Schitt’s Creek’s Annie Murphy is a standout in her first starring role
The weirdly toxic sitcom marriage is in some ways as familiar as our own family dynamic: the clueless manboy sportsdude and his naggy, hot-in-a-sweatery-suburban-way wife, sparring over forgotten anniversaries and expensive tools. The dark comedy Kevin Can F**k Himself goes behind the scenes in one woman’s head as she kicks down the rotten scaffolding beneath the set pieces of her life.
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Annie Murphy is Allison, the longsuffering foil to oafish husband Kevin (Eric Petersen) and his dudebro friends as they get into juvenile scrapes and trade jibes (mostly at her expense) to a laugh track in a sunny sitcom world. She juggles laundry and dishes while he plays video games and dismisses her dreams. “You’re not actually moving, right?” his buddy mocks her. “This is like when you said you were going back to school, or when you wanted to go to Paris. We’ll just kinda all pretend it’s happening until you come to your senses.” Cue laughter.
But with the slam of a door the laugh track dies and we enter Allison’s private world, shot in moody single cam: we can feel the dingy house, the lonely marriage, the betrayal of an empty bank account, and her rage at subsuming her desires into a codependent relationship. In this world, Kevin becomes not just a goofy schlub but a real liability: he’s trading fake sports memorabilia, draining their finances and committing insurance fraud.
“I really think that if I could start over and go somewhere else and just do everything right this time I can finally be…done. Is that insane?” she asks neighbor Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden). “Maybe you’re insane,” Patty says, “but you’re not alone.” Whether she’s getting splattered with marinara sauce, catching empty beer steins or being the butt of menstrual jokes, Allison is always on the receiving end of life–until she decides to serve up a dish of her own.
The dark comedy created by Valerie Armstrong and executive produced by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack is an apparent send-up of shows like Kevin Can Wait, King of Queens, and Everybody Loves Raymond: what we know about the good-humored, perennially fit suburban wife with a tray of snacks for every occasion–is nothing. Murphy brought an Emmy-winning sweetness to her Schitt’s Creek role as vain jetsetter Alexis, who is also caught between two worlds: her privileged past and a creative, independent future. Murphy plays her like Maria Bamford in Givenchy, building vulnerability and chutzpah into a seemingly unlikeable flibbertigibbet and growing with every act of compassion as she self-actualizes with a hair twirl: “love that journey for me.”
But Allison has compartmentalized her life so completely that when one world grows big enough to threaten the other, their boundaries dissolve in a flood of coke-snorting, 40-swilling, mailbox-punching destruction. And her anger isn’t building to resolution, but unraveling to something even worse. The switcharoo format of Kevin Can F**k Himself undercuts the marriage binary and the moral binary: there is no “good guy” just like there is no “good wife.” If viewers fully liked Allison, they’d be buying right back into the stereotypes of her brightly-lit sitcom world.
The series is still fun and clever, doing its best work at its darkest points; the camera work calls the audience to account for our laughter that joins with the smirking salesgirls and taunting neighbors and derisive husband to grime up Allison’s real world. It’s worth checking out the series to see how she teams up with Patty to reconcile her two lives and avoid insanity or prison time. The first two episodes are now out on AMC and streaming on AMC+.