Valerie Armstrong on creating ‘Kevin Can F**K Himself’

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC
Provided by AMC and RLJE Films
**Some strong language is used**

According to “Kevin Can F**K Himself” creator, Valerie Armstrong, season one almost had a very different ending. I got to Zoom with Valerie herself as we talked about how the show was created, the original ending and what we can look forward to in season two.

“Kevin Can F**K Himself” is directed by Anna Dokoza (“Up All Night,” “Flight of the Conchords”) and Oz Rodriguez (Vampires vs. the Bronx, “A.P. Bio”). The series stars Emmy winner Annie Murphy (“Schitt’s Creek”), Mary Hollis Inbodin (“The Righteous Gemstones”), Eric Peterson (“Kirstie”), Alex Bonifer (“Superstore”), Brian Howe (“Vice Principals”), and Raymond Lee (“Here and Now”).  

Allison McRoberts is the prototypical sitcom wife married to Kevin, her self-centered husband. When she learns that the perfect future she envisioned is impossible, she teams up with her neighbor Patty as she attempts to escape her confines and take control of her life. A completely original new dark comedy, “Kevin Can F**K Himself” shows what happens when you leave the brightly lit sitcom set and see the reality behind the laugh track.

Why have such a bold title?

Valerie: I think most writers or executives or most people would probably advise against it. Luckily, I had nobody in my corner who cared what I was writing when I was an assistant. I was an assistant, just writing on my own to always have a sample and to be working. And I thought of this idea kind of out of nowhere and I mean, it’s an obvious sort of reference, or it was at the time. To me, it’s so far beyond referencing any other show, it’s just its own thing in my head now, but I could have changed it, I’m sure, at some point along the three years it took to make it into anything real. But what I realized as it went along is it’s sort of an encapsulation of the format, which in the title, is you think you know what it is, it sounds kind of regular and then we pull the rug out from under you, it shocks you a little bit. It looks like it’s about Kevin but it’s not about Kevin.

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC
Where did the story come from?

Valerie: It was June of 2017 and I was listening to a podcast where these two women were talking, they were activists, and I wish for the life of me I could remember who it was. If I had the time, I’d go back and figure it out. I haven’t. But they were talking about pilot season and how every year they’re told they have auditions for a new sitcom wife, and they’re always told that this one’s different. They want a really funny woman for this and then they get the sides for the audition and it’s all reacting to the man. They are set up machines. It’s like they are just they’re saying things like, ‘what do you mean?’ and then the guy gets the joke. It’s always the same. Like I said, I was an assistant dying to write for these women, or anything, but dying to write for these women. And I thought, first of all, they have to audition for these roles? Second of all, they don’t get them? That sucks! I thought we were beyond this but we’re not. We are absolutely not. And I thought, ‘god, I bet that woman in real life would be miserable,’ and then the first sort of transition popped into my head where this woman, who seems happy leaves her sitcom husband and sitcom living room with a laughing audience and goes into to her kitchen and it’s just silent. You look at her close up and you see that she’s miserable and in my head, she says right into the camera, ‘I fucking hate my husband.’ That turned into a show. That’s sort of where it came from and it’s not a different world that she steps into, it’s not all in her head, she’s not crazy. We’re here making the argument that this is just the world we built, this is how it works and she starts to fuck with it a little bit.

Was it always the plan to use the multi-cam along with the single cam?

Valerie: It was always the plan. Along the way, a lot of different people said this isn’t possible,  shooting both methods in one show is gonna take two crews, it’s gonna take two versions of the set and I’m like, ‘no it doesn’t.’ If you get a bunch of very smart people together who love their jobs and are good at it and want to figure out puzzles the way that I do, it is so possible. We had a set that transformed. We would give are amazing crew like a day and a half and they would turn it from this tiny living room set that feels like every living room I walked into as a kid into this boughed out, stage play, sitcom looking living room. The amazing thing is none of it really changed. We may have moved, like we boughed out walls and stuff but like the furniture is the same, the set deck is the same, the stains on the wall are still there, but you don’t notice them in multi-cam because you’re so far away, so brightly lit, it looks so fun and that was always what I wanted to do with the show. That rot that is underneath this world that is so close to the surface, it’s always there. You just don’t notice it. So, I’m going to make you notice it. And our crew completely, like top to bottom every department made that their operating procedure and I am so happy with how it turned out.

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC
Allison jumps immediately to murder, why have her take that big leap?

Valerie: So I think of Allison as somebody who has been so mired in that place for so long and I’m never arguing that it’s the right thing to do, but I understand how you can make these little decisions every day for years and years until you feel like you’ve boxed yourself into this one thing, into this place that you will never get out of. She still has some hope when we meet her. If  she can manipulate Kevin in the right way, he will give her a new house, they will leave these people, he’ll change and be the guy who wears a suit, who looks at her lovingly and that she can still have the life that she wants. And I think she has a lot of self loathing that she has not explored and she got herself there. So when she finds out that Kevin has spent all of their money, he has no intention of ever changing or helping her out, that her vision is so narrow that she comes up with this idea that is actually strong enough and big enough and strange enough to shock her out of her stasis. It’s the one thing that she’s ever gone after or tried for that she has to actually do, it brings out agency in her. And I think as we go, it is not that she continually thinks killing him is the best idea, it’s more that she cannot let it go because then she’s worried she’ll just go back to the woman she always was. And so we have these moments of doubt in her that she just stamps down and doesn’t acknowledge, like in our seventh episode, she keeps bursting into tears and she’s like, ‘I don’t know why this is happening!’ It’s like, ‘yeah, you do! You just did this crazy, like very big thing that you cannot handle.’ But the way that’s coming out is that she keeps crying. But it’s New England, no one’s in touch with their feelings.

And ultimately this all comes to a head within like the last few minutes of the season, which was amazing by the way! How satisfying was it to see that idea actually come to life?

Valerie: Incredibly satisfying! I mean for the first three years the show existed in my in my head. Neil was going to die at the end of season one and, you know, it was like that, it was like that, it was like that and then we cast Alex who is so good at playing Neil, so so good. Craig, my showrunner and I were both like, ‘oh… do we have to kill him? I don’t want to kill him.’ We put it off and put it and eventually, when it was like, oh we’re actually making this show and we might get a second season, I don’t want a dead body in the second season. It stresses me out as a viewer, you can’t think about anything else, like it’s such a bummer to have your two leads have to care about killing someone. It’s so hard to tell any other story. So, I was like, ‘ok, let’s consider not killing Neil if we can come up with a better ending.’  I’m always up for the better thing as long as it’s actually better and we came up with Neil doesn’t die, but he becomes a single camera character. That’s better, there’s no dead body that generates stories for the second season. I am dying to see Neil in single camera and see him deal with some consequences. And figuring out that it should probably come in on the bottle break, the music should come in on a bottle break. Watching the first cut of that, it was exactly as I hoped, exactly as I’d hoped. So much better than Neil being dead.

So, season two, is there anything you can say about it yet?

Valerie: This is so funny this is the first time I’ve gotten that question. I don’t know what I I can say about it. I can say that I really loved the journey we have for all of our characters. Neil is in single camera this season, when not in a scene with Kevin or Pete, who are what I call multi-cam catalysts. In no way am I ever gonna let him off the hook for having his hands on Allison’s neck like that. He did that and he will always have done that. But I do think telling a more nuanced story about someone who has been so complicit in that multi-cam world for so long and having to sort of face what they’ve done really interests me and the writers. We’ve had a really good time doing that. To me, the North Star of the show is Patty and Alison. Patty and Allison, on a porch, at any point that’s what I want to see. So, continuing their story and their friendship and their relationship, as complicated as it may be, is, to me, always what the show is driving toward. And that’ll continue.

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC
RLJE Films, a business unit of AMC Networks, will release Season 1 of the dark comedy series “Kevin Can F**K Himself” on DVD and Blu-ray on November 16.