This post contains spoilers for Kevin Can F**k Himself “The Grand Victorian” (on AMC+ now, and available on AMC July 18, 2021).
There’s nothing quite like a road trip that can bond two characters together on TV. In its fourth episode, Kevin Can F**k Himself leaves Massachusetts for the first time when Alison (Annie Murphy) and Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) head to Vermont to procure some black market Oxy. Up to this point, the pair have interacted when necessary as Patty is Kevin’s (Eric Petersen) friend, not Alison’s. Sitcoms are full of great female friendships from Lucy and Ethel in I Love Lucy to the Galentine’s Day celebration in Parks and Recreation, but the AMC dramedy from creator Valerie Armstrong is far from a straight-up comedy series.
Tonal shifts in Kevin Can F*** Himself are clearly signposted by the two different worlds Alison and Patty experience. When Kevin, his father Pete (Brian Howe), and Patty’s brother (and Kevin’s BFF) Neil (Alex Bonifer) are on screen it has the look of a classic multi-cam sitcom — from the brightly lit soundstage to the laugh track. When Alison steps from this space into a room without these men, the setting takes on a more realistic aesthetic and the location is lit like a drama. There is no mistaking what version we are watching, and viewers will recognize specific tropes when we enter either perspective.
The beleaguered sitcom wife role isn’t the only version of matrimony depicted during TV's long love affair with comedy and Kevin Can F*** Himself is the flipside of the same coin that WandaVision found inspiration within. The wife roles that Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) paid homage to in her fantasy sitcom sanctuary were those with agency or even magical powers like Bewitched’s Samatha Stephens. These wives often butt heads with their husbands and the limitations of the era, but these characters could never be considered wallpaper. The latter is a descriptor Alison is rebelling against and in the pilot image of her in 1950s housewife gingham and floral drag, she takes a broken bottle and stabs her husband to death. This revenge fantasy is on the opposite end of the spectrum as Wanda’s relationship with Vision (Paul Bettany) and the sitcom wife Armstrong’s series is responding to references how easily Kevin Can Wait disposed of his first wife (and killed her offscreen) in the short run Kevin James CBS comedy that debuted in 2016.
Alison’s role as a sitcom wife kicks off the ambitious premise, but it is when she teams up with Patty that it goes from an intriguing concept to one I was wholly invested in. The first big moment between the pair occurs toward the end of the pilot when Alison finds out that her husband has drained their savings account and her hopes for the future are snuffed out before her eyes. “I’m just so tired of trying. I feel like nothing I do is ever enough. I really think if I can start over and go somewhere else and do everything right this time,” is Alison’s reasoning behind wanting to move house. Feeling sorry for her, Patty is the one who tells her to wake up before spilling this huge secret and this marks a change in their dynamic, as they are little more than acquaintances before this moment. In fact, Patty’s role as “one of the guys” means she is part of the squad that belittles Alison’s efforts — like making fun of her attempt at a charcuterie board or calling her "Barbie." No wonder Alison wants out when everyone who enters her home consistently puts her down. Sisterhood does not exist between the neighbors until Alison forces her hand. Even when the pair have forged a bond, Patty cannot help but fire off quips about her outfits, claiming it is a reflex she hasn’t got out of her system.
It never crossed Patty’s mind to tell her about Kevin’s betrayal, in part because she knows Kevin has a cruel streak when he believes he has been wronged — a feud led to him getting a postal worker deported. That is one example and there is no denying Kevin is cruel, and manipulative, after all, he also sabotaged the paralegal job she loved. In “New Patty,” his fondness for ringing up people to spread rumors continues when he poisons whatever Patty had left with Kurt (Sean Clements). He doesn’t care about anyone, but himself and the only surprise is that these women have put up with him for this long. When Alison discovers Patty is the neighborhood Oxy dealer, she puts her plan to kill Kevin into motion, telling her that she stole drugs off a dangerous dude when she was high on coke.
During the road trip to acquire more pills (after Patty’s pharmacist source is arrested), Patty warms to Alison after she makes a joke about her dead mother. Over the last 10 years, she has only seen the sleepwalking version of Kevin’s wife but now she is awake and cracking bad taste gags. This episode is like a low-key Thelma & Louise and neither woman hesitates when stepping in to save the other — even if Patty didn’t need to knock out a truck driver. The calamity levels are high and while this is in the serious drama filter, there are elements of a farce (and this is, even more, the case in “The Grand Victorian”). At the end of “Live Free or Die,” Alison comes clean about the real reason behind her Oxy request and tells her new pal she intends on killing her husband by making it look like an accidental overdose. Stabbing him in the neck is too obvious and all signs will point to her, but she thinks the opioid addiction crisis is the perfect cover.
Patty doesn’t think Alison will go through with it and she is the one who compares her to wallpaper (but in the “nicest possible way”). She might as well have called her a doormat because even after their adventure, all Patty can see is the same woman who has put up with Kevin’s BS for her adult life. “You’re the woman who won’t speak up when she doesn’t get a slice of her own birthday cake,” she remarks after she has found the Oxy Alison acquired from the truck driver (before Patty knocked him out thinking he was Alison’s dangerous stalker). Neither of them trusts the other and while Patty has seen a different side to her neighbor, she doesn’t quite know what to make of this transformation.
She isn’t a one-woman cheer squad but she does tell Alison when she is proud of her (using the word “shit” is one example) and she is impressed when she quits her liquor store job of 16 years. “Come on, you know the drill, I gotta put up with this crap daily,” her boss tells her before Alison walks out — she is no longer going to put up with terrible men, whether they are customers or her husband.
Nevertheless, Patty is concerned as she is already on a detective's radar for the pills and she has had a recent falling out with Kevin; if he ODs, she will be the prime suspect. Alison doesn’t go ahead with her original plan and gives Patty the Oxy to sweeten the deal with the very scary Nick (Robin Lord Taylor) who is threatening her — because the broken supply chain has caused a drug drought. A terrifying dude who might be the solution to the Kevin issue as they hire him to do the deed. Even before this step, Alison has made Patty an accessory to this potential crime and they are in it together. They are far from sitcom besties, but this bond has been cemented, and this portrayal of female solidarity is one that escapes phoniness.
In the most recent episode, they still keep secrets from the other but there are sweet gestures that are independent of the murder plan. Patty brings Alison a novella to read over dinner that she thinks she will be able to finish before Kevin gets back from his other birthday event next door — a “secret” bash for his friends and part of the deceit Alison has long known about. Patty is making up for playing along in small and recognizable ways that are rather touching, and this growing friendship has already elevated the series beyond its unusual concept.
Kevin Can F**k Himself is not the only series airing at the moment that is exploring the thornier side of female friendships and terrible marriages. Apple TV+’s Physical is also highlighting how women don’t have to be besties or pitted against each other to deliver a fascinating dynamic. Furthermore, Alison and Patty are proving the grey area is as rewarding as the sitcom pairs that celebrate Galentine’s Day.
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