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A double life: Annie Murphy stars in a series that has a split personality

A double life: Annie Murphy stars in a series that has a split personality

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As much as she loved “Schitt’s Creek,” Annie Murphy didn’t want to do another sitcom after her Emmy-winning series ended.

“I loved every minute of it,” she says of “Creek,” “but that world was very small. I was worried I was going to get stuck in this blonde, loopy land.”

When producers came to her with “Kevin Can **** Himself,” she was eager to say yes. Combining two formats – a traditional three-camera sitcom and a one-camera drama – it shows the two worlds of a not-so-happy wife.

In the sitcomy portions, husband Kevin (played by Eric Petersen) is in charge. He calls the shots, she reacts. In the serious moments (shot like a gritty drama), Murphy’s Allison reveals what she’s really thinking. The latter is a much darker world where addiction is a clear and present danger. “It’s an absolute 180,” Murphy says. “I get to do things like kick over a garbage can angrily and fry an egg angrily. These are all just opposite things from what I was doing in ‘Schitt’s Creek.’ It felt like exactly the right thing to do.”

Created three-and-a-half years ago by Valerie Armstrong, the series was designed to tell the story of women who are overlooked by the men in their lives. “I wrote it before #MeToo and then #MeToo happened and I was like, ‘Oof, that’s connected to this,’” she says. “All I want from this show is one woman to watch it and be like, ‘It’s not just me. Oh my god, it’s not just me.’”

While the split storytelling is unusual, it doesn’t take long for viewers to understand that one world is Kevin’s view, the other is Allison’s.

For Peterson, the multi-cam portion is familiar territory. A veteran of numerous series, he knew the rhythms. Even better? He only has to work two or three days a week. Murphy and Mary Hollis Inboden, who plays Allison’s best friend, Patty, then shoot the single camera portions, which take the rest of each episode’s time.

Murphy says the sitcom elements are rehearsed, then shot on “performance” day. “We were supposed to have a true audience to laugh and say, ‘Ooh,’ but given the times, we now have just a smattering of laughter from people who come in to give us the oomph we need to get through it all.”

Inboden says the two worlds require different techniques. “The multi-cam is very technical. It’s about time and rhythm and pace,” she says. “It feels very structured.” The other is more relaxed. “We could take a deep breath outside of the multi-cam world.”

Because the multi-camera segments are focused on the male characters, “I don’t really have to prepare because I only have three lines,” Murphy says. “Mary Hollis and I kind of sink into the background.”

Armstrong says the episodes are 50 percent sitcom, 50 percent drama in the first episodes “and then it becomes less. The format switch is baked into the series. We never have to hit anyone over the head with a message because it’s just in the show. We are asking you to reconsider a woman who you grew up thinking you knew. You thought she was happy and fine being the butt of the joke, but it turns out she is really pissed and ready for something else.”

The formats affect and inform each other.

Allison, Murphy says during a Zoom conference, is a character people can identify. “She has just absorbed so much frustration, so much anger and pushed it down because that’s what you’re supposed to do as a woman.”

Armstrong says she has included small moments – the need for a doughnut during a particularly tough day, for example – that others can relate to. “I hope this eventually becomes a thing of the past," she says. "Unfortunately, it’s only gotten more relevant since I’ve written it. I’m really excited that maybe we have an audience in some fed-up women. And men who love a sitcom. Or men who love fed-up women.”

"Kevin Can **** Himself" airs on AMC.

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