Monday, September 19, 2016

Pilot Review: Kevin Can Wait

Kevin Can Wait (Mondays at 8:30 on CBS)

For some reason, Kevin James is one of the most popular comics in America. His stand-up sells out venues across the country; his films, which consist almost entirely of goofy family fare like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, rake in piles of money, even when critics rip them apart; and his former CBS sitcom The King of Queens ran for 9 seasons and still airs daily in syndication on multiple networks. He's our favorite, safe comedian: an unassuming, overweight New Yorker who doesn't rely on vulgarity to create humor. He also has a tendency to produce some awfully stupid material, and Kevin Can Wait is the latest.

Clearly swinging for middle-range comedy and definitely not for originality or edge, Kevin Can Wait is a kind of spiritual successor to King of Queens. Not only has the series inherited the former's original timeslot, it has the same feel to its easy, unexciting sense of humor and a similar, though slightly more traditional setup. This time around, Kevin is a newly retired police officer married to nurse (I think... not much exists in the pilot by way of character for her) Donna, played charmingly by Childrens Hospital's Erinn Hayes, and raising three kids. Eldest daughter Kendra (Taylor Spreitler, Melissa & Joey) is studying pre-law, while Sara and Jack exist just long enough for the audience to catch their names (seriously, it's one short scene and then they disappear). On the day of his retirement party, Kevin lays out some big plans for all the free time he'll now have: paintball, go karts, and maybe even a motorcycle trip. But as the party arrives, Kendra drops a bomb: she's dropping out of school to support her fiance Chale (Ryan Cartwright, Alphas) as he develops the next big app, and they're going to live in the vacant apartment above Kevin's garage... cue the laugh track!

It's about as mediocre as it sounds, unfortunately. We have here yet another entry into the swing-for-the-infield family CBS sitcom, a story of a typical working class couple and their kids, with a bunch of jokes about how hard it is to be a Gen-Xer in 2016 (as in, a lot of first-world, white-people problems). It's reminiscent, in one or another, of a slew of other shows you've seen over the years, most obviously Queens, The Drew Carey Show (particularly in Kevin's interactions with his also-retired cop friends), and According to Jim. James' humor stems from only a few things: fat jokes, food jokes, sports jokes, and New York jokes. So you know what you're getting out of a show like Kevin Can Wait, which James also created and wrote with Bruce Helford and Rock Reuben. So I can't really fault the show for not having any verve or individuality, because you don't watch a show starring Paul Blart for intellectual stimulation or razor-sharp wit.

That doesn't mean, however, that the show can be lazy. Too often, the pilot veers in that direction. The script is fully of clunky exposition. Take this exchange for example:

Kendra - "You didn't tell him, did you?"
Donna - "About your boyfriend? No, you told me not to!"

That's just bland writing. Real people don't talk like that, and that same expository voice is present in all the characters. Kevin's brother walks into a room of people he's known for decades and announces he's a fireman. One of Kendra's friends introduces himself as a baseball player being scouted by the majors even when he's not prompted to do so. It's very awkward and clearly just inserted because James and company have no real skill at crafting a story, just stringing jokes together with character traits in between. Oh, and the jokes aren't even good. They're the kind of jokes that you acknowledge as jokes but don't actually laugh at, like when Kevin suggests combining go karts and paintball into one event called "go balls." You realize you're supposed to laugh at that line, but it's not funny. It's not even amusing.

But that's what you sign up for when you sit down and make the conscious decision to watch Kevin Can Wait. If you're one of those people who paid good money to see Zookeeper or Grown Ups--and there are lot of you--then I'm sure you'll get just what you expect and want out of this one. It's just not anything I want to invest anymore time or thought into.

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