Guilt watching CBS series “Kevin Can Wait.” The new series features comedian actor Kevin James as the father figure in a new family. But I just can’t get his old family out of my mind. I can’t separate the line that was created by television that separated reality and adorable, addictive fantasy entertainment.
By Ray Hanania
Was Kevin James keeping a secret life from everyone during the decade long run of the CBS comedy series “The King of Queens?”
I ask that because the new Kevin James comedy series “Kevin Can Wait” looks and sounds so much like the old series, “The King of Queens,” (TKoQ) which ran from 1998 until 2007. I loved “The King of Queens.” It was mandatory watching when it premiered and it has been endless reminiscence for me through the reruns.
There was Kevin James playing “Doug Heffernan,” the average guy working for a local parcel delivery service (like UPS) who lived with his great looking wife, Carrie (Leah Remini) in a snug two-story brick house at “3121 Aberdeen Street” in Rego Park, Queens, New York along with Carrie’s eccentric father, Arthur Spooner, (played by the hilarious Jerry Stiller).
The show had a format that was perfect. A cute intro segment with a stand alone comedy line, followed by two main segments detailing the episode’s main script, ending with a fast comedic snip.
Kevin James and Jerry Stiller are funny. The best. But the success of the show belonged to Leah Remini who gave the show a sarcastic wit with a Queen’s Italian persona.
The Heffernan’s were surrounded by a cast of characters who made the show even more hilarious. They included Patton Oswald as Spence Olchin. You may know Oswald’s distinctive voice from the many commercial voice overs that he does all the time on television today. Victor Williams played Doug’s best friend and co-worker, Deacon Palmer. Deacon’s wife, Kelly (played by Merrin Dungey). There is Doug’s cousin, Danny Heffernan (played by Gary Valentine). Doug’s best friend Richie Iannucci, played by Larry Romano who is not related to another of Doug’s friends, Ray Barone who was played by Ray Romano. One of the neighbors was Lou Ferrigno who played himself. And another friend Holly Shumpert played by Nicole Sullivan.
I could go on and on. There were more than 200 episodes and every one of them was a comedic grand slam. It built up a huge cult following in reruns that competed with Seinfeld episodes.
It was one big happy and funny family. The marriage between Carrie (Remini) and Doug (James) was perfect.
And then one day last week, the reruns stopped — well they didn’t stop completed but they have been thinned out dramatically from rerun replays — and Kevin James popped up in a new series that has all of the exact same Kevin James humor, but with a whole new family and a new name.
Kevin James, who plays Kevin Gables, has a new life, a new wife, three kids, and all new friends that include only one of the former TKoQ cast (Gary Valentine) in a new home out in the suburbs of Massapequa, New York. But Doug Heffernan goes by a new name, Kevin Gable, who is a recently retired New York police officer.
The Doug Heffernan character is so strong and so are all the parallels I just can’t get them out of my head. That’s what TV sitcom success does. I am concerned that the 13 episodes that the new series has been given is not going to be enough for me to make the transition.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Kevin James. The guy is hilarious. His humor is dead on. But the characters in his TKoQ life left such a powerful impression that I can’t seem to shake them out of my conscience as I watch the new series, Kevin Can Wait.
Where’s Deacon? Why isn’t he in the mix of Doug’s — I mean Kevin’s friends? What is it about using the real name of an actor for his character? It just makes it even more complicated.
As I watched the first two funny episodes, I kept waiting for Carrie to walk in through the door. Not a friendly hello, mind you. A confrontational, “Doug! Who the hell are all these people? What, you have a whole new life all these years I didn’t know about?”
Maybe they need to bring Carrie into the show as his ex-wife just to prevent the whole mix from imploding in my brain.
I’m glad that they gave Gary Valentine a role as one of New Kevin’s friends, and also an upcoming role for comedian and actor Ray Romano (who had his own show “Everybody Loves Raymond” — which was always a part of my own standup comedy as a Palestinian married to a Jewish wife, “Everyone Loves Abdullah“). But that is not enough. I want all of them back in on Kevin’s new sitcom series.
What’s the problem? Sitcoms are not reality. This isn’t reality TV. It’s comedy that takes us beyond reality into the realm of the unbelievable that is believable.
It’s almost as if Doug Heffernan was cheating on his wife, Carrie, and secretly had a second family not too far away in Massapequa, which by the way is the original hometown of Joey Buttafuoco, who had an affair with the young beautiful 17-year-old siren Amy Fisher, who shot Buttafuoco’s wife, Mary Jo, so the two could live together in love. That’s right out of Queens. Come on folks!
It’s going to take me forever to learn everyone’s names. Kevin’s new wife is Erinn Hayes, who is nice and funny but lacks the sarcasm of Carrie Heffernan, or for that matter the real-life Leah Remini. Kevin has been married to Erinn 20 years, which puts him into overlap with his first wife, Carrie Heffernan.
I can just see the two going at it over Doug, or, about Doug.
And I am just worried that too many other viewers are just like me, going at it over Doug, too.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. He is a standup comedian who performs Arab-Jewish comedy around the world. Email him at [email protected])
Hanania covered Chicago political beats including Chicago City Hall while at the Daily Southtown Newspapers (1976-1985) and later for the Chicago Sun-Times (1985-1992). He published The Villager Community Newspapers covering 12 Southwest suburban regions (1993-1997). Hanania also hosted live political news radio talkshows on WLS AM (1980 - 1991), and also on WBBM FM, WLUP FM, WSBC AM in Chicago, and WNZK AM in Detroit.
The recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, Hanania was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. Hananiaalso received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania writes columns for the Southwest Community Newspaper Group including the Des Plaines Valley News, the Southwest News-Herald, the Regional News and the Reporter Newspapers.
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