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'Kevin Can [Expletive] Himself': Watchable, engaging oddball

Annie Murphy stars in AMC's  "Kevin Can

Annie Murphy stars in AMC's  "Kevin Can [Expletive] Himself."   Credit: AMC/Jojo Whilden

SERIES "Kevin Can [Expletive] Himself"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC; Also streaming on AMC+.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Back during the 2016-18 run of "Kevin Can Wait," actor/producers Rashida Jones and Will McCormack got the idea of a revenge fantasy series based on a simple question — why is the attractive sitcom wife (in that series, Erinn Hayes as Donna Gable) always the punchline to jokes by the schlubby sitcom husband (Kevin James, as Kevin Gable)? "Kevin Can [Expletive] Himself" opens in a TV sitcom world, complete with laugh track — the living room of Kevin (Eric Petersen) and Allison McRoberts (Annie Murphy, "Schitt's Creek") set in a working-class neighborhood of Worcester, Mass. But when Allison goes outside, the light darkens and the laughs stop: She has entered a real-world setting where she has perspective on her sitcom self. She then begins to plan the murder of unsuspecting Kevin.

MY SAY By title alone we could have guessed "Kevin Can [Expletive] Himself" would be a strange show, but this strange? It's the TV version of a liger … an elephant with polka-dots (pink ones) … a Frankenstein monster that's half dumb, half smart, half good, half bad. To watch is also to witness the purposeful demolition of a genre (the family sitcom) that was already on life support anyway.

What's so surprising, or at least so seductive, about "Kevin" is just how watchable it often is. Murphy is terrific as the sitcom spouse with a secret inner life who nurses revenge fantasies while attempting to piece together the puzzle of who she really is. Her sitcom self is flat, one-dimensional, in servitude to a joke that's usually made at her expense. Her dramatic self has the panoramic view, or as she admits at one point in near-tragic disbelief, "I can't believe how much I've been talking about nothing. "

In the process of self-discovery, she enlists an accomplice, her next-door neighbor Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) who is resigned to her fate as a sitcom sidekick. Like Murphy, Inboden's character grows in increments — from world-weary (or life-weary) cynic to someone who realizes there might actually be an exit ramp off this sitcom-from-hell. Inboden is good in this too, better yet she's believable.

Then, there's that sitcom part, and with this gimmick, you'll likely have one of two reactions, from "not this again," to grudging admiration. "Kevin" has the tropes down so well that the sitcom feels like something you've seen a thousand times before because in fact you have. "Kevin Can [Expletive] Himself" isn't so much a broadside against "Kevin Can Wait" as all the "Kevin Can Waits" — to all the schlubby sitcom husbands with stupid schemes and long-suffering TV spouses who stand off to the side, arms crossed, with a look of loving bemusement when those schemes blow up in their husbands' well-fed faces like trick cigars.

What works less well is that blending of sitcom and drama. Murphy's Allison exists in both worlds yet her dramatic self evolves in direct relation to the sitcom one. Yes, Kevin is a doofus and a jerk, but he's also a cartoon figure, more disposable than hateable. It's as if "Family Guy's" Lois Griffin was plotting the demise of Peter. As such, Allison's genuinely emotional setbacks are tethered to a stick drawing — which tends to diminish them. Maybe she should just tell us to switch the channel.

BOTTOM LINE A watchable, engaging oddball.

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