Annie Murphy truly shines in this ambition blend of television genres
Starring Annie Murphy, Mary Hollis Inboden, Eric Petersen, Alex Bonifer, Raymond Lee, and Brian Howe
Sitcoms have been a household staple for years. Alongside the obvious Friends, there’s The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, Fawlty Towers, The Office, Modern Family, Scrubs – the list goes on and on. And, alongside the classic tenets – the offensively brightly lit set, the ensemble cast who conveniently do not face themselves, but rather the noticeably absent fourth wall – comes the sitcom husband.
The sitcom husband is a familiar character to audiences by now. Living life on a string of impulsive, ill-thought through ideas, with utmost confidence in their own ability brings to mind Peter Griffin or Homer Simpson. As emotionally literate as they are intelligent, these characters careen from large feeling to large feeling, solely motivated by their own wants and desires. Alongside each sitcom husband is the beleaguered wife. Forced to spend their life dealing with their husband’s messes, the wife’s misfortune is played for laughs. Their husband’s lack of attention and selfishness is amusing, you see – because how wonderful is it to talk to your spouses in this vein?
That is the world that Allison (Annie Murphy) exists in. The only sane one standing behind husband Kevin (Eric Petersen) and his hare-brained schemes, determined to get rich quick through a basement escape room or to finally exact revenge on his snooty neighbours. Brash, obnoxious and dismissive of Allison, his behaviour is legitimised and normalised by the constant, hearty laughter of the studio audience, as well as his partners in crime, best friend Neil (Alex Bonifer) and father Pete (Brian Howe).
Once removed from the audience’s view, however, Allison’s vantage is vastly different, swapping to muted, serious drama. Never appearing within the single-camera setup, there is a constant decision made here to keep Kevin as part of the sitcom reality, while many other characters sidle between the two. Without the cheers of the gleeful audience to gloss over his misdeeds, Kevin’s true guise is revealed as the tormentor within wife Allison’s life. From spending all of their savings, to sabotaging her career, to ostracising her from her friends, Kevin’s status as a self-centred manchild is no longer glorified but instead in a more horrifying hue.
Up until the events of the show, it is almost as if Allison is resigned to her lot in life. It is only when their neighbour, Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden), a begrudging member of Kevin’s posse as Neil’s sister, reveals that the escape that Allison had been hoping for was hopeless now that Kevin had squandered all of their savings. This sets Allison on the path to achieving revenge on Kevin and to reclaim her own life, part of which includes a dalliance with an old high school flame Sam (Raymond Lee).
Through showing Allison’s torment so plainly for the viewer, the show does not only condemn Kevin, but also makes a damning point about the normalising of these toxic behaviours within relationships as a result of sitcoms using degrading and putting down spouses as a punchline. The most egregious part of this is that Kevin genuinely doesn’t have a conception of hurting Allison. The jokes that he makes at her expense are ones which have been heard on TV many times, and doubtless within many households too. It holds a mirror up to the power of comedy in reinforcing and validating power dynamics and how laughter, as an audience, serves to perpetuate this.
The swaps from sitcom to drama are incredibly effective. The tremendous contrast between the bright sets and bustling sound to a muted stillness proves immensely powerful. And holding the show together, at its core, is Annie Murphy. Keeping up the happy front while surrounded by her friends and family and in Kevin’s presence, but pragmatic and vengeful when left to herself is a heartrending portrayal of many unhappy, toxic marriages.
The relationship that starts to form between Allison and Patty is also a touching draw to the series, as viewers start to see the previously emotionally closed off Patty become more vulnerable with Allison, while Allison experiences an actual friendship. As the story rattles on past the halfway point, it becomes more about Allison and Patty’s plans to escape her marriage than it does about the sitcom portions and these two women keep the show deliciously watchable. Whether heavy emotion or comedy, they excel at both, and both performers have the incredible quality of being able to deliver a line yet perfectly convey a contradictory emotion with the most minute of facial expressions. The sense of a person on the brink of breaking apart is never more palpable than when watching this pair.
Kevin Can F**k Himself, as well as having a tremendous genre-defying, symbolic piece of television and a brilliant commentary upon the history of sitcoms, manages to craft characters the audience are able to root for. Ultimately, it has a shelf-life, as audiences can only wait so long until Allison finally escapes from her husband, but the performances are simply too good to miss. With a second (and final) season commissioned, here’s hoping that this brilliant piece of art concludes as confidently and cohesively as this collection of episodes.
Kevin Can F**k Himself is streaming on Amazon Prime.