.
They chart four divergent, geographically dispersed groups that are grappling with their own challenges as they make their way in the individual, specific worlds that their creators sketched. They have their own personalities and tone, serving up characters unique to their respective environments, each with their own idiosyncrasies. But at their core, they all share the same DNA. They exist to entertain. Their purpose is to make you cackle and howl and ultimately, feel good. Some also manage to impart a little wisdom or perspective along the way, but that's a bonus, not a driving force.
They want you to want to spend time with those characters, and not for the plot points, but because they're your mates, too. They're warm, safe spaces that you can curl up inside when you're feeling fragile, and like your real-world, flesh and blood friends, you return to them, time and time again.
Kevin Can F**k Himself takes the concept of the sitcom and smashes it to pieces in two compelling ways.
The AMC dark comedy, which doesn't yet have a home in the UK, centres on Allison, played by Schitt's Creek's Annie Murphy, a disillusioned woman who wants more. She's essentially a glorified skivvy for her husband Kevin (Eric Petersen), who remains firmly plonked on the couch while she fetches his meals and scoops his dirty laundry off the bedroom floor. After protesting against Allison's wishes for an anniversary dinner and throwing his annual "Anniversa-rager" instead – a party that has zilch to do with his marriage and everything to do with him chugging beer with his bonehead bro pals – he relents, but Allison is still expected to rustle up their feast, because Kevin.
All of Allison's interactions with her husband take place within a sitcom, complete with canned laughter. It zips along a brisk pace, barely pausing for breath, the tone easy and breezy and bright. Whenever Kevin is absent, the series becomes a different beast entirely.
The laughter stops and the hues are muted and dingy. The absence of Kevin affords Allison peace from his relentless buffoonery. There are periods of silence when the expectations that she had for her life taunt her as she's confronted by her reality: a broken coffee table cobbled back together with duct tape, because Kevin. It's when we see the toll that her husband, with his disregard and chauvinism and self-absorption, has taken on her in unflinching detail. It's as if someone has jabbed her with a pin and she deflates before our very eyes.
Those moments are when the series' most engaging conversations and developments occur. We're vying to escape Kevin's fictitious sitcom world so that we can really tap into Allison, whose actions in those scenes propel the narrative onwards. Her fearlessness builds with every action taken because they are choices that serve her, rather than her husband. Her need – not want – to flip the script bleeds through the screen as she comes to the conclusion that yes, she wants to murder her husband.
Whether she'll follow through with it in the real world as she does in her fantasies, slashing his carotid artery with a broken beer tankard, remains to be seen.
Kevin Can F**k Himself uses the sitcom as a gateway to more. It is the supporting player and never the main draw, and as a result we are always itching to leave those parameters and return swiftly to Allison. Kevin isn't compelling or endearing or funny. You don't want him to succeed, and you certainly don't want to spend any time with him, unlike those characters in the aforementioned sitcoms. Not that we're advocating murder, but if Allison does succeed, we won't be donning black.
It also puts a spate of classic sitcoms dominated by men both in front of and behind the camera in the firing line. What was running through the minds of its female characters (and the women playing them)? How did they really feel when they stepped away from the painted smiles and tomfoolery?
"In the sitcom world, so much sexism and misogyny and racism and homophobia and bigotry is cloaked by this laugh track," Murphy told Vanity Fair.
She recalls one "gag" from the series to illustrate the former: "My purpose in the scene is to have something spilled on me or spat at me, or just, I get covered in some kind of gunk repeatedly, over and over and over. She just is repeatedly the butt of this joke, and a really gross joke. And I really can't imagine the frustration that so many [conventional-family-sitcom actresses] must have felt – who are equally as talented if not more than the men that they're acting with, but aren't given the opportunity to showcase that talent."
It's a smart concept, which sparks equally thought-provoking and critical dialogue. And although what plays out on screen does fall short of expectation in places, the conversation it will inspire off-camera, and the impetus it'll give women in the industry to demand more, makes it deserving of its place in the TV roster.
This month, Digital Spy Magazine counts down the 50 greatest LGBTQ+ TV characters since the Stonewall riots. Read every issue now with a 1-month free trial, only on Apple News+.
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