Kevin Can F**k Himself’s Kevin McRoberts (Eric Petersen) is a cable guy who lives in Worcester, Massachusetts. He loves beer, junk food, his dumb doting best friend Neil (Alex Bonifer), his always-around dad Pete (Brian Howe), and being the center of attention. Dim, goofy, arrogant and more than a bit chauvinistic, he’s a buffoon who’s always ready with a quip and a pratfall, and never in any real danger; at every turn, Kevin can be relied upon to come out on top.
Thanks to sitcoms like The King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond, he’s the sort of fun-loving domestic neanderthal we’ve been conditioned to think is funny. Except for the fact that he’s the absolute worst, and the TV character I most relish hating.
There’s stiff competition for that dubious title, ranging from Logan Roy on Succession and Homelander on The Boys, to Danny Stevens on For All Mankind, and everyone on The Offer and Winning Time. Yet none of those individuals are as entertainingly abhorrent as Petersen’s Kevin, a portly moron whose every utterance is a smarty-pants one-liner and whose every gesture is zanily cartoonish.
With big hair that rolls over into a poofy wave, a collection of t-shirts emblazoned with wacky logos of his favorite New England sports teams, and eyes that seem to be in constant bug-out mode, he’s like your worst nightmare of a Boston (read: Bahston) caricature, a brash and proud man-child who’s all cocky posturing, loudmouth pronouncements and raucous machismo that invariably carries with it a pungent whiff of sexist entitlement.
Kevin is a riff on the married men who populate any number of CBS comedies, which is why Kevin Can F**k Himself habitually depicts him in scenes shot and staged like a multi-camera sitcom. Inspired by Kevin James’ Kevin Can Wait, which callously murdered its protagonist’s wife (played by Erinn Hayes) after its first season in order to replace her with James’ The King of Queens co-star Leah Remini, Valerie Armstrong’s superb FX dramedy is a caustic censure of the Kevins of the TV world, revealing their supposedly playful natures as the height of egotistical privilege and misogyny.
Consequently, Kevin isn’t really the star of his own show; that would be his wife Allison (Schitt's Creek vet Annie Murphy, in a phenomenal performance), whose non-Kevin scenes are shot like a grimmer-hued drama. Her goal throughout the series’ stellar first season involved figuring out how to get away with murdering her unbearable spouse. In the second (and final) ongoing season, she is determined to escape her husband by faking her own death.
Kevin Can F**k Himself is simultaneously a pitch-perfect recreation and satiric evisceration of a particular small-screen type, juggling its intertwined modes (and tones) with impressive agility. Armstrong knows her CBS stuff and crafts Kevin’s segments—often set in his standard-issue living room, adjoining kitchen and non-descript bedroom—as if they were airing on the network on a Thursday night at 8pm, replete with cheery lighting, a boisterous laugh-track, and plenty of smirking and eye-rolling supporting characters.
Now in its second season, the show has become so good at this pantomime that Kevin and his cohorts occasionally come close to being actually amusing—a byproduct of their comfortable familiarity and the precision of Armstrong’s sitcom writing.
Don’t be fooled, though—Kevin is an abomination, not to be laughed with, or even at, but to be scorned with the blazing fury of a thousand suns. His movements, reaction shots and line deliveries (embellished with a thick working-class Worchester accent) are vile in their hyperbole. Worse is that his jokes come at the expense of those he purportedly loves, beginning with Allison, the brunt of so many demeaning Kevin-isms that Kevin Can F**k Himself’s condemnation of sitcom bigotry resounds loud and clear.
He frolics and fumes through his cookie-cutter home, always screwing up and yet triumphing in the end. Watching him be so callous and insulting, and yet carry himself like he’s an irascible cutie (cue Allison, Neil and Pete’s exasperated expressions!), is to feel a loathing normally reserved for people who kick puppies and steal from little old ladies.
Kevin is, of course, meant to be hateable—that’s the entire point of Kevin Can F**k Himself—and thus it’s to Petersen’s credit that he inspires such antipathy. With full-bodied gusto, Petersen is a revelation as this Worcester Wild Dude. (And no, that’s not a clever turn of phrase on my part; in this season’s early episodes, Kevin becomes a local celebrity by assuming that moniker, which is popularized by a political-candidacy TV commercial that features him acting like the king of all bozos.)
A deft comedian who consistently nails his character’s guffaw-seeking cues, Petersen handles his sitcom duties with flair. At the same time, though, he dials his archetypal routine just a tad too far, thereby highlighting the corrosive awfulness underscoring Kevin’s hijinks, comments and overarching worldview. It’s a case study in criticism through ever-so-slight exaggeration.
Petersen’s performance is masterful and magnetic, with Kevin’s oh-so-crazy escapades inspiring groans and expletives in equal measure. Embodying Kevin as a rowdy, drunken, me-first lout whose horrors know no depths, Petersen taps into the boorish essence of characters of this ilk without ever resorting to cheap winks or nods. As a result, he makes Kevin the veritable monster of Massachusetts, a boozy and blustery black hole of empathy and restraint, and the enemy of all that is good and holy.
Corny, cruel and committed to nothing but himself, he’s despicable to a degree that few fictional characters can match. I detest him. And I will also, I readily admit, miss detesting him when he’s good and gone.