One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
Kevin James is a simple entertainer. His blue collar-friendly brand is designed to appeal to undemanding middle-aged schlubs, or at the very least, easy-to-please hard-working people who just want to kick their feet back, gulp down a couple beers and enjoy themselves for a few hours. The kind of people who don’t expect more than the familiar pleasures they’ve been given before. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with that either. James’ style might be boring and repetitive to some of us (well, maybe most of us), but he’s a smart businessman. He knows what his fans expect from him, and he tries to meet their modest demands. That logic drives Kevin Can Wait, James’ return to CBS and broadcast television.
It’s been nine years since James stepped away from King of Queens, pursing a career on the big screen and producing the Paul Blart: Mall Cop films, the Grown Ups franchise, the Hotel Transylvania movies, Zookeeper, Here Comes the Boom, Pixels and the largely unseen Little Boy. If we’re being honest, none of them were very good — and some might consider that an understatement. But then again, King of Queens wasn’t necessarily the height of television either, but it was honest about itself. It presented James at his most presentable, and it didn’t push the comedian’s believability too hard. They never, say, made him Frankenstein’s monster, an MMA fighter or the president of the United States. Not to point fingers, of course. It kept things accessible and amiable, and that’s also the case with this new effort.
Kevin Can Wait finds our titular Kevin (James) as a retired cop who wants to enjoy the good things in life, like pizza, beer, go cart, paintball and family too — if there’s time! His wife (Erinn Hayes) is, of course, way out of his league and far too forgiving, and his children are mostly there to drive different subplots, like the one found in the pilot, where his college daughter (Taylor Spreitler) is considering dropping out of college in order to live with her wimpy tech boyfriend. As if! Am I right? Not in Kevin’s house! It’s exactly what you’d expect from a new Kevin James show. It’s lazy, middling, drab television, and you can practically see every joke coming from a mile away. But it’s also harmless, mild-mannered and gentle-natured.
Perhaps the most offensive thing about Kevin Can Wait is just how inoffensive it can be. Not that I’m encouraging foul behavior, of course, but there’s no effort to shake things up in this first episode. It has its science down tight, though that’s also not exactly a compliment. It’s broad, flat, lifeless multi-camera comedy, without any desire to do anything noteworthy. That might be what some fans want, and that’s understandable. But it doesn’t make for legitimately good television. One shouldn’t excuse mediocrity solely for being mediocre. Sure, you’ll see worse shows in 2016, but Kevin Can Wait might be the blandest you can find. It’s a perfect indictment of broadcast television within peak TV, a show that refuses to reinvent itself in a time where almost every other show is trying something engaging or thematically compelling with their limited air time.
Such formulaic television might be charming if it didn’t feel so damn stale. In a post-BoJack Horseman world, it’s hard to cut such a meanderingly uninspired sitcom slack. The barriers are now broken. Audiences have different expectations than when King of Queens was on television. Sure, Kevin Can Wait might be better than, say, Fuller House or possibly even Mulaney, but that’s not enough to give it credit for its lack of originality or variety. As much as I want to admire the show’s unpretentious, unassuming format, there’s no way to make it feel worthwhile, even as a mindless watch. It’s a whole lotta nothing, and that’s hard to forgive these days. No matter how genial and inoffensive it can be.
Kevin Can Wait is a lot like The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. It’s straightforward, basic television and it’ll probably earn the occasional smirk — and, for what it’s worth, there are two solid chuckles in this pilot — but that’s not enough. There needs to be blood in the mix. There needs to be something that makes it worth the investment. For all its straightforward sincerity, James can’t provide anything new with his new show — even though, all things considered, TV is where James belongs. Perhaps his fans have the patience to see where it goes, but the rest of us don’t have time to wait.
Kevin Can Wait is exactly what you'd expect from Kevin James. No more, no less. Some fans might find that appealing, but most of us don't feel like waiting around. There are more rewarding shows to be found elsewhere.