Kevin James deserves the benefit of the doubt, but unless his new CBS sitcom does a complete about-face in Episode Two, then Episode One indicates that this show is a mess that might never get cleaned up.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the new fall TV season. First up on Monday, Sept. 19 -- the first “official” evening of the season: “Kevin Can Wait,” the new comedy series representing James’ return to TV (and CBS) since “The King of Queens” ended its network run in 2007.
In this new one, James plays a Long Island police officer, recently retired, named Kevin Gable. His “retirement” is the primary source of this show’s situation and its comedy.
While he looks forward to years of juvenile pursuits such as afternoon beer drinking, paintball matches and binge-eating of hamburgers and other junk foods with his other immature friends (fellow recent retirees from the local PD), he’s finding that responsibilities for his home and family are getting in the way. This is what inspired the show’s title (other than rhyming with “Heaven Can Wait”), that Kevin “can wait” to realize his retirement dreams because home and family are more important. Awww.
But this show’s run-of-the-mill “family” setup is just one of its many problems. Here’s a first: In my entire history of reviewing TV shows, going back 20-25 years, I don’t remember ever complaining about a show’s set or even mentioning it. But the place where most of the premiere episode of “Kevin Can Wait” takes place -- the interior of the Gable home -- is so noticeably ludicrous in the way it is laid out that you never for one moment believe it is someone’s real house.
Granted, many house and apartment interiors seen in TV comedies are unrealistic on some level. But none that I can remember were ever as blatantly farfetched as this one. This house interior is so wrong that it actually becomes a distraction.
In the premiere, one of the storylines has to do with Kevin’s college-age daughter, who suddenly shows up at home after dropping out of law school. She is accompanied by a shy young man to whom she is engaged -- which is news to her parents. That’s pretty standard sitcom stuff.
But the character of the boyfriend is not. He’s a socially inept graduate student who talks in a whispery British accent. He is introverted, but he’s a computer genius, according to Kevin’s daughter. But here’s the kicker: His name is Chayle, which isn’t really a name and possibly not even a word.
Here again, another first: I don’t remember ever having a reason to comment on the name of a character in any TV show. But in this case, I am making an exception to plead with Kevin James and his producers to jettison this wholly unlikable character with the idiotic name of Chayle as quickly as possible.
It may or may not save the show, which misfires on so many of its comedic cylinders. For example, Kevin and his wife Donna (Erinn Hayes) are seen interviewing applicants for an apartment they apparently have available “in the garage” (the make-up of this residence for let in a garage is never really explained).
Kevin derides one applicant, an elderly woman, for her varicose veins. Donna dismisses another -- an ex-cop acquaintance of Kevin’s -- because the man struggles with alcohol addiction. So these are two areas where “Kevin Can Wait” seeks to prospect for laughs -- an elderly woman’s physical characteristics and a seemingly sincere man’s battle with a very serious personal problem.
One of the ways in which networks sometimes shoot themselves in the proverbial foot in their efforts to publicize their new shows is when they decide to provide only one episode for journalists to preview when they are writing their fall TV stories and reviews at this time of the year.
And when that one episode is a show’s pilot, that can be a problem because everyone knows pilots can be atypical. For all I know, “Kevin Can Wait” exorcises all that is wrong with it by the second episode. Perhaps the Gable house got completely redesigned since the pilot was made. Or maybe Chayle wandered into the Atlantic Ocean and was never seen again. Or maybe Donna Gable became more compassionate about people struggling with addictions.
But since all I had to go on was the “Kevin Can Wait” pilot, I don’t know whether any of these things happened. All I know is: I watched the pilot twice (just to make sure it was as bad as I thought it was the first time I watched it), and it’s doubtful now that I’ll ever take the time to sample Episode Two.
“Kevin Can Wait” premieres Monday, Sept. 19, at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS.