It's Time for Television To Get Super Weird for the Summer
Two shows offer two different versions of hell, one more literal than the other.
- Kevin Can Go F**k Himself. AMC. Sunday, June 20, 9 p.m.
- Devil May Care. Available now on Peacock.
Summertime, and the livin' is … well, weird. Summer replacement shows have ever been thus, for better (the original CBS version of the addled spy show The Prisoner) or worse (Shonda Rimes' ritual disembowelment of Shakespeare, Still Star-Crossed). And the summer of '21 is no different.
Exhibit A in our soon-to-be time capsule of memorable TV quirk is AMC's Kevin Can F**k Himself. (Those asterisks, by the way, are AMC's, not the eruption of some long-repressed Bowdlerite madness at Reason.) It's a ghoulishly brutal, stunningly creative, and utterly Pyrrhic send-up of blue-collar domestic sitcoms, way too effective to be entertaining.
Kevin is modeled after all those sitcoms—King of Queens, Lucky Louie, the list stretches all the way back to The Honeymooners—in which an attractive wife smilingly puts up with a fat, loutish husband and his fratboy friends. Annie Murphy of Schitt's Creek (so far as I know, the only actress to have starred in two different TV shows with masked four-letter words in the title; is that a new Emmy category?) plays Allison, the grown-up wife, with Eric Petersen of the short-lived TV Land comedy Kirstie as her slobby spouse Kevin.
Like the husbands in genuine sitcoms of the genre, Kevin is an amiable party-pig whose highest ambition is to become the beer-pong champ at the local bar and kisses not his wife but his mint-condition Wade Boggs baseball card when he leaves for work in the morning. Mostly he lies around on the living room couch getting hammered and exchanging low-life jokes with his loudmouth frat-rat friends, particularly next-door neighbor Neil (Alex Bonifer, Superstore) and Neil's sister Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden, American Princess).
Typical exchange: Patty snorts in disgust at the idea of Neil taking off his clothes after losing a bet. What's the big deal? wonders Neil: "You're my sister. You used to change my diapers." Retorts Patty: "Which is weird, because you're three years older than me." Allison mostly stands by, an exasperated but jolly what-will-I-do-with-him? smile flickering across her face.
Except when it doesn't. When Allison leaves the room, Kevin changes from a brightly lit sitcom with upbeat musical cues and a piercing laugh track to a brooding noir drama. The house is shabby, decorated by Goodwill; the neighborhood, one bleak step above a junkyard. Her 10-year marriage feels less like a relationship than a trap, particularly after she learns Kevin squandered the money they were saving to buy a home on a fake-baseball-memorabilia scam.
His little jokes about how she never finishes anything—college, party prep—take on a cutting edge: "Do I never finish things?" she muses. "Or does he take them from me?" Her mild fantasies of a husband who drinks beer out of a glass instead of a bottle and uses a coaster to preserve her second-hand Pottery Barn coffee table evolve into vengeful visions of stabbing him in the throat, and she spends her spare time Googling how to commit the perfect murder.
Kevin is remarkably conceived (by creator-producer Valerie Armstrong) and executed (by directors Oz Rodriguez and Anna Dokoza), a nightmarish look at what it might be like to actually live in one of these sitcoms. And Murphy and Bonifer convincingly spin their roles off the conventional sitcom archetypes. (Bonifer to such a degree that you, too, might start thinking about killing him.) Cast and crew are essentially making two polar-opposite shows at the same time, and doing it well.
But they've created a spectacular edifice too heavy for its own foundation. By the third episode, the prospect of spending an hour a week with Kevin for the rest of the summer was waaaay more than I could face. The dramatic sequences and Allison's hopeless dilemma are grimly depressing; the increasingly shrill sitcom part of the show quickly become nearly unbearable. I knew I was in trouble when Allison and an old boyfriend she runs into start drinking a concoction they liked in high school, which they call a White Trash Margarita: green Gatorade, tequila and a maraschino cherry. I wanted one, and not because it sounded good.
The week's other oddity, the animated comedy Devil May Care, is not, technically, new; it aired this spring on Syfy, but in a time slot only accessible to serial killers. It's now available on NBC's streaming service Peacock, and after an episode or two of Kevin, it might even seem sort of normal to you. Well, almost. Produced by Daniel Goldstein, one of the writers on the Cartoon Network's seriously brain-damaged Robot Chicken in the early 2000s, it's set in a newly gentrified Hell that's full of idiots doing Zoom calls on their cell phones while eating in kale restaurants.
The Devil (voiced by Alan Tudyk of Firefly) is an industrious bureaucrat who is continuously under siege by a cabal of coup-minded cats led by a tabby called Kitle, as well as his vampire-nympho wife (voiced by Californication's Pamela Adlon with a hilarious Transylvanian accent). Post-coital phone conversation: "Could you speak up? I can't hear you over the sound of my rectum bleeding." His chief of staff is President William McKinley, who you probably thought got away with that whole Spanish-American War thing.
A lot of the action in Devil May Care is triggered by a new arrival to Hell, a teenaged social media manager named Beans who is immediately tasked with setting up Hell's version of Facebook. No problem, says Beans; Hell already has a self-contained Internet, "like North Korea's, but with more pop-up ads." He's interrupted, however, when one of the Devil's rituals calls for the sacrifice of a virgin penis, which as you might guess, are in short supply of Hell. You know, I'm going to take back that remark about "it might seem sort of normal."
Oh, by the way, the Devil keeps an autographed photo of Justin Bieber in his office. Go ahead, tell me you're surprised.