Kevin Can F**k Himself review: Missed opportunity at thoughtful critique of gender stereotypes in prestige dramas

Kevin Can F**k Himself has a tragic flaw at its heart: it seems to have nothing but undiluted hatred and condescension for the two male-dominated genres it engages with.

Aditya Mani Jha August 27, 2021 08:03:56 IST
Kevin Can F**k Himself review: Missed opportunity at thoughtful critique of gender stereotypes in prestige dramas

Still from Kevin Can F**k Himself

Language: English

First things first, as they say: AMC’s Kevin Can F**k Himself has one of the strongest prologues seen on television since the network’s crown jewel, Breaking Bad, premiered in 2008. Everything about the first few minutes: the writing, the acting, and the lighting (which is, in fact, a massive part of the puzzle here) all come together handily to deliver the central critique of the show with a resounding thwack — regressive gender stereotypes in the American 'family sitcom.'

We meet a paint-by-numbers sitcom husband from Worcester, Massachusetts, Kevin McRoberts (Eric Petersen), clearly modelled after Kevin James protagonists from CBS comedies like The King of Queens (1998-2007) and Kevin Can Wait (2016-2018). Kevin is loud, rude, inconsiderate, and incurably juvenile, not to mention a bit of a slob. We see Kevin’s long-suffering wife Allison (Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek) becoming the predictable butt of the jokes flying thick and fast courtesy Kevin and his friends/family: his father Peter (Brian Howe) and his friends, siblings Neil (Alex Bonifer) and Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden). The scene is bathed in sitcom-white lighting, the kind viewers would associate with a Big Bang Theory or a How I Met Your Mother

Less than a minute in, Allison says, “I’ve been thinking…” and on cue, Patty groans while Peter just flat-out shouts “No!”. From that point on, we know that this is an elaborate, not-particularly-coy sitcom parody — the woman is not allowed to think in the sitcom universe. But as the opening scene ends and the episode progresses, we shift suddenly to greys and greens, and facial close-ups, the lighting reflective of ‘prestige dramas’ like True Detective and Ozark, anti-hero narratives where male protagonists test the moral limits of the audience. 

On paper, therefore, this could and should have been two brilliant parodies for the cost of one — to my mind, the prestige drama is just as ripe for the picking as the family sitcom.

However, Kevin Can F**k Himself has a tragic flaw at its heart: it seems to have nothing but undiluted hatred and condescension for the two male-dominated genres it engages with. And call me old-fashioned, but in order to utterly destroy something, you have to love it first.

As Yann Martel wrote in The Life of Pi, “(…) life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous possessive love that grabs at what it can.”

Do not get me wrong — I do not mean ‘love’ in a literal sense here, for the ‘Kevin-sitcoms’ have earned this hatred many times over (in Kevin Can Wait, they killed off Erinn Hayes’ wife character in between seasons, because she was not a fan favorite). What I mean by ‘love’ here is layered and thoughtful critical engagement, not just surface-level zingers that riff off the most obvious, visible features of a genre. 

Instead, Kevin Can F**k Himself has Allison plotting to murder her husband. As to why a smart, educated woman living in a society with a 41 percent divorce rate could not use that considerably easier option, we have no clue whatsoever. Divorce the douche, burn everything dear to him, and smile as you hear the birds sing on the first day of your new life — simple, efficient, and cathartic, right? 

“I have to defeat him," Allison says at one point to Patty, although it is really more for her own benefit. Fair enough. But why does this ‘victory’ involve borderline sociopathic behaviour from a person who was, by all accounts, a thoroughly reasonable, law-abiding citizen, like 10 seconds ago? Allison bloodies a stranger’s nose at a garage because she did not think he was paying enough attention to her words. She then gets involved in a crazily risky oxycodone ring (I can understand her consuming drugs as a mode of personal catharsis, but why this urge to get mixed up with the gang-violence-of-it-all?), tries to hire a hitman who is out on parole (Robin Lord Taylor from Gotham), and generally destroys a lot of private property around Worcester, Massachusetts. Oh, and she also pulls off the classic male antihero dick move: sleep with a married friend and refuse to confront the emotional fallout afterwards, thereby ruining the friendship. 

All of this adds up to a massive missed opportunity, for there are some talented actors on display here. Petersen, veteran of bit roles in hit sitcoms like Modern Family, throws everything into his aggressively annoying Kevin. Mary Hollis Inboden turns in a quietly confident performance as Patty, especially when she is passing on some of her cynicism to Allison. 

And, of course, the beating heart of the show is the magnificent Annie Murphy, fresh off the role of a lifetime as Alexis Rose in Schitt’s Creek. She tries her absolute best, I have to admit, but in the end, it is not quite enough to elevate Kevin Can F**k Himself. It remains a fascinating object of study for TV scholars, but it could have been so much more.

Kevin Can F**k Himself is streaming in India on Amazon Prime Video.

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