LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
What would it really be like to be a sitcom wife, the kind of wife whose husband is rude and demanding and surrounded by rude and demanding friends, the kind of wife who has somehow settled for a man with no obvious appeal? That's the premise of the AMC series "Kevin Can F Himself," in which a woman whose husband exists in a sitcom lives nearby in a moody drama whenever he's not around. I'm Linda Holmes, and today we're talking about "Kevin Can F Himself" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. So don't go away.
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HOLMES: Welcome back. Joining us from her home in Chicago is Greta Johnsen, the host of the Nerdette podcast from WBEZ. Welcome back, Greta.
GRETA JOHNSEN: Hey, Linda - good to be here.
HOLMES: The show is a little bit complicated to explain in format, to say the least. We'll also say as we tape this, depending on kind of where you're watching it, there are five or six episodes that are out. We're going to talk about kind of the basics of those episodes. So just if you need a spoiler warning for that, then consider that to be one. This is essentially a combination of two shows. When Allison - the main character played by Annie Murphy from "Schitt's Creek" - is with her husband, who's played by Eric Petersen - he's Kevin - you're watching a traditional multicamera comedy like "Everybody Loves Raymond" or "The King Of Queens." It has the audience, the kind of overbearing audience laughter, all that kind of stuff.
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ANNIE MURPHY: (As Allison) OK, but if I do this, you have to behave - OK? - no liquor, only beer. We have that appointment at the bank first thing tomorrow.
ERIC PETERSEN: (As Kevin) Hey; I'll take it easy like Sunday morning.
MURPHY: (As Allison) It's Monday morning.
PETERSEN: (As Kevin) What?
HOLMES: There's the couch.
JOHNSEN: Right. Yeah - all that. Yeah.
HOLMES: There's the couch. There's the living room. There's the obnoxious friends. The comedy is very broad. But Allison, whose primary confidante is her neighbor Patty, who's played by Mary Hollis Inboden - she is existing in this drama where, whenever she steps away from him, it's a drama series. She's very, very, very unhappy. She really only has Patty. She hates her life. And more and more and more, she hates her husband.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "KEVIN CAN F*** HIMSELF")
MURPHY: (As Allison) Oh, we have one car. He doesn't have to share it. He doesn't have to share anything. He has me all to himself because I never went back to school, and he says that's because I never finish things. But do I never finish things, or does he take them for me?
HOLMES: And whenever they switch back-and-forth between these things, it's pretty much a complete switch. The blocking, the lighting, the writing, the acting really kind of shifts back-and-forth between these two styles...
HOLMES: ...Such that Kevin's entire world is a sitcom, and her entire world is a drama. And it's led by where he is.
JOHNSEN: Right, exactly. It's dictated by his existence.
HOLMES: It's dictated by his existence, which I think is really the premise of the show.
HOLMES: I don't even know exactly what to ask you first, but I would say I find this premise intriguing. Do you find this premise intriguing?
JOHNSEN: I find the premise intriguing, and I was thrilled by the trailer. When I saw it, I was just like, oh my God, what is this? I kind of thought it was going to be a "Promising Young Woman" for, like, despondent housewives. And I was like, I am here for this. I was so excited.
HOLMES: Yeah. It reminds me a little bit of "WandaVision," a show I also liked, in that it's very interested in kind of analyzing and thinking about the formal kind of aspects of the sitcom and the sitcom marriage, obviously in a really different way. This is kind of the '80s, '90s, you know, "Everybody Loves Raymond," "King Of Queens" marriage, which is not to say - please understand those guys are not as bad as Kevin in this show. That's not the point. The point is just - kind of shot that way, done that way. As you go into this, it turns out that Allison is deeply, deeply angry...
HOLMES: ...At the nature of her life.
JOHNSEN: Yeah. I mean, it's such a fascinating show because I think to your point about "WandaVision," like, it really is a study of the genre of the sitcom. And I think it's really unpacking the clear misogyny of a lot of those sitcoms. I find the sitcom portions of this show to be insufferable. I mean, I said I was so excited to see the trailer. I watched the pilot several months ago, and I was just like, oh, this is, like - it's not a good time. And I will say, like, I don't think I would have watched any more episodes if y'all hadn't asked me to come on...
JOHNSEN: ...And talk about it. And I'm glad I did because I think it did grow on me. And I have a lot of thoughts, and I'm super-curious about how the rest of the season is going to go.
HOLMES: Yeah, yeah.
JOHNSEN: But, I mean, I hate a laugh track. And, I mean, it's - what? - 50%, like, really difficult to hear laugh track, you know?
HOLMES: Right. I do think that over the course of the show, at least the parts that involve Allison have less and less of that section.
HOLMES: She is often off in the drama series that she is living in away from him. He goes on these very sitcom-husband adventures, like he and his friends set up an escape room in the basement and these kinds of things that - one of the things I find eerie about the show is that they are convincing - they manage to intersect with the broader story of her.
JOHNSEN: Oh, yeah.
HOLMES: But they are the kinds of things that sitcom (laughter) husbands do in terms of - there's an episode late in the game where it's his birthday.
HOLMES: And they go out to dinner, and he keeps going back-and-forth between dinner with her and then running through an alley over to, like, basically, like, a - it's similar to...
JOHNSEN: An arcade place, yeah.
HOLMES: ...Like, an arcade - yeah - or a Chuck E. Cheese or something like that, where he's partying and eating with his friends. And he keeps, like, sneaking back-and-forth.
JOHNSEN: Oh, I forgot something in my car.
HOLMES: I mean, it's real broad sitcom stuff.
HOLMES: But at the same time, she, whenever he's gone, is in this miserable state of anxiety because, you know, she's - by that point, without giving too much detail, she's really escalated in her anger toward him to the point where she's thought about killing him - literally killing him.
HOLMES: So when we say that this becomes dark on the drama side...
JOHNSEN: We don't just mean literally dimmer.
HOLMES: Were you a "Schitt's Creek" fan? Did you know Annie Murphy from that?
JOHNSEN: Yes. You know, I actually still haven't finished "Schitt's Creek" because I love it so much that I need episodes in my pocket for when things get rough.
HOLMES: Reasonable, reasonable.
JOHNSEN: That's my relationship (laughter) with "Schitt's Creek."
HOLMES: One of the things I think is so interesting about this is that although "Schitt's Creek" is certainly far more sophisticated in its humor than the laugh track portions of this show, which I think are unsophisticated in their viewer on purpose. Like, they play the way I think they're meant to play. But her portrayal of Alexis on "Schitt's Creek" was broad.
HOLMES: So it was interesting to me that she is kind of distinguished in this show by her ability to go off and be naturalistic.
JOHNSEN: Yeah. I mean, it's - the whole thing is just so fascinating. I love her performance. I think she's incredible. She has so many great monologues. I mean, partly, I was thinking about how weird it is that - I mean, you see Kevin being a jerk in a lot of the sitcom scenes, but I feel like she spends a fair amount of time in the drama portion explaining the horrible things that he has done, essentially gaslighting her about her intelligence...
JOHNSEN: ...About her driving abilities, about - I mean, you name it. And at first I was like, how weird that we don't see that.
JOHNSEN: But of course we don't see that because the only times you ever see Kevin are in this, like, fun, hilarious, laugh-track-filled, brightly lit living room. So...
JOHNSEN: You never see that side of him, which I think is also a really interesting kind of narrative choice, you know?
HOLMES: For sure. And what makes it so interesting is that they're thinking, if you had a guy who behaved like a sitcom husband in the moments when you were seeing him around his friends, around other people, what would he be like when he was just with his wife, really? And I think what they are arguing is he would really be terrible.
HOLMES: He would really be - if you were inconsiderate enough to never want to take your wife out to dinner, to always forget her birthday and those other things that become, you know, sitcom husband cliches, you would probably actually be emotionally neglectful in ways that would be extremely painful for the other person. So it's like they're saying this wouldn't really be cute to live with in real life.
And, you know, I want to mention the creator of the show is Valerie Armstrong, who worked on "Lodge 49," which is also kind of an oddball show. I think it's quite an accomplishment to be able to mesh a sitcom as broad as this is with basically an AMC-ish, "Breaking Bad"-ish drama series (laughter).
JOHNSEN: It's completely fascinating. And I don't know. One thing that I found really interesting as I was reading up about it is a conversation - I think it was the Vulture article that Jen Chaney did about, like, how the show was made. And they go through how, like, it's the same set.
JOHNSEN: They just, like, light it better, essentially. And I don't know. There were a lot of really interesting things about the article. But one thing she pointed out is that show creators - like, the writers room isn't trying to parody a sitcom. They're trying to authentically create a sitcom.
JOHNSEN: Which I was really surprised by. And I don't know if it's just 'cause I haven't watched that many sitcoms, but, like, I thought for sure they were kind of inflating all of it because it's terrible, you know? But then to think, like, that's actually it is crazy.
HOLMES: The whole escape room thing - that could've been a plot on, you know, any one of about five or six different sitcoms that you could think of going all the way back to, I would say, like, "Home Improvement" or something like that.
HOLMES: And it's not necessarily to say that those shows were not better written than the sitcom here, right? I think when they say they're trying to write a sitcom, what that part of it doesn't have is what shows like "Home Improvement" and "King Of Queens" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" always had, which is other scenes where people were kind to each other, warm to each other and everybody sort of made up and - this isn't that. This is sort of only the frenetic, broader parts of those sitcoms. But as that, I think it's pretty authentic, and it's definitely authentically produced.
HOLMES: The lighting's right. The cameras are right. The sets are right. It has that bright, creepy...
HOLMES: ...Cheap sitcom-y (ph) kind of look to it. It's for real, I think.
JOHNSEN: So how do you feel about the length, Linda? That was one thing I was thinking about a lot is like, I am not sure that I would be angry if it were half an hour instead of an hour. You know, like, do you think they could do the same thing and cut the sitcom stuff by half?
HOLMES: I think it's an interesting question. Do you need this much of the sitcom side of it? Could you have a lot less of it?
HOLMES: Once you've seen that they can do it and once you come to understand how Kevin's life works, that everything for him is a cute, funny gag and everything always turns out OK, does it then become almost like a trick they're doing? But it becomes kind of, what's the function of it within the show?
JOHNSEN: Well, you know, going back to the idea of "WandaVision," like, I keep waiting to see if it's going to start, like, melting around the edges or something.
HOLMES: Right. Right.
JOHNSEN: You know, like, I'm so curious about what they're going to do from here. I mean, I am annoyed enough with Kevin that I do kind of need him to die.
JOHNSEN: Like, I'm not really super interested in him, like, becoming self-aware or redeeming himself. It's just like...
HOLMES: No. Oh, no.
JOHNSEN: ...I need that show to end. And I don't know if that means Annie Murphy's character, like, walking off the set "Truman Show" (ph) style or what, but, like, I need it to stop (laughter).
HOLMES: Yeah, you know, there are only eight episodes in this original season. I've seen six. If I had to guess, when you get to that finale, you will see some sort of bleeding together of these two worlds.
JOHNSEN: I'm so fascinated by that.
HOLMES: Boy, I had watched some of it, and then I kind of put it down, and I didn't go back to it. And then when I went back to it, I thought, no, I do still think this is really interesting. I just...
JOHNSEN: It is.
HOLMES: I have to kind of watch it and get into its world, and then I'm interested in it again. And I like some of the other performances. I think that Mary Hollis Inboden...
JOHNSEN: Oh, totally.
HOLMES: ...Performance as Patty is really interesting.
HOLMES: Because she's kind of the tough next door neighbor who's got her own stuff.
JOHNSEN: Well, and she's also one of the guys for so much of it, which is also a really - like, the complicity of that and then the two of them kind of coming together and forming...
HOLMES: Right. Right.
JOHNSEN: ...A friendship and trying to figure out how to, like, rise each other up, I think...
JOHNSEN: ...Is really interesting.
HOLMES: And Allison kind of saying to her, like, why have you always sat there while...
HOLMES: ...He was such a jerk to me? And Patty thinking through, like, why have I, you know? Why have I always been willing to just be one of his - as you say, one of the guys and one of his buddies? I will say this. I am not sure everything about this show works, but I think it is extremely interesting (laughter).
JOHNSEN: Yes, I'm - I have spent so much time thinking about it over the past week as I've been preparing for this, and I am dying to know how they're going to wrap it up. I think for me, you know, speaking of premise, I think how I'll end up feeling about this show is going to have a lot to do with the execution, hopefully literal execution...
HOLMES: I agree. I agree.
JOHNSEN: ...Of the last couple episodes.
HOLMES: I agree.
JOHNSEN: You know, because in the end, like, at least so far, you know, for a show that's subverting the genre of the sitcom, there's a lot of sitcom for a show that's trying to take down the patriarchy. There's a lot of patriarchy. Like...
HOLMES: It's true.
JOHNSEN: I hope there's some payoff there, you know?
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HOLMES: I bet there is. I'm very optimistic. Again, you can find "Kevin Can F Himself" on AMC, or if you have the streaming service AMC+, you can find it there. Let us know what you think. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter - @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Greta, thank you so much for being here.
JOHNSEN: Thank you. That was really fun.
HOLMES: And, of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. If you have a second, subscribe to our newsletter. It's over at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. We will see you all tomorrow, when we will be talking about - oh, boy - Netflix's new reality dating show, "Sexy Beasts."
JOHNSEN: What does it say about me that that's the only reality dating show I want to watch, Linda?
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