For a show that started off as a joke skewering a short-lived Kevin James sitcom, Kevin Can F—k Himself has absolutely no business being this good.
Following the story of a clichéd sitcom housewife in the darker moments after the punchline hits and the laughtrack ends, Season 1 proved a tour de force for star Annie Murphy (Schitt’s Creek) as Allison, the wife of schlubby sitcom husband Kevin McRoberts, played to pitch perfect slapstick sitcom perfection by Eric Petersen. The second season of AMC’s series picks up in the aftermath of Allison’s botched attempt to off her awful husband.
The genre-breaking drama alternates seamlessly between a gritty, dark single-cam a la Breaking Bad and a brightly-lit multi-cam in the vein of Everybody Loves Raymond—or the now-infamous James vehicle Kevin Can Wait (which was canceled after two seasons, during which the main character’s wife was killed off with barely a mention as part of an ill-conceived retooling). Whenever this Kevin is on-screen, the show lives in the sitcom realm, while Allison’s story shifts to the more natural lighting and tone of a prestige drama.
The first season did an excellent job of carving out the way those worlds blend and intersect, and by Season 2, creator Valerie Armstrong has a deft handle on the concepts and how to tie them together in innovative ways. Season 2 slowly begins to revel in the idea of existing between these two worlds, and the delicate balancing act of following the “rules” of the sitcom and how that translates into the real world. Every tonal shift, and every moment, matters.
Season 1 ended on a format-shaking cliffhanger, with Kevin’s typically one-note best pal Neil (Alex Bonifer) breaking out from the sitcom format when he accidentally learns of Allison and her friend Patty’s (Mary Hollis Inboden) attempt to kill Kevin. As he makes a violent lunge toward Allison, Patty knocks him out and we fade to black. Picking up in the aftermath of this reveal proves just the twist to keep the show at the top of its game in its second and final season. Bonifer provides a powerful performance, as the show plumbs the depths of another typically-overlooked piece of the familiar sitcom ensemble as we get to know Neil’s struggles when he isn’t playing second fiddle for Kevin’s latest shenanigan of the week.
Kevin Can F—k Himself revels in ratcheting up tension as Allison builds a web of chaos around her while trying to find a way to escape Kevin’s protective tropes that keep her trapped in the never-ending sitcom reset cycle. Season 2 delves harder into the question of victimhood, as Allison sees the consequences of her actions and how they’re affecting Patty’s life too, as the derailed contract killing and a lingering drug investigation slowly closes in around them. Then there’s Neil’s unraveling, which provides a new wildcard to keep the suspense as taut as ever.
The supporting cast also gets plenty of opportunities to shine as Allison’s world continues to fill in the margins. Allison’s aunt Diane (Jamie Denbo) earns an expanded role; Patty’s girlfriend Tammy (Candice Coke) remains in the mix, splitting duty as love interest and police detective; and diner owner Sam (Raymond Lee) is back, keeping things as complicated as ever as his marriage unravels following an on-again, off-again affair with Allison.
Oh, and as for Kevin? He’s as sinister and annoying as ever, exactly as he should be. Following Allison’s plight puts a darkness not just around Kevin’s antics, but it rewires your brain for all sitcoms beyond it. Petersen does an excellent job of channeling the likes of Ray Romano and the aforementioned James in his performance. Think a malevolent King of Queens, but with a smile and a few beers too many.
It’s a shame that Kevin Can F—k Himself is coming to an end, as the series remains at the top of its game throughout the seven episodes (of an eight episode season) made available for review. But considering the murder plot and Allison’s urge to escape that kicked off the narrative, it’s not a concept and story engineered to string out past its natural run. If nothing else, it’s clear Allison has been living this sitcom life for far too long already even before she finally found her single-cam spotlight. However it all comes crashing down in the end, Kevin Can F—k Himself will have shattered the bright, shiny sitcom veneer we’ve all known for so long, and created something breathtaking from its pieces.
Kevin Can F—k Himself premieres Monday, August 22nd on AMC and AMC+.
Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.
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