“Kevin Can F*** Himself,” which premieres on AMC+ and AMC on June 13 and June 20, respectively, prods at the tension at the heart of the sitcom between how men are allowed to behave and how women are expected to behave. Creator Valerie Armstrong splits each hour-long episode between the multi-cam format traditionally used in sitcom TV and the single-cam style more common for dramas, and in the middle stands Allison McRoberts (Annie Murphy). The 35-year-old Allison lives in a slowly crumbling home in Worcester, Massachusetts, with her mostly useless husband Kevin (Eric Petersen). She serves him every meal, cleans up after him, entertains his indulgent father and moronic friends, and never gets a moment to herself—and the laugh track that accompanies every scene during which Kevin ignores her or his sycophantic gang mocks her adds insult to injury.
When “Kevin Can F*** Himself” is in sitcom mode, the lighting is garish, the home in which most episodic action takes place is clearly a built set, the laugh track is omnipresent, and the hijinks and jokes about the characters’ Massachusetts-ness evoke that “Saturday Night Live” Dunkin’ Donuts sketch. (Worship of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, numerous “Good Will Hunting” jokes, complaints about Deflategate and soccer, etc.) But when the focus shifts solely to Allison, everything about the faux cheer of the sitcom presentation changes. The lighting dims down. The home’s dinginess is obviousness. The laugh track is replaced with absolute silence, or a persistent, low-level whine of feedback. Allison’s hair is lank and her outfits outdated, and every so often she sees a cockroach scuttle across the floor of her home. Nothing is good here, and Allison sees no way out.
Critiquing the American sitcom isn’t exactly a new idea. “WandaVision” did so just earlier this year, nodding at “I Love Lucy,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Bewitched,” and “Full House” as Elizabeth Olsen’s titular Wanda worked through her trauma by returning to the TV shows she grew up watching as a child. Animated series like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” also started as somewhat self-aware spins on the format, injecting bursts of violence and meta winks to shake things up. But what “Kevin Can F*** Himself” does is use the sitcom’s inherent conservatism as a contrast for its own pitch-black tone, letting Allison’s loneliness and resentment bleed into the sitcom portion of each episode, and then crafting Allison’s choices in the drama portion as a response to her burgeoning self-awareness. Allison breaks a beer mug in anger while listening to Kevin’s endless whining, and we see that scene from both perspectives. Through the sitcom lens, her bloody palm is the inspiration for a Kevin joke about her period; through the drama lens, we see how unaffected the deeply numb Allison is by the wound. Allison’s one-of-the-guys neighbor Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) informs her of a betrayal of Kevin’s, and the news is devastating in the drama space; in the sitcom, Kevin blows off his indiscretion by telling Allison to make him dinner.