“I’m his miserable, pathetic wife – and I’m so glad he’s dead.”
Usually, we wouldn’t be rooting for the woman plotting (or, let’s be fair, micromanaging) her husband’s untimely death. Kevin Can F*** Himself, however, makes it all too clear that Annie Murphy’s Allison is the true victim of this TV series, despite her murderous tendencies.
Spoilers ahead, obviously…
The very first episode of the Amazon Prime series begins in the classic multi-camera sitcom format, complete with canned laughter. There, we meet Allison, the sort of beleaguered and put-upon housewife we all know too well. She keeps things spotless, makes homemade dinners from scratch every single night, and positively dotes on her husband, Kevin (Eric Petersen).
He, on the other hand, is awful. He slobs around the house and makes misogynistic jokes at her expense. He’s impossibly narcissistic, and forces his wife to wait on him hand-and-foot. He constantly invites his buddies over to “watch the game” – and they’re horrible to Allison, too.
Just as we’ve seen a thousand times before in shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and Kevin Can Wait – which infamously killed off its female lead, Donna, one season in after “literally just running out of ideas” – Allison laughs off the men’s obnoxious behaviour. She keeps a smile pasted on her face at all times. She cleans up their empty glasses and heads into the kitchen.
And then, as the door closes behind her, everything changes.
The room darkens, quietens, and all the artifice of the sitcom world disappears. Allison stares at the empty beer steins she’s collected up, the expression on her face unreadable. And then, just like that, she closes her eyes in despair and smashes them against the counter, gashing her hand bloodily in the process.
From this point onwards, it becomes clear that Kevin Can F*** Himself is not like other TV shows. Instead, it flits between single-camera realism and multi-camera zaniness, as Allison devotes herself to the not-so-simple task of murdering the man who has made her life hell.
As Murphy tells Vanity Fair: “In the sitcom world, so much sexism and misogyny and racism and homophobia and bigotry is cloaked by this laugh track.
“[This show touches on] the impact that these ‘jokes’ have on human beings…. to take a step back and just be able to say: What have we been laughing at all of these years, and is it funny?”
It’s an undeniably smart concept, and the show works best when it interrogates the cultural impact that the sitcom wife has had upon women’s narratives in the real world. How we have been taught to “put up and shut up,” to accept mediocrity, to give more than we are given. To self-police the differences between our public and private selves. And to stifle the scream of female rage, even as it bubbles up inside our throats with a fierce unstoppable urgency.
Somewhat annoyingly, Kevin Can F*** Himself loses sight of this noble aim at times, as it splits its time between the sitcom world and a Breaking Bad-style narrative (which might explain its mixed reviews). It all brings it back beautifully, however, in Broken – aka the show’s penultimate episode.
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Arguably the best of the show’s eight-episode run, Broken sees Allison do her best to cover her tracks. She ends her affair with Sam (Raymond Lee), telling him that she wants to work on her “miserable” marriage, before visiting a gynaecologist to find out if she’s fertile, or if she needs a little assistance in order to have children.
Leaning into her role as Kevin’s happy wife, she tells the doctor that she met Kevin when she was 20, and they’ve been together ever since.
“I feel like I’ve been in some sort of fever dream,” she says, before hastily adding: “A good one.”
In an Emmy award-worthy scene from Murphy, Allison goes on to recall how nervous she was on her wedding day, noting that she “just kept applying deodorant and wondering if I should run for the hills.”
Kevin, she says, saw that she was distressed. Rather than acknowledge it, though, he pantsed the priest, and thus their fate was sealed.
“I actually laughed,” she says. “After that I was fine, because I thought he would do anything for me.”
When the gynaecologist lets slip that Allison might not be able to have children, the increasingly fragile character unexpectedly bursts into tears. Then, swiping a pregnancy pamphlet on the way out, she heads home, swipes a bottle of wine from the cupboard, and climbs fully-clothed into her bathtub. And it’s here that Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) finds her “nosy neighbour”, face all covered in snot and tears and mascara.
“It’s like a physical thing, and I can’t help it,” Allison explains begrudgingly of her emotional state. “It’s like a sneeze.”
What follows is a beautiful scene – one which shows us what happens when we allow women space in a genre that rarely allows them the luxury. Allison shares her deepest darkest fears with Patty, telling her friend that she fears she’s become a monster for no reason.
“I just risked everything so that afterwards, when it’s done, I can die alone,” she laments, her mind clearly on Sam. And then, floodgates finally open, she reveals that she may not be able to have children, either.
“Do you even want kids?” asks Patty.
“Of course, it’s what you do,” replies Allison, a woman whose life has been driven and directed and manhandled by sexist societal norms. “Just not Kevin’s.”
It’s a short scene, but one that elevates the series to another level, as the women realise the things that make them feel “broken” are the same things that make them… well, make them human.
Together, they realise that perfection is overrated, and that adhering to the narrative we are all sold as children (“first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage”) isn’t for everyone. That women shouldn’t have to go above and beyond to make others feel comfortable. That being polite, courteous and accommodating – no matter what – will only ever serve to chip away at their inner selves.
Sure, some people are not “nice” people and you could argue that it’s nothing to do with their gender. But it’s undeniable that there’s a certain vitriol reserved for women. That we’re so much more likely to dislike a woman with certain personality traits than a man with the same. That our society sets up an all too familiar dichotomy for womankind: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Being “nice” conditions us to stick to the boringly inoffensive roles that the patriarchy has given us. Is it any wonder, then, that Patty advises Allison: “If this is you broken, stay broken.”
All eight episodes of Kevin Can F*** Himself are now available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.