With the release of Kevin Can F—k Himself on AMC, a genre-bending dark comedy drama that takes deliberate aim at the misogyny that sits at the heart of our most popular and enduring pieces of pop culture, it seems that perhaps the time has finally come to publicly reckon with the way we view wives—sitcom and otherwise—on the television shows we watch. Even the show’s name is a play on the CBS sitcom title Kevin Can Wait, whose narrative storytelling was so lazy that they killed off Kevin’s wife Donna between its first and second seasons because they were “literally just running out of ideas,” and then barely mentioned her death onscreen.
Kevin Can F—k Himself openly acknowledges that the advantages Kevin McRoberts receives—constant adulation, an almost preternatural ability to luck his way out of ridiculous situations, a devoted wife whose hard work and constant presence he simply accepts as his due—only exist because the rules of the show he stars in require it. In the gritty prestige drama half of the series, which presents his wife as a character with interiority and her own necessary point of view, Allison realizes that she deserves better than a life cheerfully accepting uncomfortable period jokes as her lot. And her rage feels like a revelation.
It’s worth noting that AMC has something of a history with unfairly-hated TV wives. While Breaking Bad is frequently hailed as one of the best television series ever produced, the series is also memorable for something far less laudable. On the one hand, its complicated tale of a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned vicious drug kingpin is a harrowing watch, as Walter White descends into the worst sort of darkness and drags viewers right along with him. Its scale was somehow both grand and immediate, a morality play that carefully tears apart its characters’ lives on the way to an ending that still stands as one of the few examples of a prestige drama really sticking its landing.
And yet, for all the areas in which it excelled, Breaking Bad was never a show that really knew what to do with its female characters, and Skyler White—Walt’s put-upon wife who spent multiple seasons living in ignorance of his illicit and illegal extracurricular activities before being forced to become a co-conspirator whether she wanted to be or not—often seemed to exist solely as an object for viewers to despise.
Given that Breaking Bad is a story full of generally vile, reprehensible people doing everything from committing petty theft to engaging in torture and murder, it’s never really made a ton of sense that Skyler somehow emerged as the series’ most hated character. Unfairly maligned by many viewers for what essentially boils down to harshing Walt’s buzz, Skyler was constantly labeled a nagging killjoy for simply having the nerve to dislike the fact that her husband repeatedly lied to her about the most basic facts of their lives.
Narratively speaking, Skyler is meant to serve as Breaking Bad’s moral compass, a figure whose presence tarnishes Walt’s ambitions by reminding him that, actually, cooking crystal meth is both bad and illegal. Her unique point of view as the woman who has known Walt at his most normal and average helps puncture the fantasy he creates of Heisenberg, the badass one who knocks. Instead, she reveals him as he is: a delusional, ultimately pathetic man whose good intentions became monstrous in the end.
That she ultimately becomes complicit in Walt’s crimes is another layer of tragedy in a show that already has multiple layers of heartbreak, but even at her worst, Skyler’s primary goal—ensuring the safety of her children—is generally a selfless one. (Walt’s, on the other hand…) Perhaps Skyler is judged harshly because she is both a woman and a mother, roles we have been culturally conditioned to see as both necessarily good and moral, therefore we just expect her to both know and do better than her reprobate spouse. After all, men are allegedly more susceptible to temptation and are always easily more forgiven when they fall short of the people they’re supposed to be, right?
Despite the fact that he is a criminal several times over, Walt is never blamed for putting his wife in an untenable and impossible position. Instead, it is Skyler who is disparaged as a grating, shrewish ball and chain who somehow just keeps getting in her amoral husband’s way and preventing him from doing crimes exactly the way he wants to. And Breaking Bad sadly does precious little to push back against that perception; the show is deeply uninterested in Skyler’s point of view, and rarely allows her character any sort of depth or nuance that might help viewers better grasp the difficult choices she’s facing.
Unfortunately, Skyler is hardly the only prestige TV leading lady—or even the only woman on an AMC network drama!—who is judged and found wanting for the crime of not being deferential enough to the man she married. Betty Draper Francis over on Mad Men certainly seemed to attract more than her fair share of criticism for simply having the nerve to divorce a man who cheated on her all the time. (How very dare!) And AMC’s The Walking Dead isn’t just famous for its array of grotesque monsters: Just say the name Lori Grimes to any longtime fan and you’ll learn pretty quickly that sexist double standards did indeed survive the zombie apocalypse. These women, like them or not, deserved better then and now—and they deserve to be remembered as more than flashpoints for fan vitriol.
In Kevin Can F—k Himself, Allison is given what Skyler, Betty, and Lori all lacked—a storytelling framework that makes the audience complicit in their own response. The sitcom segments of Kevin try to gaslight viewers into thinking that the often abusive way Kevin and his world treat his wife is not only acceptable, but it’s also hilarious. Except it isn’t, not even a little bit, and the drama half of the show refuses to let the folks watching it look away from that fact. It encourages us not just to sympathize with Allison’s anger, but to share it, and to hold ourselves at least partially responsible for all the years we spent laughing at women like her.
Perhaps if there had only been a Walt Can F—k Himself, we might have gotten to see Skyler in the same light.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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