Erinn Hayes’ last episode of “Kevin Can Wait” was not only shared with her Season 2 replacement, Leah Remini, but it was titled “Sting of Queens” — as if the creators’ long con to swap out Kevin James’ wives was already underway.
The series got such a bad rap after announcing it was letting Hayes go, viewers might have expected them to deal with her character’s departure with grace and respect. After all, even fans who weren’t overwhelmed by the news would need a good reason to forget about a woman they spent 24 episodes getting to know during Season 1.
Instead, in the blunt tradition of CBS sitcoms — which tackle off-camera issues with the subtlety of a piano being dropped on Charlie Sheen — the “Kevin Can Wait” Season 2 premiere spent less than one minute explaining why Donna Gable (Hayes), Kevin’s wife and the mother of their three children, was suddenly gone.
[Editor’s Note: The following articles contains spoilers for “Kevin Can Wait” Season 2, Episode 1, “Civil Ceremony.”]
During the first scene of the premiere, Kevin (James) is going through the mail when he comes across a letter from his wife’s old gym.
“Haven’t seen you. We miss you,” he reads aloud. “You know what? So do I.”
His daughter, Kendra (Taylor Spreitler), promises to take care of it, saying, “It’s been over a year since she died,” but her dad stops her before she can even pick up the phone. “Don’t throw that out,” he says. “On the bottom, there’s a coupon for a kung-fu lesson. I want to go there.”
That’s it. There’s no explanation as to what happened to Donna. The family doesn’t mourn her loss. Not even three sentences go by without a (rather lame) joke being tossed out by the widower.
From there, “Civil Ceremony” launches into its A-story about Kendra’s boyfriend Chale (Ryan Cartwright) getting deported because Kevin forget to send in his paperwork (another development Kevin expresses no remorse for), and only once more does Donna come back up.
Right before Kendra is about to marry Chale to keep him in America, she tells her dad, “I wish Mom were here.”
“She’d be very proud of you,” Kevin says. “Well, time’s ticking. Let’s get you married.”
The curt ushering toward the altar comes after Kevin spent a good couple of minutes reminiscing about Kendra as a baby; memories that did not feature his wife/her mother, even though they easily could have.
A year may be a long enough time for things to get back to normal in the Gable household, and perhaps the show will deal with the mom’s loss in a more meaningful way as the series progresses. But this episode did nothing to alleviate concerns that women — both actors and characters — are disposable in the eyes of CBS and the “Kevin Can Wait” writers.
The series has never pretended to be artistically-minded, but the move is still disrespectful to fans. For those few self-respecting James junkies out there, you have our sympathies. Yes, plenty of people were and are excited for a full-time “King of Queens” reunion, but there’s a sensitive way to make the switch and the premiere didn’t find it. To dismiss an actress and her character with such terse, uncaring brevity is an ugly way to handle an already objectionable decision.
Even people who understand why they’re watching “Kevin Can Wait” — for whatever pleasure there is to be had in seeing James make tired, lazy jokes about being tired and lazy — deserve a better explanation than this. Hopefully, one is on the way, but fans shouldn’t be holding their breath.