Kevin Can Wait Thumbs Its Nose At Viewers And Bets You Don’t Care

Kevin Can Wait wasn’t a particularly interesting show at any point through its first season, though it had some moments that were fairly fun. Already an excuse for Kevin James to simply play Doug Heffernan again (but with kids and less animosity towards his spouse), the show has doubled down by bringing in Leah Remini as a regular and killing off Erinn Hayes. The news of the switch was announced months ago and what was initially a jarring head-scratcher has manifested into something of an ugly twist for a television series.

James has tried to downplay the move in several interviews by saying that the plan for the show was always to shift gears and go in an entirely new direction in the second season, but few backtracking explanations have ever made less sense. If it’s true it’s monumentally stupid and if it isn’t James is convinced the audience is stupid enough to believe it. Take your pick, I guess.

While CBS spent last year constantly calling the show the #1 something (new comedy in the 20-22.5 age bracket, primetime show with Kevin in the title, or whatever), getting rid of one of the main characters isn’t just a stupid move, it’s one that has a lot to say about the people involved in the show and what “TV” thinks of its own fans.

When the announcement was made, there was much talk of how the transition was going to deal with the idea that Erinn Hayes’ character was going to have died, which would involve time-jumping the show. When the episode actually aired, that treatment turned out to be one off-the-cuff remark about how she died over a year ago, and James acting vaguely sad for about six seconds. I imagine he was supposed to be “I’m still not over it and can’t deal with this,” but he looked decidedly, “if I pretend to be sad I won’t have to deal with this.”

Among other measures of how fans reacted, Twitter was taken over by people who didn’t think much of the show’s execution. I’ve included a few examples below, but you can easily check back through #KevinCanWait to get the pulse of the conversation.

The real curiosity is the spark of the movement, and what it seems like that must say about people this show hopes are watching. Kevin James’ comedy/appeal is one of pure familiarity. It isn’t that he’s funny, but that you know where you are. He’s also a member of the group of actors who work almost entirely on a business model. The decision-making and production, for example, of Paul Blart 2 is “factory Hollywood” at its most focused.

Thus, Kevin Can Wait‘s Kevin James, and comedy, feels like everything else he’s in, because there’s a demographic out there that just wants a comfy chair, and knows right where they are with a show that thinks a big laugh is, “look… I’m pretty fat, and that’s way over there, so…” That goofy, “familiarity as plot” means that adding Leah Remini into the mix must be a big win… right?

Despite CBS‘ efforts to slap a positive label on the show at every turn, it didn’t win over many critics, had horrible placement on aggregate sites like Metacritic (39 score – 3.8 User Rating) and Rottentomatoes (30% Fresh), and was something like 35th-ish in the overall charts of network ratings. That’s not going to keep you around long.

So, what did we get with our new take on the show? It’s a year later, Leah Remini is now back on the show because Kevin (it can be confusing, because his character’s name is Kevin) remembered that she had a friend in immigration, and Chale’s visa expired because Kevin forgot to mail in some form or other. Classic Kevin. Unfortunately, the friend angle doesn’t work out, because wacky Kevin ruins the interview just at the last second, and now the only way Chale is going to be able to stay in the country is if he gets married. This allows Kyle, (King of Queens regular and Kevin James’ brother, Gary Valentine) to save the day by… virtue of some ludicrous hijinx that takes us out to a Civil War reenactment. Three’s Company is rolling its eyes at you, and I’m not sure why you think that is a sell.

It’s now a show that isn’t just devoid of humor, it isn’t even exactly trying to be funny anymore. It just has Kevin James throwing out nonsensical gags every once in a while, like pulling the apples out of his overweight kids’ lunches because… no, I actually have no idea why. Is there something whimsical about actively preventing your children from eating apples over the protests of another one of your children who begs her father to offer something that’s even remotely healthy once in a while?

As I said, it was never a good show, but it was decent enough fare for those who just wanted light escapism, and with the revival of so many shows from bygone eras, and the popularity of shows that seem to be aiming at an ’80s/’90s style, you could see where it had something of an audience. It’s lost even that much legitimacy now, and feels like nothing so much as a show that believes its own hype and mocks its own audience. Worst of all, Remini is boring and the interactions with her and James are off-putting. The vibe is that of two people who are depressed about the loss of their previous show and are sitting around making home movie episodes of a show that doesn’t exist… except that it does.

At some point, and it seems the Twitter response backs this up, you have to hold shows and actors responsible for their decisions. There had to be conversations behind these moves, like when they asked Leah Remini if she’d sign on if they killed off Erinn, and Remini accepted. Someone had to say, “Kevin, we’re thinking about…,” and he said, “Do whatever. Where’s my check baby?!”

Luckily, Erinn Hayes seems to have already signed on for The Dangerous Book for Boys, a pilot hopeful based on the book. At least there’s that.

The real victim here is Ryan Cartwright. Formerly of Bones and Alphas, Cartwright could have had another new show by now if they’d let him out of this nightmare. He’s the main glimmer of fun left on the show and the only positives the show has revolve around his abilities one way or another. Even still, he’s mostly wasted.

Here’s hoping the social media response is a good predictor that audiences will stay away. It’s one thing to have a show that aims at mediocrity and doesn’t quite hit the mark, but it’s a very different thing to become this nonsensical, and heartless toward your own cast, and expect a resounding, “Thank you, Sir. May I have another?”




Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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