There are things you expect from a sitcom starring Kevin James – a shlubby dude with an out-of-his-league wife, a laugh track punctuating some pretty cringey one-liners, etc.
And then there are things you don’t expect, like, say, swift and brutal deaths being laughed off with a callous brutality more common to Game of Thrones than CBS sitcoms.
Yes, if you watched last night’s episode of Kevin Can Wait, you may have been among the many viewers who were stunned by the fashion in which the show killed off the main character’s wife, Donna, played by Erinn Hayes, in order to replace her with Leah Remini.
The swapping of actresses was not unexpected.
Remini co-starred in James’ first sitcom, King of Queens, and her cameo on the first season of KCW was so well-received that producers quickly made the decision to replace Hayes with Remini.
When Hayes announced back in June that she would not be returning to the show, it was clear the deal was done.
The only question was: how would the show’s writers pull off the switcheroo?
Would they just drop Remini into the middle of the show and hope that no one noticed, a la Sarah Chalke on Roseanne?
Not really an option, as Remini had already appeared on the series and been established as a character separate from James’ wife.
Would they go the dramatic route with a very special episode exploring James’ efforts to cope with his wife’s untimely passing?
Well, only if your idea of drama involves jokes about free kung-fu lessons.
Yes, news of Donna’s death was conveyed to the audience with a bizarre scene in which James’ character receives a flyer mail from her gym.
His daughter remarks that they should stop sending him mail, as Donna “died over a year ago.”
James encourages her not to toss the flyer because it has “a coupon for a free kung-fu lesson” at the bottom.
Cue laugh track.
Maybe the show will go into greater detail at some point, but for now, that’s all the information fans are getting.
Needless to say, many viewers were upset to see Donna disappeared like a suppressive person.
(Hey, we know Leah Remini can appreciate a good Scientology joke!)
On Twitter, the show was slammed as “savage” and “disrespectful” for offing a beloved character in such a dismissive fashion.
But maybe fans should be a bit more understanding.
After all, do you really want a scene in which Paul Blart, Mall Cop attempts to muster the acting chops to grieve the death of his TV wife?
Actually, come to think of it, we totally want that.
Make it happen, Kevin Can Wait!