Once you’ve reached the summit of pop culture iconography, where do you go from there? It’s a question Annie Murphy is ready to answer with her upcoming comedy series, Kevin Can F**k Himself. The show drops on AMC this month and features Murphy as the put-upon sitcom housewife who’s reached her metaphorical breaking point. Well, metaphorical and, at times, literal. There’s a lot of glass smashing happening in the first four episodes screened for critics.
It’s a major departure for the relentlessly optimistic over-priviledged heroine she played on Schitt’s Creek, the Canadian comedy show that catapulted to viral meme-making status seemingly overnight. (Really, the rise of Schitt’s Creek has a streaming deal on Netflix and a devoted fanbase wielding their word-of-mouth recommendation power to thank for its phenomenal ratings. For its record-breaking Emmys sweep, look to its talented cast and the genius of its creator, Dan Levy.)
Alexis Rose was a posh, globe-trotting socialite who was deeply selfish, yet oddly charming and able to make the best out of any bad situation. Allison is an exhausted, frustrated, underappreciated housewife whose dreams are constantly being snuffed out by the childish antics of her husband and his friend group to the point where she begins to daydream about violently murdering him. Schitt’s Creek was a warm, welcoming town filled with brightly lit cafes and Goop-approved apothecaries. Kevin Can F**k Himself bounces between the color-saturated fantasy of those familiar sitcoms and the grittier, grimier reality of what life is like for the women who always seem to be relegated to their backgrounds.
It’s a show unlike any you’ve seen before and it all rests on the capable shoulders of Murphy, who proves she’s up for the challenge of reinventing herself on screen and she’s got the talent to do it.
We chatted with her about how terrified she was to say yes to the show, getting justice for Erinn Hayes, and why she’ll never look at a sitcom the same way again.
I hope you know that you can never kind of do a traditionally titled TV show again.
Oh, no. I’ve graduated from sh*t to f**k. Now there’s nowhere to go.
What were some of the sitcoms you went back to when this show was originally pitched to you?
I wasn’t a huge sitcom watcher. I did [watch] Home Improvement for one very particular reason, and that reason is Jonathan Taylor Thomas. [laughs] What comes to mind is Everybody Loves Raymond. And of course, Kevin Can Wait can’t not come up. I watched that infamous scene where Erinn Hayes is so unceremoniously written off the show, in a matter of two lines. It was like, ‘Oh, I miss mom.’ ‘Yeah. I wish she hadn’t died. Let’s go to the baseball game.’ So I feel like I channeled a little bit of what I assume must have been Erinn Hayes’ great frustration in a few of my glass smashing [scenes].
The show really deconstructs the sitcom fantasy but when does that illusion shatter for Allison?
I think that starts to change when she realizes that a house that she can no longer afford isn’t going to fix her life. I feel like, she has for such a long time blamed herself for not having the house that she wants, the husband she wants, the job that she wants, the life that she wants. But it’s in the moment where she realizes that she’s been basically gas lit for 10 years, she realizes that it isn’t at all even close to entirely her fault. There’s someone else that’s been really holding her back and really chipping away at who she is.
Kevin, as so many sitcom husbands before him, comes across as a fairly harmless idiot but there are moments when you get the feeling something more sinister is going on with him. Is that intentional or do I just hate him that much?
You do start to question, “Is he just a doofus or a calculated manipulator?” And the answer is both. He’s the big, giant doofus, but he’s also very calculated in his manipulation and his control. I think the moment that things really clicked for me, even though we read the script so many times and shot the thing, it wasn’t until I saw that first transition from multi-cam to single cam. You really see the toll that all of “jokes” have taken on this woman, and how they have reduced her to a fraction of who she used to be, how truly miserable she has become.
How much of the appeal of this role came because of how different this character is to who you played on Schitt’s Creek?
I had the best time in the world playing Alexis. I had so much fun, and I loved that character. So I think it wasn’t that I needed to get away from her. It’s just that I needed to kind of prove to myself that I could do other things. I really wanted to give myself a challenge and Allison was a really big challenge. I was just terrified going into it, thinking that I made a terrible mistake and that I wasn’t ready for it. But it proved to be a really wonderful experience. And I’m so glad that Allison followed Alexis.
What terrified you?
Coming off a show that was such an ensemble piece, one that became so beloved, and then all of a sudden it’s like, you’re the number one on the call sheet and it’s a role that is so far from Alexis. So I really was wrestling with imposter syndrome for a while. And then they were like, ‘Oh yeah. And do this accent.’
Boston accents are no joke.
I still think that the people of Massachusetts, we owe them all like five or ten dollars, just as a small token of our apology.
You also had to tap into some rage, some darker emotions that I don’t think Alexis ever dealt with.
Yeah, Alexis got miffed. She didn’t get angry. I’m a pretty rose-colored glasses person, or I pretend to be. So I was like, ‘Ooh, a dark side? How am I going to figure that out?’ It turns out, I am very angry and very frustrated and I do a lot of shoving it down. I think especially after the last year, just being a human being on this planet, you’re more likely than not suppressing a little rage and sadness and frustration. So it turns out I didn’t have to dig too deep to channel the proper glass break.
A season-long therapy session.
[laughs] If people just had like some breakaway glass in their lives, I think the world would be a much more pleasant place.
I hate the term “cancel culture” but we are living in a time when we’re starting to question things we might have found funny or acceptable in the past. Where does this show fit in that bigger conversation?
I mean, I think so much of the point of the show is starting to analyze and question and point out what it is that we have been laughing at all these years. It’s really hard. When I have gone back to watching sitcoms with this new lens on, it is truly astonishing to see how much misogyny and homophobia and racism you’re being told to laugh at. So my brain is now … the switch is flipped and I can no longer just toss on a sitcom without getting too riled up about it. There’s no going back.
People watching this might ask, ‘Well, why doesn’t she just leave if she’s that miserable?’ What’s the answer?
That’s actually a question that I was stuck on for a while after I’d read the script. But you ask a woman in an abusive relationship ‘Why don’t you just leave?’ and the answer is not easy. It’s not easy to leave. Maybe you’re financially dependent, maybe you have a family. Maybe you don’t want to uproot your entire life, maybe you’re scared to leave. Maybe you think that if you do leave, he’ll find you anyway. So I think Allison is not functioning at her peak rational capacity, but I do think that Kevin not existing is the only way that she feels she’ll be able to achieve some sort of happiness.
There’s a clear endgame based on the show’s title. Is this a story that might have a long life or do you think it can be told in just a couple of seasons?
I personally don’t think this is a show that I think should go on for 8 seasons, because the goal is really set at the beginning. I know that there will be many twists and turns along the way, but it’s not something that I think should be drawn out over the course of however many seasons, just so people can make money. And I’m lucky to know, for a fact, that I am working with people whose minds don’t think like that and they want to tell this story and do the story justice.
I ask because I’m still thinking about Mare of Easttown and questioning whether that show really needs a second season.
See, that’s a tricky one because I just thought it was so perfect. I could watch Kate Winslet all day period, but I thought she was so breathtaking as Mare.
So you’re Team #MoreMare then?
Yeah, I think … I think I could do one more season.