Hit or Sh**: CBS’ KEVIN CAN WAIT
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
This summer, because most of the Crossfader editing staff hates themselves, we made an unofficial pact to visit every room in the Sand Castle. The Sand Castle, for those not in the know, consists of every installment in the empire of the Sand Man (Adam Sandler), including every intellectual property made by his key crew of cohorts (Rob Schneider, David Spade, and Kevin James). As you can imagine, it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. But amidst the unrelenting and unrepentant misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and racism, there was a comparatively shining paragon of hope and good taste: the King of Queens himself. Although he’s not entirely immune from the Sand Man’s decrepit touch, Kevin James is largely lovable and inoffensive, perhaps only stumbling when he really leans into his schlubby, good ol’ boy values. Unfortunately, KEVIN CAN WAIT proves that KJ is the Hillary Clinton of lowest common denominator comedy, only emerging as the preferable alternative when pitched against Sandler’s Trump.
In KEVIN CAN WAIT, Kevin James plays a newly retired cop who loves two things: consuming burgers, pizza, wings, and beer, and arguing with his suspiciously attractive wife, Donna (Erinn Hayes). What a shocking twist to his career trajectory! What they’re arguing about involves who will move into their guest house that they have to rent out to make up for Kevin’s retirement, and because Kevin finds Donna basely tolerable, he gives it the old college try. But do you know what Kevin Gable (yeah, you’re not really fooling us there KJ) does not find basely tolerable? His children. God, does he despise them. KEVIN CAN WAIT opens up with a touching scene where Kevin reminds little Sara (Mary-Charles Jones) and Jack (James DiGiacomo) that they’re both massive failures and disappointments, before the still-working Donna has to rush to take them to school, because Kevin forbid that a retired man should ever lift a finger in terms of child care. You see, Kevin’s gotta have a retirement rundown with The Boys™. After ridiculing them mercilessly for wanting to spend retirement with their families and loved ones to no success, the sobering conclusion is reached that all of the things they want to do are actually not that fun, and are only enjoyable due to the excessive amount of beer they plan to imbibe during each one.
All of this old school, back-slapping, alpha male posturing is what ultimately pulls a Hindenburg on KEVIN CAN WAIT, making it feel like an artifact from a network executive’s desk in the early 90s. I am fully aware that at no point during this show’s conception was CBS looking to reinvent the format of the sitcom as we know it, but c’mon guys, you’re not even trying! Considering that Kevin James was the star of one of the most widely beloved television shows of all time, you’d think that there would at least be some attempt to expand his demographic appeal, or at least interject a bit of self-awareness to the proceedings. But all we get is a time capsule back to when The Boys™ could lounge around, crack open a few cold ones, and wave the grease-soaked finger of the pizza-stuffed patriarchy around at their leisure. You’re darn tootin’ that Kevin is overly protective of Daddy’s Little Girl™, otherwise known as his eldest daughter, Kendra (Taylor Spreitler), the only child that he likes! You bet your sweet bippy he’s mad she has a boyfriend, and is even madder when he’s the timid, intellectual Chale (Ryan Cartwright) and not the cop-loving, sports fanatic Todd! You is muhhfuckin right if you guessed that for the simple act of not forcing his daughter to break up with Chale he gets to be showered by Donna’s love while day drinking at the kitchen table!
Marriage don’t seem half bad…
The defense of “Well, what did you expect?” is an admittedly viable one. So, I will step off my soapbox for a bit and admit that for its existence as a popcorn network sitcom, it’s functional. There is a basic narrative structure here that hits the requisite beats, and the hastily lobbed armada of half- and non-jokes could very well appeal to a family comparable to the Gables. But I personally only chuckled once during the entire pilot, when Kevin explains that he’s not failing to use an exercise bike, he’s merely coasting down a hill.
But that’s probably because I can currently relate to an unfortunate degree
It’s undeniable that this is an obvious cash-grab to appeal to Kevin James’ firmly established fan base. During the Summer of the Sand Man, I’ve learned to accept the fact that no matter how much I wish it were the case otherwise, large portions of America will never turn down the opportunity to laugh as a white man has everything go right for him while no one sees fit to voice a dissenting opinion of any sort whatsoever. But as the final scene occurs, wherein four grown men race homemade GoKarts around a suburban neighborhood (don’t worry, Kevin straps Jack into a chair he’s shoddily Duct taped to the side of his GoKart to teach him a lesson about bravery, or something), hootin’ and hollerin’ like the cows just came home, I wept. I wept for the death of comedy. I wept for the death of culture. But most of all, I wept for the fact that I can no longer see Kevin James as the white knight of Happy Madison.
KEVIN CAN WAIT airs on CBS on Mondays