Expert Dating and Relationship Coach Frank Kermit is quoted in an article about a new AMC series
Image © Zach Dilgard/AMC
AMC’s “Kevin Can F**k Himself" Proves We Don’t Need Misogyny for a Laugh
While it might not be the wisest place to look, seeking out a role model in the characters we see portrayed on television and in movies happens all the time. This is typically harmless, leading us to hold the noble, honest, and exceedingly good-natured superhero like Captain America in such high regard, or applaud the actions of a kind and caring father figure like Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But for every Uncle Phil we applaud, there’s about ten Peter Griffins being the worst kind of person.
Sitcom husbands and fathers, typically serving as the central comedic forces of these particular shows, have gotten away with bad behavior for decades. And as audience members, we sat back and laughed right along with them.
What’s more, the creators of these sitcoms — The King of Queens, Still Standing and According to Jim, to name a few — have often followed what author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn once termed the “fatty-gets-a-family” formula, which she described as a working-class doof of a husband landing a mysteriously hot wife while seemingly caring much more about TV, beer, and sports than his own partner or kids. While that formula might be successful at producing some chuckles, it also leaves this question unanswered: Are these kinds of oddball pairings truly realistic? And if we were to go even further, are these really the kinds of male role models we should be taking our cues from?
Kevin Can F**k Himself, a new AMC series that premiered in June, asks viewers to consider these types of questions. The show keeps the model of a boorish, immature man paired with an attractive female partner (Annie Murphy of Schitt’s Creek fame), but turns the dynamic on its head by revealing the very unfunny behind-the-scenes reality that might exist if this husband-wife relationship played out in real life. Mixing brightly-lit sets and the ambience of audience laughter typical of sitcoms with gritty, darker-hued scenes more akin to television dramas, Kevin Can F**k Himself is a satire of family-oriented sitcoms that uncovers the emotional scars left in the wake of too many crude jokes cracked at a woman’s expense.
Right from the jump, it’s clear the writers of the show are determined to highlight the kind of over-the-top bad behavior men have been getting away with in sitcoms for years. The first episode of Kevin Can F**k Himself opens with husband Kevin playing a round of beer pong in the middle of the living room with his best friend and next-door neighbor Neil, as Kevin’s dad and Neil’s sister spectate from the couch. As soon as wife Allison enters the room from the kitchen carrying a laundry basket, she’s hit by a stray shot from Neil. Before she has the chance to say anything, Neil throws his hands up and jokingly says, “Sorry, mom!”
The sitcom-style scene continues with Allison asking her husband if, instead of throwing an “anniversa-rager” (as they’ve seemingly done for their nine previous wedding anniversaries), they could have a grown-up dinner together, seeing as they’ve both reached their mid-thirties. Kevin responds: “Yeah, but you’re ‘lady 35’ and I’m ‘boy 35’ ... I’m just hitting my prime, and you...” trailing off before course correcting, unconvincingly, in a higher-pitched voice, “are, too.”
Moments later, Allison announces that dinner’s almost ready and asks that beer pong be put on hold. The other characters groan loudly before Neil says, “Now, see, this is why I call you mom.” Kevin momentarily comes to her defense (“Someone has to be responsible,” he says) before tossing his empty beer mug at her and asking for refills.
It’s when Allison walks back into the other room that the tone of the show does a 180. Compared to the brightly-lit living room, the kitchen is overly dark and dramatic. A high-pitched sound grows louder and louder as she sets the laundry basket down that she was holding, squeezing her eyes shut tight as if fighting off a migraine, only for an empty glass mug to shatter on the countertop as an apparent representation of her feelings after what’s just transpired in the other room.
Chris Luna, head dating coach with Craft of Charisma, ascribes one word to Allison and Kevin’s relationship: toxic. However, he says this is a reflection of both of them.
“Kevin is awful,” says Luna. “I can’t imagine any man watching the show and thinking, ‘I want to be that guy’. But what type of woman would choose to stay in a relationship like that? What type of woman gets into a relationship with a guy like that?”
A fair question, sure, but it’s also exactly the point the show creators are trying to make. All those fictional sitcom marriages we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the years — Doug and Carrie in The King of Queens, Jim and Cheryl in According to Jim, Bill and Judy in Still Standing — just aren’t that realistic. In direct violation of the so-called “matching hypothesis,” which Dr. Sean M. Horan, a social psychologist, describes as our penchant for dating “individuals with similar levels of physical attractiveness,” sitcoms often pair two people who wouldn’t generally sync with one another in the real world for comedic effect.
These made-for-television mismatches are applauded as the on-screen husband belittles his partner in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, typically by making her the butt of the joke. In Kevin Can F**k Himself, this dynamic is cranked up to 11 with nearly all of Kevin’s lines serving to demean Allison when the two are in a room together. It’s only when we observe her by herself that we see (from her unique POV) just how much of an impact Kevin’s actions have on her. In the first episode, his button-pushing antics ultimately lead to Allison fantasizing about stabbing him in the neck with a broken beer bottle.
“In TV relationships, the dysfunctional husband has turned into a comedic trope,” explains Luna. “Husbands are often portrayed as incapable idiots, while wives are portrayed as smart and capable and good and living with an ongoing male burden. In the first episode of Kevin Can F**k Himself, it’s clear that the show is building upon this idea, and then expanding into and exploring the wife’s anger.”
He goes on, saying that with his career, he sees and hears the problems people struggle with on a regular basis.
“Although it’s true that on some level people are the source for the problems in their life, it’s often more complicated,” notes Luna. “The types of problems we see in modern sitcoms are not accurately reflective of the types of problems or the relationship dynamics that I see in real life with clients — and the men and women I meet in real life aren’t anything like the people I see on these shows.”
Some would argue, however, that the relationships and situations that we see play out in these sitcoms aren’t really meant to translate to real life.
“The entertainment industry is not concerned with educating audiences about relationships,” notes dating coach Frank Kermit. “The entertainment industry is only interested in one thing: entertaining you in a way that turns a profit.”
To be clear, Kermit does not say this as an indictment of the entertainment industry; he’s not looking for anything to be censored or altered to be more educational. Rather, he argues that we need to resist the urge to take our relationship cues from what we see on our TV screens.
“The key is not modifying our entertainment, but bringing in better education,” he says. “As long as people are educated about how to think critically and rationally about anything in their environment that can and will influence them, then people can make sure to only take actions that are in their best long-term interests.”
It’s a solid, reasonable case — don’t think of entertainment as dating education — but when you really boil it down, there is something to be taken from a show like Kevin Can F**k Himself. As for what that is? Looking at everything wrong with the way sitcom marriages have been portrayed over the last three or four decades, they’re finally telling us not to aspire to be these people.
And if you’ve reached a place where you’d rather slit your partner’s throat with broken glass than spend another second with them? It’s probably time for a divorce.
Written by Logan Hansen. Published on askmen.com
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