Sometimes they appear out of nowhere, the shows that really resonate and that critics like me immediately add to the best-of-the-year list. Sometimes they are heralded in advance by a provocative title.
Such is the case with Kevin Can F**k Himself (Sunday, AMC 9 p.m.) From the get-go, you realize this is either a silly attention-grabber or something profoundly different. It’s the latter. A curious hybrid of a series, it smashes expectations, it seethes and you can only admire the ambition and ingenuity of it.
At first, you think you’re seeing a very traditional sitcom. There’s a lumpen prole of a guy. That’s Kevin (Eric Petersen). He drinks beer in the house with his buddies, watches sports on TV and makes dumb wisecracks, often at the expense of his smiling wife Allison (Canadian Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek). She’s the long-suffering sitcom wife. You feel you could be watching something like The King of Queens from a few years back, with Kevin James playing a delivery-man lug called Doug and Leah Remini playing his whip-smart wife. He was big on watching sports on TV while moaning about his job. That kind of vibe.
But as you watch Kevin and Allison here, you feel something is slightly off. The lights are too bright, the canned laughter is too loud. Then, when Allison leaves the room, the camera follows her, there’s no canned laughter, no sitcom-feel, at all. You are in fact watching an hour-long drama in which the centre is Allison, who decides she has to murder her goombah of a husband.
Created by Valerie Armstrong (Lodge 49) and run by Craig DiGregorio (Shrill), the series divides its focus between sitcom and scathing drama. It is blatantly using conventional TV fodder to illuminate how the conventional TV wife is belittled, disparaged and made into a raging figure on the path to terrible revenge. This series makes Why Women Kill look like the mildest of satires. There is pure, unfiltered fury here.
What’s particularly admirable is that it doesn’t use the fake sitcom layer as a trick to establish something different. It’s organic. As the series evolves, those sitcom scenes become even more sinister, more emphatically offensive. Kevin is a man-child and as selfish as an infant demanding food and attention. Allison is called “Barbie” by another character. A few episodes in, the viewer is all in favour of murdering Kevin. Allison’s route there is, mind you, full of roadblocks, errors and hesitations. But you’re rooting for her. This is unmissable, without doubt one of the strongest, strangest series of the year. It is immensely clever and menacing too. Murphy is extraordinary as the wife rising reluctantly from the depths of oppression, unsure of many things but certain Kevin must die.
Also airing and arriving this weekend – Black Summer (streams on Netflix) is back for a terrifying second season. The first batch was one of last year’s fine masterpieces of the horror/zombie-apocalypse genre. Don’t be gulled by “zombie apocalypse.” This ain’t The Walking Dead or any of its spinoffs. It’s formally brilliant, politically loaded, terse and mind-blowing. Stephen King took to Twitter to call it “Existential hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone.”
In the second season, filmed in and around Calgary, Rose (Jaime King) and her daughter Anna (Zoe Marlett) are trekking through a wintry hell to an airstrip where, purportedly, a plane can take them to safety. Do not expect uplift – the finale of season one saw Rose locating her missing daughter in an empty stadium, where she expected safety but there was none. The emotional focus of season two is the mother/daughter relationship. But it’s all about frenzied action and ordinary people turned into survival-of-the-fittest brutes. And then there are the zombies. These are not lurching, stumbling figures; they are strong, fast, angry, destructive and determined. It’s always been possible to see Black Summer as one emanation of Donald Trump’s America. The monsters seem very angry people, unhinged in their hostility.
Briefly, note Assault on Democracy: The Roots of Trump’s Insurrection (CNN, Sunday, 9 p.m.), in which Drew Griffin speaks with rioters, staffers, capitol police, relatives and others about the Jan. 6 riot. And note that lovely British series Us, which was on CBC recently, arrives on Masterpiece (PBS, Sunday, 9 p.m.). If you missed it, you can watch this bittersweet comedy about the end a 20-year marriage while on a European vacation, and watch without commercial interruptions.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.