The following contains spoilers for Kevin Can F**k Himself Episode 4, “Live Free or Die”
The premise of Kevin Can F**k Himself was immediately intriguing to many of us from the moment we heard about the show, and it hardly needs explaining. It’s in the name, which of course makes direct reference to one sitcom in particular, but which also makes an indirect reference to many that embody a similar trope: the doofy husband enabled by a competent wife, who is nonetheless the butt of many jokes, and so on.
It would be all too easy to lambast that trope as perpetuating a certain style of misogyny (perhaps endemic to postmodernity?)—and that would be fair, because it does—but what’s truly compelling about Kevin Can F**k Himself is how it moves to deconstruct it instead, by showing how the stereotypical action of the sitcom relies on the frame of the sitcom wife. The “essential” depends on the “inessential,” and this is what Kevin Can F**k Himself brings out from its opening episode.
It is thus important that the sitcom (laugh track and all) continues to be present in Episode 4. It is also important that the sitcom is actually funny. That is, you could remove all of the scenes featuring Allison operating outside of Kevin’s orbit and have a tight half hour program. Take it to the network.
Kevin and Neil have failed in their get-rich-quick scheme involving a metal detector, so Kevin suggests a much better “get wealthy fast” plan—turning the basement of the McRoberts residence into an escape room. To lure customers, he offers a $10,000 prize to anyone who can successfully escape, while concocting a series of absurdly hard clues—the idea being that no one will be able to solve the puzzle.
Of course, he then ridiculously puts the key on top of a pipe where anyone could accidentally find it. This is what I thought would happen, and while it is indeed what happens as the sitcom culminates in “Live Free or Die,” we first get the group of participants moving to quickly solve the hard tasks Kevin has set. It’s really a classic structure of subverting the expectations of the audience and then fulfilling them anyway.
There is a reason sitcoms can be so comforting, as even though the group is for a moment trapped in the basement because Kevin has swallowed the key, and threatened by smoke from the burning roast that he of course forgot that Allison told him about, we’re assured by the laugh track that everything will turn out OK. As Slavoj Žižek would note, the laugh track laughs for us, relieving us of the burden of having to decide when to do so ourselves. The postmodern superego demands that we enjoy.
And again, this is all quite enjoyable if you take it on its own terms, including the denouement which sees Kevin stuck in the basement window the others managed to climb out. The sitcom encourages us to laugh at his silly antics.
But what makes “Live Free or Die” a great episode of TV is how the rest of the episode undermines and complicates this simple comedic form. We follow Allison after she leaves the house and through her trip with Patty. Indeed, Episode 4 culminates in her calling Patty out for always laughing at Kevin like “one of the boys” and with this move Kevin Can F**k Himself calls us all out as well.
It’s not funny that he put sugar in the gas tank of her boss’s Saturn and got her fired because he was jealous, but we can imagine now how the sitcom version would play out. Imagine that episode, with asides from Neil and the others. Imagine Patty laughing along—laughing at Allison’s suffering, which happens off-camera, unseen. Certainly we’d laugh as an audience, too.
And Kevin’s shenanigans in Episode 4 aren’t funny, either, insofar as we’re led into Allison’s perspective throughout. We can’t help but continue to take it, or at least have it in the background, as the escape room portion of “Live Free or Die” plays out. What’s interesting, though, is how this doesn’t negate the humor of the sitcom so much as permutate it into something darker than it would be if allowed to exist on its own terms—as the meta level operates, we’re taken almost into the territory of black humor, and I for one hope that Kevin Can F**k Himself has the courage to continue in that direction as it proceeds.
Kevin is the center of the universe, or rather he has to be—he will make himself such or burn everything down. It would be far too easy to extrapolate the stakes of this in grand political terms.
So Kevin must die.
In Episode 4, Patty is, brilliantly, both the same character we’ve gotten to know over the first three episodes of the show and meaningfully deepened as the events of “Live Free or Die” unfold. We’ve seen her sardonic humor and her compassion before this, but now it feels more real, as we see her outside the confines of her everyday reality.
Her position that “everywhere is bad” is at once a joke and not; it represents something about the core of this woman, who has resigned herself to her situation in life. It’s what seeped out in Episode 1 when she told Allison that Kevin had spent their life savings—she felt bad for Allison, viewing her as naïve for thinking that a better life was possible.
In Patty’s view, it’s not, but if we’re honest as viewers of Kevin Can F**k Himself, we have to recognize that we more hope she is wrong than know it. We hope for hope, but there may be greater contentment in Patty’s cynicism. If she is being won over by Allison at the end of Episode 4—which is not entirely clear insofar as we exit the story with Allison saying she’s going to kill Kevin, without getting Patty’s reaction—it could very well be the case that it’s going to make her life worse, not better. On the face of it, at least, a murder plot should hardly seem like the road to salvation.
But, it’s aspirational, as Allison told the librarian back in Episode 2. This is the romance that she is writing for her life, which now circulates around the fantasy of a future where she is free, reading a book, and telling a waitress how she murdered her husband.
In reality, things won’t work out this way, but that’s not the point. The point is in the fantasy and the aspiration, which is immediately broader than Kevin McRoberts. It is the dream of a life free from his orbit, and smashing those structures that enable him to be a dolting a**hole without consequence, just as they enable so many others to fail upwards while the real work is being done out of view and without acknowledgement.
Kevin can f**k himself.