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On AMC’s ambitious “Kevin Can F ** k Himself”, Annie Murphy is a conscientious sitcom woman who goes thug

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The obvious and most direct inspiration for AMC’s “Kevin Can F ** k Himself” is “Kevin Can Wait,” a missing CBS half hour starring Kevin James as a retired husband married to a woman. played by Erinn Hayes. That is, until the producers kill his character between the first and second season. The reason, according to James, was that “we were literally out of ideas. “

Shock! I mean, Hayes’ surprise dismissal was certainly, not the short life and creative “Kevin Can Wait” bankruptcy, the network’s attempt to recapture some of that old “King of Queens” magic. (Also, his notes.) But it was the way his character got knocked down that was just as infuriating and creepy. James’ comedy returned for a second season with its lead character skipping the grieving process and acknowledging his wife’s passing by pointing to spam with her name on it. From there, James took over the familiar company of his previous show’s popular co-star, Leah Remini.

Among the contemporaries of “King of Queens” are “Still Standing” and the one ABC hopes you will never forget, “According to Jim” which fell apart for several seasons too long. All are examples of a once popular hacky formula: the regular and perhaps chubby schlu and his hotter, smarter wife. Guys are stupid and relatable; their wives are responsible poopers and, in the opinion of their writers, quite disposable.

Currently, the main representative of this dynamic is “Family Guy”, which should tell you something. An oft-cited rule of television is that screenwriters can get away with a lot more animation than live action. No one ever questions the resilience of Peter and Lois Griffin’s marriage despite Peter’s complete idiocy and selfishness, for nothing in their world is tied to physics, common sense, or reality. They are literally two-dimensional characters.

While in “Kevin Can F ** k Himself”, Annie Murphy’s challenge is to make us fully sympathize with Allison McRoberts, a working-class woman whose life consists of caring for her unnecessary and infinitely juvenile husband. , Kevin (Eric Petersen). When we see her, she is cleaning Kevin’s dishes or putting food in front of him, or carrying her laundry from one side of their cramped house to the other.

Add in a laugh track and some bawling auxiliary characters, like Kevin’s dumbo best friend Neil O’Connor (Alex Bonifer) and Kevin Pete’s good-for-nothing dad (Brian Howe), and you’ve got a real TV pabulum to see. absolutely. , or at best a miserable “Mare of Easttown” spin-off about a long-suffering woman.

Creator Valerie Armstrong (who previously worked on “Lodge 49”) takes these scenes and plays back and forth in inventive ways, pushing Allison forward between different TV worlds as she reaches her breaking point. In the overly bright and seamlessly staged multi-camera sitcom starring Kevin and his brothers, she hides her rage because no one is watching, but she is the star of an austere drama that captures her life in all its glory. chore.

Armstrong acknowledges audience fatigue with this deathly, sexist half-hour format, and is smart to capitalize on the audience’s strong affection for Murphy, who just won an Emmy on “Schitt’s Creek,” to criticize him.

If the actress was looking for a project that showcases her palette and emotional agility, she will. She expertly mimics the wide, punchy choreography of the network sitcom, making a seamless transition from that side of Allison’s life to the one where laughter never appears.

Murphy and the directors of photography move back and forth without warning, constantly keeping the viewer on their toes as the rift between the two is as thin as the threshold between Allison’s kitchen and her living room.

But as Allison wonders how long she can go on like this, being her terrible marriage to a man-baby who is killing her life, so do we.

Watching the first two episodes of “Kevin Can F ** k Himself” shows just how stagnant Mars and Venus hausfrau formula has always been, and that precise rendering soon becomes this show’s fatal flaw.

Showrunner Craig DiGregorio delineates the satirical nature of the comedy side with utter clarity, but it’s still a show where the purported frontman, Kevin, isn’t funny and the punchlines are forced. If you poke fun at the worst type of show in one or two episodes, it turns out to be a parody. If you continue beyond that, you become what you originally intended to parody. And few shows drain their welcome faster than a soulless candy-colored yuk-fest or adrabdrama imbued with sickly lighting.

Kevin de Petersen is an exceptional living cartoon of a man, but has no redeeming qualities. You won’t wonder why Allison wants him out of his life, you will want him to go too.

If only the gray-toned drama of his existence offered a respite. No chance. Indeed, one of the most disappointing aspects of this show is the fact that hardly anyone in Worcester, Massachusetts is on Allison’s side except for a friend from high school who recently returned (Raymond Lee). His life and social circle couldn’t be more separated from hers, however.

Allison’s neighbor Patty O’Connor (Mary Hollis Inboden), Neil’s sister, is a more regular feature in her life, and she is absolutely resentful of Allison’s ambition and hope, taking pleasure in watching the illusions that help Allison cope with breaking down one by one. Yet Allison is asking for Pattytime’s validation and again for reasons that are not immediately apparent and, at least within the four hours made available for consideration, insufficiently explained.

While the concept is more appealing than the real thing, there’s hope that “Kevin Can F ** k Himself” could turn out to be a better show in the second half of its eight-episode season. Judging by the four hours of operation, it would take quite a winch to get there. Still, Murphy’s solid performance and sufficiently solid premise offers the possibility of some sort of turnaround.

The possibility of such a rescue will depend in part on whether the writers realize that only one of the two shows we’re seeing here is worth developing, and it’s not one backed up by a canned laugh.

“Kevin Can F ** k Himself” will premiere with two episodes at 9 p.m. Sunday on AMC.

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