The following contains spoilers for Kevin Can F**k Himself S1E1 (“Living the Dream”) and S1E2 (“New Tricks”)
Fourteen months after the series finale of Schitt’s Creek comes
Alexis Rose’s Annie Murphy’s return to television in a surprisingly dark comedy that feels like a mix between The King of Queens and Promising Young Woman. Like a bloody, rare steak served next to a Filet-O-Fish, these are two meals served alongside each other that don’t necessarily complement each other—and in this case that is exactly the point.
After Kevin James’ sitcom Kevin Can Wait killed his wife’s character in favour of having a more familiar television star play James’ wife, the idea for Kevin Can F**k Himself (a working title which miraculously made it to broadcast) was born to creator Valerie Armstrong. What happens to the sitcom wife so often forgotten once she gets called a nag and then goes into the other room to do the dishes? What if the camera followed her for a change?
“Is It Somebody’s Anniversary?”
Kevin Can F**k Himself opens in a sitcom living room to Kevin McRoberts (Eric Petersen) and his best friend Neil (Alex Bonifer) playing beer pong while Kevin’s father Pete (Brian Howe), and Neil’s sister Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) cheer them on from the couch. In walks Kevin’s wife Allison (Annie Murphy) with a swift hand that snatches the beer pong ball and reminds everyone that dinner is almost ready.
Allison is playfully tricked (read: manipulated) into giving the ball back, and her thoughts about having a more adult tenth anniversary party instead of an “anniversa-rager” are playfully mocked (read: shut down completely), and she is told that she loves planning (and when pressed, she admits she does love a flow chart). She goes back into the kitchen when asked to get Kevin a fresh beer, and the sitcom set and lighting quickly cuts to that of a gritty drama (think Mare of Easttown). Her rage from the previous interaction bubbles over, and she smashes the beer glass against the counter, cutting herself, with no concern for her wellbeing spilling over from the next room.
The next morning we see her bandaged and alone garnishing Kevin’s hot dog and scrambled eggs with a leafy herb. She looks lovingly at a housing development pamphlet on the fridge before noticing a cockroach in her peripheral view, which she kills, and then re-enters Kevin Land in the living room—cue the laugh track.
After ten years with Kevin, 35-year-old Allison is starting to have deeper thoughts about her life in Worcester, and she thinks moving into a pretty new house will finally give her the fresh start she deserves, a second chance to get everything right. She loses herself in the fantasy of a happier, better dressed, better groomed version of Kevin and herself. She’s pouring him a beer in a stainless-steel-appliance-clad kitchen. What if all that money she and Kevin had been saving could go into a down payment on a new home like the one in her new, fantasy life?
“That’s the Sign of a Good Life!”
Throughout the rest of Episode 1 (“Living The Dream”) we see an average day in Allison’s life: she goes by the real estate office, gets some Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts, gets cat-called by the local mechanic (Justin Grace), and then finally goes to work at the liquor store with her aunt (Jamie Denbo). But Allison is unraveling much like her sweater after being caught on a garbage can—and her rage starts to come out in unintentional physical moments, like when she elbows the real estate agent in the face while trying to pull the thread from her torn sweater.
The next day, armed with a garbage can flyer in her pocket for a new diner, she begins to wander outside of her routine on the day of the “anniversa-rager.” In a moment that feels kismet, the diner is owned by her ex Sam (Raymond Lee), who has just moved back from New York City—sorry “a New York city” Syracuse to be exact—and he’s of course also married now. They linger in familiar smiles and pleasantries before Allison remembers her purpose in coming to Bev’s Diner is to get a charcuterie plate for their anniversary party (and to distract Kevin’s boss with a separate party). She cuts Sam off rather curtly, and returns to “Kevin Land” to play her role.
Part of the genius of this first episode is the construction of the twenty-two minute sitcom of Kevin Land where she is a supporting character to Kevin’s three-act sitcom of wanting the perfect house party for him and his boys, with the introduced stakes of his boss coming, while also trying to find the best Tom Brady look-alike. Ultimately, in Kevin Land, he has a great night, gets too drunk, and the twist for him is that his boss actually does like to shotgun alcohol, which leads to Kevin getting his dream transfer to working in fiber optics instead of regular cable (they are the same pay, but it is about the prestige). The evening reaches some sort of a sitcom conclusion with the breaking of Allison’s favourite
Goodwill Pottery Barn coffee table after he announces that him and Allison aren’t going to move to this hypothetical new house anyway (he, of course, didn’t consult her about this).
“We’re All in Mourning Because Barbie Lost Out On Her Dream House”
Outside, after the breaking of her favourite piece of furniture, she leaves Kevin Land and punches their mailbox and lets out a guarded “mother eff!” which is mocked by a smoking Patty. The two have a shockingly real moment of connection in which Patty’s mockery of Allison’s mission to start over with a better life is eventually turned into a moment of empathy where Patty says she sees it all the time with women at the salon who want to get a perm.
Upon revealing her grand plan to still get Kevin to the bank the next day to turn their savings account into a down payment, Patty folds. “The account’s empty!” she reveals, while walking Allison through how Kevin got into trouble a few years back for trading fake sports memorabilia and had revealed to Neil that all the money was already gone.
This is a late inciting incident for a show, but it serves as a jumping off point for Allison who storms off into town, which brings her to the mechanic who cat-called her earlier. We cut to her doing a line of coke with him, and opening up to him about her life, but upon further questioning she sees he wasn’t even listening to her, so she intentionally slaps him, and then runs away, shocked by the physical vitriol that just came out.
“Is the Sound of My Voice Impossible to Hear?”
She returns home to Patty in the living room, surprised to see her still in the previous evening’s clothing. She spots powder on Allison’s nose which she brushes off as powdered sugar from some Munchkins.
“Are you okay?” Patty asks.
“I have no idea,” she returns.
Allison enters Kevin Land in the kitchen. Neil is dressed as a waiter, and Kevin’s father is also there. Kevin apologizes for his behaviour (passing out in the rose bushes) and says he wants to have dinner for breakfast in order to honour Allison’s wishes of a
boring adult anniversary. Neil makes an observation that beer is fair game since it’s technically dinner, and Kevin asks Allison to get him a beer. She trudges over the fridge, and then returns with a glass and beer in hand. Suddenly her fantasy takes place in her current location, and when she breaks a glass, she stabs Kevin in the neck with the handle.
Back in Kevin Land, we see she has indeed broken the glass in reality, too, but has not stabbed Kevin. In that reality the blood present gives way to a period joke, and an encouragement for her to go bandage herself so that she can get to cooking her own anniversary dinner/breakfast. We leave Kevin Land as she enters the living room, and she puts the sharp handle in her pocket, with a dark smirk on her face.
“You Broke It…”
The ending presents interesting dynamics as her fantasy life finally becomes set in her current house—and it starts to revolve around losing Kevin. It’s a dark turn for the character of Allison, but if you’ve been paying attention to her smaller outbursts throughout the episode, it won’t be particularly shocking. So much of her rage is so deeply stored that it shocks her when it comes out. That rage that she had previously been channeling into a fantasy life now had to go somewhere else.
This episode, and the character of Allison, take me back to some conversations with my therapist a few years back in which he said that unhappiness or unresolved tensions always find a way to surface if not dealt with or acknowledged. For me that turned into small fights over labour division in my relationship at the time, or rude outbursts at work, and for Allison that turns into physical outbursts with the real estate agent (and then mechanic). The question remains, though, how much is Kevin responsible for in Allison’s unhappiness? And if not him, what happened with her ex Sam? And to turn it back on Allison herself, how much of this life did she choose to an extent?
“But He was Wearing Patagonia….”
Many of those questions start to become more apparent in Episode 2 (“New Tricks”) as Allison lies to Kevin about his Bill Belichick hoodie arriving in the mail, and then wears it around town, in a more lowkey moment of her anger.
In a more highkey moment, she uses a library computer to google murder strategies, only to discover the man next to her has died (of an opiod overdose, she is told by a paramedic). She remarks on how he looked of a higher socio-economic status due to his clothing, and the paramedic confirms that it happens to all sorts of people now. This leaves a wicked smile on her face, and she goes off to the doctor to try and get some oxycodone, but is quickly denied by him, saying that she’s not in any real pain (which may be true physically) but this is often true of how the male-dominated medical industry so often dismisses the real health struggles of women and people of colour. The receptionist hands her a card on the way out for “a little help” which she crumples up, but still keeps.
The episode finds Allison seeking support in strange places: first from the cat-calling mechanic, who sets her up on a drug rendezvous, in which he sends a man who thinks Allison is a sex worker; and second from her ex Sam, who confronts her for being distant in their relationship when she is quick to blame their relationship’s failure on him moving away. Just what exactly happened there? And does this cat-calling mechanic (whose name is Marcus) have more of a future here beyond the first two episodes?
In between this, she pops into Kevin Land to see that he’s launched some sort of civil war against the immigrant neighbours over the missing hoodie package. Kevin eventually gets rid of all their furniture and plans to buy an even more expensive hoodie from the fraudulent insurance money. He doesn’t even care about the hoodie Allison is hiding anymore.
Exhausted by the above, Allison eventually caves and seeks “a little help” from the red business card, which leads her to a mysterious salon in which she sees a woman exist. “Is there a therapist’s office inside?” she asks a woman exiting, before realizing “oh, it’s drugs!” She enters and is eventually greeted by a shocked Patty, who was dismissive of her earlier in the episode after Allison came to confide in her.
“I Never Really Thought of Us as a We”
At the heart of Kevin Can F**k Himself is a bond between Patty and Allison that seems to have been ignored for ten years. They’ve both been cast aside in supporting roles, as either the butt of the joke (in Allison’s case), or as “one of the boys” (in Patty’s case). Their individual wants and desires have been swept under the rug, and Allison acknowledging this makes Patty defensive, and ultimately makes her shut down around Allison.
What remains to be seen is how these two can work together in a now somewhat shared mission against the men in their lives. Although killing Kevin is agenda item number one, I don’t know if that’s really going to happen in this show. Allison, and the show itself, seem somewhat self aware that an action like that would be something of a temporary solution with a lot of potential consequences. There’s a moment in the library where she breaks down her plan to the librarian (in a hypothetical sense), and the librarian looks confused and asks: “why doesn’t she just leave?”
This is also followed by a moment in the diner with Sam who starts to question Allison’s recollection of what happened between them. I suspect this will come further down the line, but to what degree has Allison been a reliable narrator so far? I don’t expect this to be a huge twist or anything, I believe all of the circumstances are real, but what I think is more likely is that she has a deeper backstory that she isn’t quite ready to face—and I wonder if when that happens we will fully transition out of Kevin Land, and see the entire show in its gritty drama lighting.
I’m excited to see where Allison will go with this, and also quite excited to see her and Patty start a plan together. While I doubt the ending will be particularly happy for anyone, I think Allison and co. will gain a better understanding of one another, and also the darker parts of themselves and their desires. Grab your Belichick hoodies, cause we’re in for a chilling summer of Allison.