So how Long Island is Long Island’s very own Long Island-based sitcom “Kevin Can Wait” — the only one that’s proclaimed its Long Island roots more proudly than any sitcom since “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which wasn’t even produced here?
Billy Joel arrives on the show Monday, and — after a few dozen of your favorite songs come to mind — “Long Island” follows. You can’t get more Long Island than Joel, not even Jones Beach. (Sorry, Jones. Those are the breaks.)
That’s good because when Mineola-born star Kevin James got CBS to agree to produce this show in a former Grumman facility, Bethpage’s Gold Coast Studios, his declared intention was to make Long Island the star as much as he is.
But 10 episodes in, the star is still the star. LI is just . . . there. It hovers in the background, largely unseen, rarely mentioned.
Here’s what we have learned so far: The Gable family lives in Massapequa — Kevin’s many T-shirts tell as much. (Or, as one read last week, “Batsapequa.”) We know where they go to church, too — St. Rocco in Glen Cove. (Why it’s none of the five Catholic churches in and around Massapequa remains a mystery.) There have been a couple of references to All American Hamburger on Merrick Road. That’s a genuine Massapequa landmark. There was another reference in an early episode to Mansfield Park, also known as “Walker Park.”
Then, there was that amusing Long Island-specific line when Kevin’s former cop partner, Jimmy (Adam Sandler), recalled an incident “late at night and we [were] driving on the mean streets of Syosset.”
Kevin and his pals hang out at a place called Enzo’s. But the closest Enzo’s is in Ozone Park. Sorry, but Queens doesn’t count in this context.
With Monday’s Joel cameo, “Kevin Can Wait” will go a long way toward locking down its LI creds. But so far, those creds remain iffy. Long Island remains mostly what might be called an “atmospheric” presence: We know it’s out there, because we’re told it’s out there. But we can’t see it for the most part, or feel it, or smell it, or hear any familiar names that would prove it’s out there.
Why the vagueness? Here’s an educated guess: Despite James’ best intentions, network sitcoms have traditionally eschewed place names. Those tend to confine a show to a specific region. Sitcoms aren’t about regional appeal, but mass appeal.
Like “Kevin Can Wait,” Long Island was baked into “Raymond,” while at the outset of episodes, (Newsday’s own) Ray Barone (Ray Romano) would tell us “I live here in Long Island.” But where in Long Island, Ray? Lynbrook, we eventually found out, which meant nothing to millions of viewers except those living here. Show runner Phil Rosenthal, a Hofstra alum, essentially wanted his writers to think Lynbrook and Nassau County — not so much his viewers.
“The Wonder Years” was meant to evoke co-creator Neal Marlens’ life growing up in Huntington, and going to Stimson Middle School, and later Walt Whitman High School. But “evoke” only, not spell out. In fact, ABC even refused to allow him to say the Arnolds lived on Long Island. As a producer once explained, “everybody felt ‘Wonder Years’ was set on their home street.”
So I suppose if your own home street happens to be in Massapequa and it doesn’t get a plug on “Kevin Can Wait,” consider that a compliment. It’s meant to be everybody else’s home street, too.