We need to talk about "Kevin Can F**k Himself" and the lesson it teaches about joint accounts

As we enter wedding season, don't just take your relatives' advice on how to stay happily married. Learn from TV

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published June 27, 2021 3:30PM (EDT)

Annie Murphy as Allison, Mary Hollis Inboden as Patty in "Kevin Can F*** Himself" (Jojo Whilden/AMC)
Annie Murphy as Allison, Mary Hollis Inboden as Patty in "Kevin Can F*** Himself" (Jojo Whilden/AMC)

If you've seen "Kevin Can F**k Himself" then you know that Allison McRoberts (played by "Schitt's Creek" star Annie Murphy) has any number of reasons to detest her husband Kevin (Eric Petersen). He's dumb, immature and endlessly selfish. Worse, he's a manipulative liar.

The opening episode, "Living the Dream," introduces the couple's lopsided dynamic as Allison runs around their cramped, infested house, picking up Kevin's empties and undies. When she isn't organizing the snacks for the anniversary kegger Kevin wants instead of the intimate dinner she desires, she's dreaming of a fresh start in a new house. The pair have a joint account, as many marrieds do, and Allison has been mentally tracking all the weekly deposits she's made to their savings.

When she announces that it's time for them to talk to a mortgage lender and finally move to a roach-free home, Kevin prevaricates before assuring his wife that "whatever Allison wants, Allison gets."

But in a moment of frustration while Allison vents to her next-door neighbor Patty (Mary Hollis Inboden) and reassures herself by saying they'll be in a better place, Patty breaks it to her that the savings account is empty.

"That's not possible, because I was there when we opened the account," Allison tells Patty.

Patty picks up her sentence: ". . . like 10 years ago, and then you let him keep track of the money."

"Because I'm bad with money," Allison says, to which Patty replies, "You think he's better?"

In our world, we are now in wedding season, when relatives and friends rally around brides and grooms with advice about maintaining a happy marriage. Expect the classics: "Don't go to bed angry." "Kiss every day." "Make each other laugh."

But if you really want to do soon-to-be-wedding people a service, direct them to watch this episode and spell out the moral of the story. When it comes to finances, it's wise to think in terms of his, hers and ours. To stay together, keep at least part of your finances separate.

This is not a popular opinion, in part due to entrenched cultural traditions. Joint accounts weren't only a custom for married couples for much of the 20th century, they were standard until the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 enabled women to establish their own credit history and with it, increased financial autonomy.

Even now, however, financial experts I've read are divided over the matter. There are a number of non-scientific studies and opinion pieces like this one that support keeping separate bank accounts, and reportedly among Millennials, the practice is increasingly the norm.

Then there's a frequently cited working paper  co-authored by University College of London's Joe Gladstone, Notre Dame's Emily Garbinsky and UCLA Anderson's Cassie Mogilner Holmes that finds that committed couples who mingle all their money into a joint bank accounts are happier together and less likely to break up than pairs who keep some or all of their money separate.

"We find evidence that joint accounts increase feelings of financial togetherness —making purchases and financial goals feel shared — and this mediates the relationship between joint accounts and well-being," the paper reads.

As such, if you're at a shower where everyone's keeping it cute, advising the bachelor or bachelorette to maintain separate stacks could turn the room against you.

But there are enough anecdotes and storylines, real and fictional, with scenes of the hard-working, long-suffering partner dropping by the bank to check on their joint account's ledger for whatever reason only to discover that said savings is as vacant as a politician's promise.

This advice doesn't merely apply to brides, by the way. Rose Byrne's self-loathing wife in Apple TV+'s "Physical" drained the joint account she shares with her husband to feed a secret disorder, and her urgency to hide that from her spouse leads her to do exploit others. Eventually she becomes an aerobics monster so, you know, silver linings.

Still, it all comes back to a matter of trust crashing with inevitably evolving personalities. Nobody remains unchanged over the years, which means the person you marry will not be the same human being a year later, or two years, or ten. One of you might lose your mind or get into serious debt or collect a secret family or develop an addiction.

This realization hit me long before I met my husband by way of watching "Dolores Claiborne" with my mother. It was repeat viewing for me but the first time for her, a woman who clawed her way through a grueling divorce that dragged out for years and cost her dearly.

There's a scene in which a fed-up Dolores heads to the bank to discover her abusive alcoholic husband Joe had cleaned out their savings, basically trapping her. At that moment my mom excused herself from the family room and didn't come back.

She'd been enjoying the movie up to that point, so when I found her and asked why she left, she explained that's what happened her – to us, her five children. My dad was the main breadwinner, but he decided to finance his new life with the money my mother inherited from her relatives. He got a nice new apartment, and his estranged wife and kids got to contend with a foreclosure notice that my mother somehow fought off.

Eventually we finished the movie, but her shaken reaction to it stuck with me. Jump forward a few decades and I can attest to being in a happy, stable partnership where our money is his, hers and ours by way of a shared account and separate ones. If he wants to buy a pandemic mask that makes him look like Jason from "Friday the 13th," I can't say a thing about it. It's his money. If I buy clothing in a pattern I love but he hates, too bad. If we need a new car, that's what the house account is for. We're transparent with one another about where everything stands, so it works.

Television is by no means a reliable teacher or advisor in most respects, but when financial precarity plotlines recur through different series it's usually the wife that ends up holding the empty bag.

Sure, financial secrecy could lead to a completely different reveal, as Skyler White can attest once she starts laundering her meth-kingpin husband's money on "Breaking Bad" but you might recall that union did not end happily or well.

Or you might be as committed as Carmela Soprano and trust your spouse that when they say you'll be taken care of, they're telling the truth. How that turned out in the end is still somewhat up for debate.

Allison, at least, is learning the hard way. In the same episode she recalls that Kevin persuaded her that she's a bad driver, so he takes the car, leaving her to rely on him for rides or find her own way to her job. "But you know, I've been thinking. I've never been in an accident. And I can drive stick, I can parallel park, I can merge and, you know, I actually think that I actually used to enjoy driving," she says.

She goes on to realize that Kevin has convinced her that the reason she never finished school is that she's incapable of finishing anything. "But do I never finish things, or does he take them from me? Am I bad at driving, or does he want the car? As long as I had this thing – this, like, this image of what I, what we could be – I had something to hope for. But now, I try to picture anything good, and . . . like what the hell are you supposed to do if you can't close your eyes and picture a future where everything's okay?"

This is the epiphany at which Allison arrives on her 10th wedding anniversary.

So, brides and grooms-to-be, if you do not heed these words or take in these stories, at least consider the value of the parable within "Kevin" and other shows and movies. Nothing is certain in life, and these times of ours are pesky about reminding us there are no guarantees that everything's going to be OK. The least you can do is take measures to make sure that when you close your eyes, you can at least picture a bank balance you know will be there when you need it. Also, don't go to bed angry.

"Kevin Can F**k Himself" airs Sundays at 9 p.m.  on AMC and streams a week early on AMC+.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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