This is a love letter.
AMC’s Kevin Can F*** Himself is absolutely one of the very best shows of 2021. Much of that credit goes to Emmy-winner Annie Murphy in a fully star-making performance. Yes, she’s already a beloved actress thanks to her breakout role on Schitt’s Creek. If you didn’t think she was already a strong actress, then you need to rewatch that show and see her careful construction of Alexis Rose’s trajectory over the series.
But her turn as Allison in Kevin should make her a star, much in the same way another AMC series turned comic actor Bryan Cranston into a household name.
On paper, creator Valerie Armstrong’s Kevin Can F*** Himself is an odd concoction. The series establishes two worlds: a sitcom world in which “Kevin” (Eric Peterson) reigns supreme and a darker reality that explores who his wife, Allison, really is when the camera isn’t focused on her. Here, in this grey-tinged world, she’s no longer *just* Kevin’s wife. She’s her own person with her own struggles and dreams and frustrations.
The series works wonders visually with its sets initially designed to mimic those of a standard working class CBS sitcom like Kevin Can Wait or King of Queens. The same set is then redesigned to appear more three dimensional. More cinematic and less single-camera sitcom. It’s a gimmick for sure, but it’s a lot of fun. It also serves the show’s thematic intents. Kevin and his cohorts are only seen in the sitcom world, underscoring that this is not “his” show. This is hers. He is a comic buffoon in her eyes, and that’s how the series portrays him.
Is this a fair portrayal? If you’re asking that question, then this isn’t the show for you. However, I would ask audiences to consider if it was fair for Kevin Can Wait to randomly kill off Donna, Kevin’s wife, between first and second seasons. This show feels like a response to that weird shift in tone.
But the main star of Kevin Can F*** Himself is indeed Annie Murphy. Hers is a layered, complex, compelling performance completely free of the visual tics she employed as Alexis Rose. She is both funny and deeply moving in this role. She brilliantly balances between the ludicrous demands of a sitcom wife role and the role of a more complex, broken woman who makes bad choices. One of the very right choices Armstrong makes is to allow Allison to be a jerk at times. She makes bad choices beyond her ill-advised marriage. Guess what? It’s real life. People aren’t black and white. Allison can be a mess of a person, rendering a more rewarding experience for the audience.
From the four episodes provided for critics, Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) emerges as the only other character to straddle the sitcom and real worlds. In both scenarios, though, her sarcasm largely defines her persona. I love that Patty often feels like an audience surrogate. She interacts with Allison initially as if she expects nothing more than the sitcom facade. Yet, as they become more familiar with each other, Patty’s sarcasm slowly begins to erode into something approaching a friendship. Patty expects Allison to exist as a clueless sitcom wife. It’s both hers and our surprise to discover Allison can be an amusing disaster. Inboden plays this relationship with evolving bemusement and works wonderfully with Murphy.
Kevin Can F*** Himself surprised me in so many exciting ways. It exists as much than its visual gimmick. It evolves and rescues the traditional conceit of the sitcom wife. As Murphy’s Allison gradually moves down her own Breaking Bad path, the two halves of the series (sitcom versus real world) both move farther apart but also intersect at times in fascinating ways.
And it allows Annie Murphy to more than deliver on the promise of Schitt’s Creek. In a way, she’s surpassed it by finding the humanity in the sitcom wife.
Kevin Can F*** Himself premiers on AMC+ on Sunday, June 13. It will debut on AMC on Sunday, June 20.