INTERVIEW

"Kevin Can F**k Himself" boss on the finale, the show's future and the dark ending she abandoned

Series creator Valerie Armstrong told Salon it's time for onscreen men to face some accountability and reality

By Kylie Cheung
Published August 2, 2021 8:00AM (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)

The following contains spoilers from AMC's "Kevin Can F**k Himself," including the finale.

AMC dark-comedy drama "Kevin Can F**k Himself" has thus far followed Annie Murphy as Allison, a sitcom wife trying to get out of her sexist and abusive reality, and culminated in a shocking twist on Sunday's finale. The brightly colored, multi-camera sitcom world of the show finally comes crashing down and collides with the dark, single-camera setup that's long defined Allison and accomplice Patty's (Mary Hollis Inboden) shared experience in the real world.

The scene in question, of course, is the final scene of the season, when Allison's long-time plot to murder her husband, loathsome idiot Kevin (Eric Petersen), is overheard by one of his equally loathsome and equally idiotic friends, Neal (Alex Bonifer). When Neal makes a threat on Allison's life, Patty suddenly comes to the rescue, knocking him out. It's only at that moment that the warm sitcom colors and inviting multi-camera dimensions of the scene suddenly transform.

"Welcome. Welcome to the real f**king world," Valerie Armstrong, creator of "Kevin Can F**k Himself," describes the scene in an interview with Salon.

Finally, some accountability, and finally, some reality for the men of the show who have been allowed to never grow up because they've been "given the benefit of the doubt" all their lives, Armstrong says. Well, no more.

Read the rest of Armstrong's interview in which she discusses the finale, a potential second season, vindicating female rage, developing the intricacies of Kevin's abuses of Allison, and rethinking everything we were taught to see as funny.

The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Critics have praised this show as validation of years of female rage. Was that your intention? When you were writing characters like Kevin, Neal, and his whole obnoxious squad, did you feel like you were channeling your own rage?

Yes! So, I first described the show after I wrote it as my little feminist bit of rage, actually. I was an assistant, no one was asking me to write anything. No one was even reading what I was writing. So it really came out of a place, not of me pitching it around — I wrote it on my own for free because it was something I felt I had to say.

Let's talk about that shock finale ending. It's ominous how the final scene transitions so suddenly from the sitcom setup with just Neal and Allison as he attacks her, to the dark drama setup, when Patty swoops in to save Allison's life. How did you construct this scene? 

I was always very interested in figuring out what got through to Neal or Kevin or Pete, or anyone out of that multi-cam setup. The way I think about them is that they're all what I call multicam catalysts. If they're onscreen, it means we're in a sitcom. To me, metaphorically, what that actually means is they get to walk around in a sitcom, they don't really have to deal with the consequences of their actions. 

It's the benefit of the doubt we give to men like that for their entire lives, everything they do is "funny," or juvenile, because those guys get to be boys until they are 65. To me, it was a question of, what is so egregious it negates that benefit of the doubt – where even the sitcom audiences cannot laugh at it anymore, and you have to start dealing with consequences?

For the longest time actually, I've been working on the show for four years now, in my head, Neal died at the end of the first season. His dead body was in single-cam. But as time went on, I became less and less interested in that. First of all, I don't enjoy a hide-the-body show; it stresses me out as a viewer. I think it's no fun. But also, it just didn't say as much. And then, also, we cast Alex Bonifer as Neal, and I couldn't get rid of him — he's so good at what he does, and the idea of seeing him in single-cam is so exciting. I loved the prospect of a Season 2, getting into him in single-cam.

The way that scene is structured, I like that at first it played as very plastic-y, and it's still in multicam, and even when Neal is trying to get his phone back, the audience can laugh because they're so used to seeing that sort of thing. And the way the script is written, the way our team put it together is exactly right, because the audience still laughs. Then something breaks and they laugh a little less, and then he has his hand on her throat, and no one knows what to do. That, to me, was creepy and interesting, and the minute Patty breaks the bottle over his head is like, nope, that guy has to deal with some consequences now. 

Allison doesn't always make the best decisions, but she remains a highly sympathetic character. Was it a deliberate decision to not make her a "perfect" victim, and make her flawed and sometimes careless? 

It was, in the sense that a perfect character sounds super boring to write. Somebody who makes great decisions all the time is not someone I can relate to. And I don't need Allison to necessarily be likable, I think that's such a hard, weird bar to hit that's not actually how people are. Maybe casting Annie Murphy makes her likable regardless, but I just wanted to understand her, and I so understand someone who gets in her own way, because that's exactly what I do.

Allison never needs to make the right decision in my head. I'm certainly never telling the audience that if you're frustrated with your husband you should kill him. I just wanted to build a character where, once you get into her psychology, her background, her insecurities, you understand why she thinks this is what she has to do.

Patty is also highly sympathetic, but not always the kindest person. How did you conceive of her, as opposed to just the stereotypical, female sidekick-best-friend?

I think of Allison and Patty as two sides of the same coin. The operating procedure behind them is how they both look at the future. For Allison, she thinks if she does everything right, follows the rules, puts in the right numbers in the equation, she'll get what she wants. It's true when we meet her — she thinks if she manipulates Kevin in any way she can, if she gets the new house, if she leaves this town, she'll be happy. She'll be satisfied.

And of course, she realizes in the pilot that's never going to happen. Her goal changes but her mindset does not. She now thinks if she gets rid of Kevin, she'll be done, she'll be happy, she'll be satisfied. This is how she works.

Meanwhile, Patty looks to the future and says, well some things could go wrong. The best you can do is make do with what you have right now, and realize it's not going to get any better. It might get worse! So you should probably have a wad of cash that you don't spend so if it gets worse you can fix it. I really like that those two women find each other and work together, because there's always that conflict between them.

"Kevin Can F*k Himself" is wonderfully funny, but it's been sparing in its happy moments. If the show returns, are we going to finally see some happiness for Allison or Patty?

That's so funny, I never thought of it that way, that there's a real lack of happiness! I think the moments of true happiness on this show are the ones where Allison and Patty are together. They're just terribly afraid of expressing it. A constant thing I would tell Annie and Mary Hollis — I mean, I didn't really have to tell them since they're so great at their jobs — they love each other so genuinely, but it's like, "No, you guys you're not that happy yet! You can't show you like each other, stop it!"

There's this moment in Episode 6 where Allison actually makes Patty laugh as they're walking outside a furniture store, and Patty smiles and then very quickly tries to hide it. It's moments like that that, as a viewer, I love so much. I love two women who you don't think would get along, getting along. That, to me, is ultimate happiness. I expect a lot more of that in Season 2, god willing.

There are so many potential simple, easy paths this show could have gone down, like Allison just running away with Sam into the sunset, or Kevin becoming a better person after his near-death experience. Has it been an intentional choice to make the show as thrilling and excruciating as it is by not going down those paths?

Absolutely. Had Allison gone off with Sam, the whole point is she's realizing she doesn't need a man to be happy, or she doesn't need someone to say, "You can do better than this place." If it was the pilot, she would have gone off with Sam immediately. But she's changed, and gotten to this point, and is so exhausted by the end of the season that someone saying, "You can do more," is, like, "Oh, god can't I just be done?" 

She wants someone by her side, romantically or not. Like Patty says, if you're broken, stay broken. And that to me is definitely a harder path than just running off with a man who's like, "Come, I'll take care of you, I'll fix you." It's so much harder to say, "Maybe I don't need to be fixed, man."

Onscreen portrayals of abuse have been changing and becoming more complex, and less graphically violent. Kevin is undoubtedly an abuser, but more so an emotional abuser. Why did the show decide not to depict Kevin as physically abusive toward Allison? 

I loved the idea that this show asks you to reexamine things and behaviors that you thought were innocuous, like when Allison says to Patty in Episode 4, "Kevin did this terrible thing, and you watched him and laughed." Patty says, "It seemed harmless." That's the thesis of the show to me, to look at Kevin's behavior, the stuff we've all laughed at and been taught to think is funny, I wanted to say, no, think about that twice. Think about who we're laughing at and why, who the butt of the joke is, why we give guys like Kevin the benefit of that audience following him around.

If we'd made him physically abusive, all nuance of that is gone. Everyone knows that's bad, don't do that! I'm asking you to look at some grayer behavior, and say, oh, why were we laughing?

Where did you find inspiration for the finale twist of Kevin running for local office, and his cringe-inducing campaign party attended and supported by local police?

I loved the idea that he has this near-death-experience, and maybe it would change him. We structured it to be this special episode at first – the audience laughter is quieter, he's not making jokes the same way he usually does, and everything is a little muted. I really wanted to suggest maybe he's changed. And then the way he takes this near-death-experience and turns it around to make it more about him and to expand his influence in that world — that to me felt like exactly what Kevin would do. He's not a very introspective guy. Especially for the finale, I wanted this specter of, oh god, he already has this reign of terror over their house, what if it expands beyond that?

If there is a second season, what can you tell us about it?

I hope it exists! And I really love the idea of exploring Neal in single-cam, not in a way that would ever excuse what he did or forget what he did. But a lot of people have been asking, "Will we ever see Kevin in single-cam?" I can't speak to future seasons, but as of right now, no, he gets to live in that multicam. I do think by exploring Neal in that single-camera, you might scratch a bit of that itch. That's as much as I can say, I'm terrified about saying anything else!

The full season of "Kevin Can F**k Himself" is now streaming on AMC+.


Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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