What happens when a stereotypical sitcom housewife decides to take her narrative back into her own hands rather than continue to “play her part” as the butt of every joke and complacently clean up after her husbands wild antics? That very question is asked in what will no doubt be a groundbreaking hit from AMC, Kevin Can F**k Himself. Putting the sitcom under a microscope and focusing the narrative to the housewife, Austin Television Festival’s Kevin Can F**k Himself panel shined a light on this upcoming new show that’s a must watch! The panelists included Show Creator and Executive Producer Valerie Armstrong along with starring cast members Annie Murphy and Mary Hollis Inboden.
The series is unique in its choice to blend the two worlds of filming: the multi-camera and the single-camera. The classic sitcom multi-camera world is bright and focuses on Kevin McRoberts, his male friends, and a single female friend, Patty (Hollis Inboden) who has very few lines (don’t worry, it’s designed that way). Opposite this is the darker, moody world of his wife Allison (Murphy) where we see her inner thoughts and frustrations with the life she’s been living. She’s had it with Kevin and hatches a plan that plays out over the course of season one as she learns to take charge of her life for the first time in 10 years.
During the panel, Armstrong shared that her inspiration for the show came to her all at once. “I pictured the sitcom mom we all know so well. She has this very “funny” husband and we see him and wonder how did that happen. I imagined a giant laugh track to a joke at her suspense. Her walking through a swinging door and then being close on her face and seeing her makeup is more like a mask than anything else. You see the cracks in the wall and the cracks in her psyche.” Armstrong then envisioned her saying to the camera, “I f**king hate my husband.” AMC’s support has been unwavering through it all, and they quickly jumped on board with this very unique show that is essentially two shows in one, the sitcom world of Kevin and the single-camera world of Allison. What begins as a familiar show, the sitcom everyone already knows the rules for, morphs into a look behind the façade and focuses on Allison. The show is carefully designed as if the multi-cam universe could run on a theoretical network as any other sitcom, shared Armstrong, but as the season progresses the two worlds do start to bleed a little bit if viewers look for it.
Armstrong mentioned a few sitcoms that were their inspiration for the show because she grew up watching them all: Family Matters, King of Queens, and Home Improvement. She made the important distinction that Kevin Can F**k Himself is not making fun of the sitcoms, rather they are pointing out the problems with certain behaviors of this format. “We had to make it true and there were days where these brilliant women had two lines,” said Armstrong of filming their multi-cam shots. Those brilliant women are of course Murphy and Hollis Inboden as Allison McRoberts and Patty.
Allison McRoberts is a far cry from Alexis Rose, the role many people know Annie Murphy for, but she shared that is precisely why she chose this new, challenging role. “It was really important to me to prove to myself that I was able to do something else. I really wanted to do something as large a departure as possible from Alexis and Allison McRoberts is a real freaking departure from Alexis Rose.”
Much like the housewife, the sitcom neighbor doesn’t have a big role but Kevin Can F**k Himself places Patty as the number two character in the show. She’s introduced early as, “one of the guys” in Kevin’s sitcom world yet tough and unhappy in Allison’s. The two seem like polar opposites but they find common ground and help each other in more ways than the viewer might be expecting. Hollis Inboden shared that she nearly backed out of auditioning for the role because she wasn’t sure she could do the character justice. Of the role she shared, “Patty is, much like Allison, completely dismissed in Kevin’s universe. She’s overlooked and rarely included and Allison and Patty have more in common than they believe. If you go and witness a patriarchal society women are pitted against each other all the time and it’s assumed that they wouldn’t get along for a myriad of reasons. They end up being each others saviors in a way.”
The panel touched on the underlying anger both characters have: Allison’s toward her husband and Patty’s toward Allison. With Allison, her anger has been bottled up for so long that she’s finally hit her breaking point and snapped. She’s decided to off her husband, and though that’s not the healthiest of choices, it’s one that Murphy said she could tap into easily. She enjoyed getting the chance to punch and smash things in the single camera world of Allison, it displays her inner rage in a very visible way for the audiences.
Hollis Inboden was able to use the filming to channel her own rage into Patty, “You cannot take your eyes off this woman who is the butt of the jokes and who is being overlooked, who is being constantly gaslit, controlled, and that was so frustrating to me to sit on the couch and be complacent in the multi-cam bits. The guys were having a hoot playing beer pong, and that definitely helped fuel my rage and helped me see things in a different way. We grew up with this model and this model is wrong, and Valerie is trying to dismantle that.”
Murphy spoke of being on set for a day of filming where her only job was to have steak spit on her over and over. The scene called for Eric Petersen (Kevin) to do lots of physical comedy. “At the end of that day, Eric got a very well deserved standing ovation and round of applause from the crew. That was the only time that anyone ever got a standing ovation and round of applause. I found myself feeling grouchy about it and being grateful that Mary and I had the single-cam to fall back on. That’s where we really get to show our talent. I think about all those women who didn’t have that to fall back on and they just had to have steak spit on them over and over.”
Of course with the show set in Worcester, Massachusetts, the panel wouldn’t be complete without discussing the thick Massachusetts accents. “I think there is a distinct possibility we will no longer be welcomed in Massachusetts after this airs,” joked Murphy, “It is a great fear of mine.” Murphy continued that they had a wonderful dialect coach who worked tirelessly with them (and gave out many repetitive corrections) to nail down the accent. Each one of them hoped they have done the city of Worcester justice. Murphy has had her view of sitcoms forever changed by this project, “I’ve gone back and watched some shows. There is so much misogyny and bigotry and racism and homophobia that is shrouded under this laugh track. It really wasn’t until I started working on this show that I realized how saturated these shows are in really awful behavior.”
Armstrong rounded out the panel by explaining that the show has many layers to it she hopes fans are going to enjoy. Her decision to switch formats throughout the season is a metaphor in many ways. “It’s the benefit of the doubt that the Kevin’s of the world have gotten all their lives. It’s got the multi-cam audience laughing at all of their shit from the moment they’re born, and they never have to see real consequences of their actions. They get to be boys until they are sixty. It’s a specific kind of man who is a Kevin,” said Armstrong. She also stated that there is a metaphor for the rage so many women feel at having to hide or cover up their perceived flaws. The story isn’t about a toxic marriage, it’s about how women can help each other out of toxic situations for Armstrong.
Murphy reiterated that she felt Allison’s anger is easy to identify with and said,”If even one woman can feel seen and can realize she can make a change in her life, doesn’t have to be murder, but can make a change for good and a change for herself this show will be a great success.”
Kevin Can F**k Himself premieres Sunday, June 20 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC with two episodes.