Kevin Can Wait First Impressions
“I’m sorry, all right? It’s just, I mean, everything was in place. Kendra was going to blaze through law school. Jack and Sarah, they were gonna… do something, I don’t know.”
I think it’s fair to say I’m not a big fan of Kevin James. If I had to summarize the reasoning behind my distaste, it mainly just comes down to the fact that he isn’t funny. While I’ve never sought out his work, I’ve still seen a decent amount of it, most notably in the form of The King of Queens. It wasn’t a particularly funny show and it didn’t have anything that made it memorable, but it wasn’t going to offend anyone. In a sense, that might make it the best representation of Kevin James himself. The only reason I even saw any of it was because it aired repeats during the afternoon hours when I was in high school. Now, after many years making inane films where he was either a mall cop or friends with Adam Sandler, James has returned television with a new sitcom on CBS that appears to bring absolutely nothing new to the table.
The premise for Kevin Can Wait is Kevin plays a recently retired cop, Kevin Gable, who… is Kevin James. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Kevin James plays a down to earth schlub who has a notably attractive wife and has limited finances but finds himself taking in a family member, and awkward attempts at hilarity ensue. Even the ads for Kevin Can Wait seemed to be all too aware of how much it was retreading old ground. Jokes aside, the formula isn’t a complete rehash of the King of Queens. Rather than having Kevin’s father-in-law moving in, it is his undergrad daughter and her fiance, Chale, played by a criminally misused Ryan Cartwright. Chale is a programmer who has vaguely defined ambitions, and appears to be a misguided amalgam of every millennial stereotype that you’ve ever heard. This character and Kevin’s ridiculously predictable responses to everything Cartwright says collectively serve as the worst parts of this episode. The Gable family has two younger children as well, but they barely appear in the pilot. Kevin also has a brother in the fire department and four retired friends from the force, but, again, they don’t have the time needed to leave an impact. It would have probably been better had the show held off on introducing Kevin’s circle of friends because it results in this first episode feeling overcrowded.
On the comedy front, none of the jokes stood out to me. I can say with certainty that I didn’t laugh or chuckle at any point during the pilot, but, for the most part, it didn’t really have me groaning too much either. As was referenced before, the low points for the episode tend to involve any appearance by or reference to Chale. However, there are tedious moments where Kevin James is allowed to get too quip heavy. He tends to drag down the comedy when given too much agency, and he ends up resorting to the predictable jokes about his weight or his general schlubby demeanor. The main issue with this brand of self deprecating humor is that it tends to start targeting those around him for being related to or willing to tolerate his obnoxious ass.
The acting from the rest of the cast is fine. It can be difficult to judge Kevin James’s acting here since he is, for all intents and purposes, just playing himself, and this is an environment that he’s accustomed to. Erinn Hayes serves as something as a standout, as she actually succeeds in making her character’s marriage with Kevin feel believable and serves to humanize him at points. The writing allows her to have at least some dignity, even if it gets occasionally undermined by Kevin’s dialogue. As for Kendra, Kevin’s oldest daughter played by Taylor Spreitler, she doesn’t get to maintain as much dignity as Hayes does. Her character is the standard late teens to early twenties woman who is too naive to make rational decisions, so she does things like drop out of college to support her boyfriend while he focuses on making an app. The writing restricts this character to being little more than an uninspired caricature. And I’m not going to blame Cartwright for failing to make the dreck he’s supposed to pass off as dialogue captivating. I suspect that, at most, Kevin Can Wait will last two seasons or fewer. I certainly could be mistaken with that estimate; Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing is somehow sticking around, so who knows. The point is, this opening entry is hardly a sign of high quality.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- For those who are unfamiliar, Ryan Cartwright previously portrayed the stuffy assistant to Lane Pryce in Mad Men’s third season and the autistic Gary Bell on Alphas. He deserved and received plenty of praise for his work on Alphas, and I hope Kevin Can Wait gives him more to do.
- It should be noted that trading out Jerry Stiller for a cardboard cutout of a daughter and her boyfriend is one of the worst moves available.
- Is it just me or does Ryan Cartwright appear to be cosplaying as Lost in Adaptation host The Dom with slightly longer hair? I think we need Terrence to come in and give him a bit of an ass-kicking.
Kevin Can Wait is pretty much what you would expect from a 2016 sitcom starring Kevin James. The rare occasions where it strays from those mediocre expectations only serve up further disappointments as the show relies on cardboard cut-outs to substitute as stand-ins for actual characters. The program completely fails to deliver on actual humor.