TV

AMC’s Kevin Can F**k Himself is a risky premise that pays off in spades

AMC’s new dark comedy Kevin Can F**k Himself not only boasts the most outlandish series title of the summer but also the most audacious premise: The series is a whip-smart vivisection of one of television’s absolutely worst tropes – the perfect sitcom wife.

Calm and endlessly patient with a man who clearly doesn’t deserve her, this is a character whose sole defining personality trait is devotion to her husband. She’s effortlessly pretty as she imposes perfect order on her household, popping dinner in the oven even as laughs at her husband’s misogynistic jokes and blandly accepts the constant presence of his boorish friends.

That woman has never existed in real life but has nevertheless appeared in dozens of popular sitcoms virtually since scripted television began. But what if that sitcom wife realized she deserved better? What if she decided to try and change her life?

That is essentially the premise of Kevin Can F**k Himself, a genre-bending dark comedy that splits its time between the gleaming sitcom multi-cam world where Kevin McRoberts reigns supreme and the dark single-cam reality of his wife Allison’s world, as she struggles to figure out who she is, what she wants, and whether any of that actually has anything to do with the life she’s currently living.

In the sitcom world of the show, Allison is generally presented as an afterthought. There to serve as a punchline to her schlubby husband’s terrible jokes, her needs are never a priority for any other character. Her wedding anniversary is used as an excuse for her husband to throw a raging party,  she’s constantly forced to take a back seat in her own home to his father and his best friend, and Kevin himself constantly misleads and gaslight her. (The revelation in the series pilot that he’s secretly spent their life savings on nutty schemes is just one of several awful moments in the four episodes screened for critics in which he repeatedly chooses his own comfort over his wife.)

In the grittier prestige drama side of things, Allison discovers the darker side of her colorful neighborhood – and her own psyche. After Kevin destroys her dream of moving to a nicer neighborhood and landing the house she’s always wanted, she wonders if the only way out for her is to get rid of her husband entirely.

Whether Allison will ultimately be successful in offing her husband – or if she even truly wants to do so – remains a question that the series’ first season will have to answer, but I know that I can’t wait to see where this unexpectedly fabulous ride takes us.

Annie Murphy’s layered performance is the glue that holds the entire world of Kevin Can F**k Himself together, from her beleaguered yet charming cheerfulness in the sitcom world to her hopeful determination and barely concealed rage in the real one. This is a woman who somehow still believes that she can have a better life, despite all the setbacks and problems she has encountered so far.

There are certainly moments where the series’ premise can feel more restrictive than illuminating. Part of that is because Kevin is honestly terrible and the comedy in which he stars is deeply unfunny, making the series’ sitcom interludes often come across as frustrating diversions from the show we’d rather be watching. (The extended gag in which he attempts to build an escape room in the McRobertsons’ basement during the series’ fourth episode is particularly infuriating.)

Yet, the deft ways in which Kevin Can F**k Himself ultimately uses its format to comment on the way the audience that’s watching has been trained to view women like Allison – whether they’re aware of it or not – feels fresh and incisive. If we’re this annoyed at being forced to watch ten-minute interludes of Kevin’s boorish behavior, how much worse must Allison feel, when this is her entire life?

From the consistently misogynistic lens the sitcom half of the show trains on Allison to the way she and Patty – as the comedy’s only other female character – are constantly set at odds with one another, this is a series that’s sharply aware of the way this genre has failed its female characters, over and over again.

As a result, there’s something wildly satisfying in watching Allison not only recognize how unhappy she is but slowly determine to do something about it. Her realization not just that she’s angry, but that she’s allowed to be, feels almost transcendent at times, a payback for all the other women before her who did laundry and endured period jokes with no sense that they could want something else.

What Allison McRoberts’ final form will ultimately look like or what her transformation will look like along the way, has yet to be determined, but you’ll find yourself cheering for her small rebellions, and eagerly looking forward to seeing what she’ll do next.

Kevin Can F**k Himself will premiere a week early for AMC+ subscribers on June 13 before airing on the broadcast cable channel on June 20.