‘Kevin Can F*** Himself’ is a Clever Betrayal, Gaslighting Study

There have been few truly great television shows in the last 20 years that have piqued my interest enough to check them out. Some shows I gave a couple episodes, like The Queen’s Gambit or The Walking Dead. Some, like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos didn’t interest me. I know all four of these are considered masterpieces, especially early years, but I just can’t get into them. Thankfully, I just found Kevin Can F*** Himself.

I believe the best shows of the last 20 years are Mad Men, Dead to Me, Doctor Who, House MD, Six Feet Under and I’m ready to add a new entry. After five episodes, I can comfortably say Kevin Can F*** Himself is one of the most brilliant shows on television in a long time.

The show stars Annie Murphy as childless wife Allison, living in Worcester, Mass., married to man-child, Kevin. While some of the accents are spot on, some sound more like Rosie O’Donnell doing a Boston accent but her Long Island coming out. Murphy won an Emmy for her work in Schitt’s Creek and it’s absolutely her versatile acting that keeps the premise from taking over and being just a gimmick.

Half the show is told in early-90s sitcom, live-to-tape with a studio audience style. Half the show is told in bleak one-camera dramatic style. Only a few episodes are left this season, but you can catch up on AMC and then watch the rest when they debut Sunday nights.

No Spoilers… Except One

Kevin Can F*** Himself is a study on the toxic masculinity that so many of us grew up around. We just took as a part of life. Go back and watch those 1980s and 90s sitcoms, before the genre migrated to Nickelodeon and Disney. If you’re in North America, you probably remember ABC’s Friday night TGIF block. It was years of “family sitcoms” that helped perpetuate a lot of negative stereotypes, and rarely did we ever think about what the nutty behavior of the main character would do to the people around them in real life.

When in the sitcom scenes of Kevin Can F*** Himself, the husband, Kevin (played by Eric Petersen) is your typical bumbling 1990s sitcom guy. He’s like a combination of Fred Flintstone, Peter Griffin and Rodney Dangerfield. He’s usually got some scheme to get rich or get famous and the dialogue and pacing plays it out like one of those sitcoms. We just appreciate him as the “heart is in the right place” goofball.

But like most of those male characters from that genre and time period, they are horrible people if you really analyze their behaviors. For instance, in the first episode, Allison sets her sites on moving out of her neighborhood and starts to crunch numbers on real estate, knowing they have a small nest egg. Kevin gets a promotion (but no raise) and announces at their going away party that they aren’t going away. He claims he’s too important to his job to leave now. He doesn’t discuss this with Allison first, he just makes the announcement to the crowd, then awkwardly breaks the one thing Allison loves by standing on it, a Pottery Barn coffee table they bought at Goodwill.

By the end of the sitcom piece of that episode, Kevin has duct taped it up. We interpret as both an apology and a loving gesture. His indiscretions are simply ignored.

But It Gets Even Darker

In Kevin Can F*** Himself, in between the sitcom scenes, we meet Allison as a depressed, desperate, lonely woman who has always wanted more in life and finds herself at a crossroads. She can either throw in the towel and accept life, or shake things up. She decides to secretly do the latter.

In these dramatic scenes, shot very differently than sitcom style, we learn more about Allison, and her neighbor Patty. They are the only two characters who are in both the sitcom and the dramatic worlds. Otherwise, it’s two completely different casts. In the dramatic world, Allison is wrestling with her moral compass, while also recognizing that she’s going down a road to further unhappiness if she doesn’t switch things up.

We see a woman who lives in what may appear to be a sitcom, but she is in a dramatic hell. She has a partner with the emotional maturity of an 11-year-old boy. That gets frustrating and tiring, especially since he (in his comedic way) manipulates situations to get what he wants. She sees through this, but also doesn’t see many options. She’s a desperate woman living a different life than her husband. We see these nuances in the dramatic scenes.

Where ‘Kevin Can F*** Himself’ Works, and Doesn’t

The acting is tremendous as each person plays their part so well. Especially Annie Murphy, who holds up both the comedy and the drama. I look forward to going back and watching again because I’m sure there’s a lot of subtle stuff I’m not picking up. When she delivers an exasperated line in the sitcom portion, it’s funny because of the delivery, but you also pause and recognize that she actually is exasperated. Nobody want to live with Uncle Joey from Full House more than 22 minutes a week. You’d want to kill him by the end of the weekend. Same with Urkel from Family Matters, Balki from Perfect Strangers, or Screech from Saved By The Bell. What if you were married to that kind of guy in real life? Because in real life, those are not guys you want to call your husband.

My biggest issue is that we have been given no indication why Allison married Kevin. I want to know if she was blinded by love or if he was a lying manipulator. Maybe they’ll do a flashback episode. In high school, I’d guess she was a shy, unpopular brainy type. He was an average athlete who thought he was both smarter and funnier than he really was. These two types don’t usually end up together… so how did it happen?

The other part is that I don’t think I’d watch just the sitcom or just the drama. On their own, I don’t think they’d last very long. I find the skewering of 1990s sitcoms fascinating, but that’s because I loathed them even back then. The drama is decent, but it wouldn’t win any awards. Somehow, though, mixing these two together makes the overall show work. I hope that continues because I am absolutely psyched to see where this season goes.

Final Recommendation for ‘Kevin Can F*** Himself’

If you are a woman suffering with betrayal trauma or simply have a husband who manipulates and/or won’t admit to his faults, I could see this show actually being triggering. There will be some people who don’t get the subtext of what’s going on. It’s OK. The show gets an 83% by critics and 60% by audiences on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s really not for everyone. It may be too painful or go over the heads of some people for it ever to be a massive hit.

Some people only watch on the surface. They don’t see how Ray Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond is one of the most toxic husbands ever on television. They just think he’s funny. But what would it be like to live 24/7 with that guy? Or with the Harper Brothers from Two and a Half Men or Dwight Schrute from The Office. Yes, they all get their comeuppance in the end, but does a moral lesson in the last 30 seconds of a show negate the 21 minutes and 30 seconds of boorish behavior that led up to that revelation?

Kevin Can F*** Himself shows what goes through the head of the wife the rest of the time. It’s not pretty. Brilliant, brilliant show.

3 thoughts on “‘Kevin Can F*** Himself’ is a Clever Betrayal, Gaslighting Study

    1. She had her moments, but why did she have them? Almost every episode is based on the premise that Ray will lie about something early and it isn’t until the very end that the truth comes out. Whether it’s about time at work, golf, his feelings, his plans, etc., Ray Barone almost never starts with the truth… and Debra knows it. In fact, I think Debra is living a drama. It’s funny for us to see other people living it, but imagine if you were her? You’d lose your shit quite a bit too.

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