annie murphy

Via Wikipedia Commons. By Ernesto Di Stefano

In AMC’s new show “Kevin Can F--- Himself,” Annie Murphy, who recently gained prominence through her notable and hilarious role as Alexis Rose on “Schitt’s Creek,” once again flexes her comedic muscles and debuts impressive dramatic acting chops. 

While in the presence of her husband — the titular Kevin, played by Eric Petersen — Murphy’s character, Allison, lives in a sitcom, complete with harsh lighting, cheesy writing and a laugh track. However, when Allison and other characters are without Kevin, their reality becomes shadowy and tense, reminiscent of AMC’s usual “Breaking Bad” style programming. The show’s unique format allows both Murphy and supporting cast members to display various talents and creates the foundation for engaging metacriticism throughout each episode.

Allison begins the show merely as Kevin’s beautiful wife, a background character in his hijinks with his meathead best friend Neil, played by Alex Bonifer, and father, played by Brian Howe. In the sitcom version of her life, she exists only to serve her husband. Both the archetypal roles which Allison and Kevin inhabit in their marriage and the set of their Boston home mimic several 2000s sitcoms — many fit the stereotype, but “Everybody Loves Raymond”and “King of Queens” are the most clear comparisons — about an obnoxious man-child wreaking havoc on his home and the life of his long-suffering, conventionally attractive wife.

However, as the show continues and the audience gains more glimpses into Allison’s gritty private life, the facade of a wife who is content to spend all her time cleaning up her husband’s messes quickly begins to crumble. Soon enough, Allison is fantasizing about murdering her husband and leaving her old life in working-class suburbia behind. The dichotomized structure of the show emphasizes the stark difference between the tolerant facade Allison puts on around Kevin and her exhausted, hopeless nature when she is alone.

The sitcom portion of the show is not merely an annoyance to fast-forward through, though. Along with the sets, the dialogue within the sitcom is carefully constructed to imitate the stereotypical sitcom marital dynamic, while also criticizing it. The subtlety of the sitcom portion’s dialogue allows for the show to carefully walk the line between lackluster verisimilitude and obvious parody, effectively highlighting the obsolete gendered aspects of sitcom television’s portrayal of marriage. 

Moreover, Kevin makes many jokes at Allison’s expense, often grounded in gendered stereotypes — menstruation being the only reason a woman may be angry, and so on — further emphasizing Kevin’s subjugation of Allison within their relationship. One of the first episode’s most depressing moments also plays upon the idea of women being bad drivers. Allison confesses in a long monologue that she “used to enjoy driving” before Kevin began to criticize her and gaslight her into believing she is a bad driver, despite the fact that she has never had a ticket or an accident. Murphy’s delivery of the monologue is heartbreaking, grounded and even a little funny, as Allison begins to reexamine the very fabric of her marriage.

The true breaking point, though, does not happen for Allison until she learns Kevin has spent their life savings without telling her, and she has no hope of leaving the neighborhood she desperately wants to escape. While the story of a woman’s life being under the control of a man would be resonant at any time, it also feels particularly relevant in the wake of Britney Spears’ conservatorship hearing. For years, Spears’s life — her time, her money and even her body — has been legally under her father’s control. Even after an outpouring of public support and an impassioned statement from Spears in court, a judge denied Spears’ request to regain autonomy over her life on July 1.

“Kevin Can F--- Himself”manages to breathe new, interesting life into the straight white wife trope and carefully reevaluate women’s roles in media. While her character’s perspective may not seem to be the most illuminating at first, Murphy’s sensitive performance allows Allison’s story to be at once depressing and empowering, representative of both the medium’s past and its future. It remains to be seen whether Allison will realize her fantasies and kill Kevin, but she has already effectively transcended the nagging housewife trope. Hopefully, it will stay buried.