Kevin Can F**k Himself: Season 1 REVIEW – Satire Misfire

An interesting idea finds itself f**king up the execution.

kevin can f**k himself eric petersen annie murphy

From the off, Kevin Can F**k Himself is playing about with a well-established foundation – deconstructing that perennial sitcom setup of a fat, wacky husband and his improbably attractive, long-suffering wife, as seen in The Honeymooners, King Of Queens, Family Guy, and really too many others to mention. He gets up to all sorts of shenanigans with his equally oafish friends, she gets to clean up the mess they leave. He has a stupid plan, her misgivings are immediately proven right.

(John Finnemore once described these sorts of would-be cosy plots as ones in which ‘every woman is Cassandra, and every man is Icarus’.)

The difference here is that once husband Kevin has sent everything to hell, wife Alison doesn’t just roll her eyes exasperatedly as the audience whoop and applaud. Instead, we stay with her, as she’s left to reflect on the horrible life she’s been lumbered with, alone.

The way Kevin Can F**k Himself handles these two diffuse strands of the show is probably its best trick: it goes from the immediately familiar fixed-camera brightly coloured sitcom visuals to a washed-out, realistic style of filming. This is especially effective when, as is often the case, the switch happens in a single room, literally giving us a jarring new perspective of what’s going on.

And, sure enough, the strongest moments of Kevin Can F**k Himself tend to come when the show manages to cross these two streams, and in particular when we get Kevin’s zany misdeeds recounted in the grimy parts, without the bright lights, canned laughter, and prophylactic filter of sitcom-o-vision. Usually Kevin isn’t even present for these, and it’s just drily stating something absolutely horrible he did. It puts all the parts where he’s on the couch making bad jokes into extremely sharp relief.

Unfortunately, too often it can’t reconcile these two halves of its own identity – and that leads to further problems. The sitcom-o-vision sections are, obviously, intentionally a bit crappy. It’s a well-worn format, which is why it’s so ripe for mockery. But those bleaker parts aren’t exactly award-winning stuff either, usually ending up shaggy-dog stories without even the benefit of an actual shaggy dog.

The only times there’s anything to write home about come when there is that tension between the two halves, and too often that’s simply not there. For much of its runtime, Kevin Can F**k Himself finds itself quite earnestly chugging along doing one or other of them, apparently oblivious to the fact that this is exactly what it’s meant to be mocking.

And this leads us to another issue: the same one that plagues all the sitcoms Kevin Can F**k Himself is riffing on. For all his glaring flaws, Kevin is the one driving the plot forward, and Alison, as befits that classic sitcom role of daughterwifemother, is merely there to react to him. Even when she (very early on) makes up her mind to off him, it makes this dynamic worse, not better. This should be her cue to take the reins, but instead, to too great a degree, she remains as ineffectual as she ever was, floundering around in some sort of truncated sub-Ozark true crime plot.

The writers are clearly very proud of their all-encompassing pisstake of the half-hour family sitcom (oh no, the boss is coming to dinner, etc.), which is why every episode has Kevin and his chums off on their own adventure. And, admittedly, Everyone Loves Kevin would probably last a good five seasons as a beast all of its own. But in what is clearly meant to be Alison’s story, Kevin’s b-plots mainly just serve as distractions. We know he’s an inconsiderate manchild, so if they will keep reminding us it should at least play into the real story.

It must be said that Eric Petersen, who plays Kevin, makes for an excellent grotesque (perhaps aptly, Petersen’s previous credits include the lead role in Shrek The Musical), handily bridging the gap between supposedly sympathetic and actually a monster. Even if you’ve never seen any of those standard-issue family sitcoms, you’ll immediately recognise the archetype he’s getting at – and, too, recognise that being married to him is no sort of a life.

But you’ll notice that here, as in the show itself, we find ourselves unable to escape Kevin’s gravitational pull (I mean this metaphorically, though he is chunky) when, again, it’s supposed to be Alison’s story. Annie ‘her out of Schitt’s Creek’ Murphy does a game job with Alison’s torment, so the issue can only really be the material given. By turns she finds herself breaking down, gripped with murderous rage, ready to ditch the whole awful life she’s been lumbered with, and then snaps straight back to providing feedlines in sitcom-o-vision. It doesn’t quite ring true.

In a show whose central idea is ‘women get a raw deal on network television’, you’d think the writers could avoid falling into the same trap. It could be argued the fact that they have is, in itself, proof of concept, but that doesn’t make their main character’s failure to be the main character any better a watch.

With the centrepiece of the show flagging in this way, it’s understandable that they go reaching out to the minor characters, to see if any of them can be spun out into something interesting. But, just as Alison has found herself eternally reacting to whatever Kevin’s up to this week, whenever a new figure pops up, they almost invariably find themselves relegated to reacting to Alison.

If there’s a central statement to the show, then here it is, albeit it’s not the one they were trying to make. Analysis of gender roles is a popular subject, and Kevin Can F**k Himself is all too obviously inviting that sort of critical response, but it ultimately seems that it’s not about that at all. Men, women, or otherwise, everyone ends up marginalised when there’s a protagonist on the scene – or, should I say, in the scene.

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kevin can f**k himself eric petersen annie murphy
Kevin Can F**k Himself is an ambitious and genuinely interesting idea that never quite comes to fruition. It ends up loafing on the same beats throughout, a bit too much like the sitcoms it’s meant to be deconstructing – and we're left with the worrying suggestion that there wasn’t quite enough raw material to deconstruct in the first place.