It’s Time For the Sitcom Husband to Die

Allison (Annie Murphy) stands on the street facing a house (out of view), with a grey mailbox behind her. She has her hands raised defiantly towards the camera, flipping the bird with both.
AMC

Kevin Can F**k Himself follows Allison McRoberts (Annie Murphy), a classic, long-suffering sitcom wife, as she discovers Kevin (Eric Petterson), a goofy sitcom husband, is hiding a secret that turns her world upside down. 

The show is filmed in two different ways. It begins as a classic sitcom, with bright colours and a laugh soundtrack, but this only lasts whilst the camera’s main focus is Kevin and as long as the storyline still follows the same formula as a classic marital sitcom. As soon as the narrative switches over to focusing on Allison the colour palette changes to muted, grey-tinged scenes and the laugh track disappears. Each segment in itself could be a standalone episode, but woven together they compliment each other. Side by side they enable the audience to really see beyond surface level comedy to dark humour.  

Allison is the typical ‘sitcom wife’. A sitcom wife is an incredibly beautiful woman married to a schleppy husband, and who barely tolerates his antics. We all know she could do better, but for some reason she never does – and it’s not because he’s sweet, because his moments of sweetness don’t justify the shit she puts up with.  This trope is not unfamiliar in TV history. Take one of the most famous sitcom wives, Marge Simpson. Kevin Can F**k Himself’s writer Valerie Armstrong decided to explore how that really impacts the woman behind it. 

From the very first episode we realise that all of the humorous mistakes, that are so often played for laughs, have one main loser: Allison. These mistakes really impact Allison’s life negatively. For instance, in the very first episode the pottery barn table that Allison has such pride in is destroyed due to Kevin and his antics. The coffee table is a symbol for something so much bigger. Allison is trying to improve her life, and Kevin’s life, but time and time again she is thwarted by Kevin. 

Allison stands in her kitchen between her husband Kevin (right) and his friend (left). Her hand is raised to silence the latter as Kevin shows her an American football with a knife sticking out of it.
AMC

The thing is, despite much of this seeming accidental, we, and later Allison, begin to question if that is truly the case. In one of the later episodes Allison sits by the road, pulled over by cops because Kevin couldn’t remember that she’d taken the car and had instead reported it stolen. As she explains to Patty, Kevin’s thwarting her, over and over again, feels purposeful. Take the instance he got jealous of Allison working in a nicer job and got her fired. If you take many of Kevin’s actions, and many sitcom husbands’ actions, out of the context of a sitcom and put them into real life, they look dangerous. Blaming things that go wrong on Allison, or making her question her sense of reality; frequently she questions her own perceptions. Does any of this sound familiar?

It sounds like gaslighting. Gaslighting is when someone is manipulated into questioning their sense of reality. If we classify what Allison is subjected to as gaslighting, then Kevin is the manipulator. Combine this with the insistent downgrading of Allison by Kevin and his friends, the constant jealousy and destruction of all of her close relationships other than himself, it would be seen as an abusive relationship. The only difference is the way it is framed.  Playing destructive behaviour off for laughs only normalises it and by shifting the focus to the effect it has on the woman in the relationship, Armstrong makes us question the validity of this continued relationship on our screen.  

This is not by any means the only sitcom trope that the show questions. The female relationships that are often neglected or poorly constructed in other sitcoms are strongly developed in Kevin Can F**k Himself. The queerbaiting and homophobia that are often seen in sitcoms are also questioned. Patty, who is one of Kevin’s sidekicks, fulfils the sitcom stereotype of the woman who is ‘one of the boys’, to the point that most people forget that she is a woman. Patty is tasked with seducing another woman – which would usually be played for laughs in a sitcom – but in this drama it’s part of a sexual awakening. Something that would have usually been used as a joke is a catalyst for very real character development. Throughout the series there are also hints that maybe Patty and Allison’s relationship might be developing into something more. It would be disappointing if at the end of this series Allison escapes her marriage to only find herself in another relationship with a mediocre man. The relationship between the two women seems like something beyond friendship, but that is something that can only be revealed in the next season. 

This show made me question so many of the primary relationships I had seen and hated for so long in sitcoms. I could never understand why I hated them but Armstrong’s exploration of their expectations and ramifications made me understand the long neglected story of a sitcom wife. It’s time for it to end, we have so many other sitcoms that explore so many other issues whilst maintaining that light-hearted comedy that we love – so it’s time for the sitcom husband to die. 

by Gurjinder Khambay

Gurjinder Khambay (she/her) is a third year British-Indian student studying International Studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She has specialised in the Middle East. When she’s not studying, she either reading or finding her next TV obsession. Her favourite movies include Mogul Mowgli, Queen & Slim and Before Sunrise. Gurjinder can be found on her Instagram.

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