WHAT IT’S ABOUT Kevin Gable (Kevin James) has retired from the police force after 20 years, and has plans to fill his time with beer, friends, the Mets, paintball, go-carts — the usual — when real life intrudes.
Wife Donna (Erinn Hayes) reminds him that he’s already burning through his retirement funds, and that the kids — Sara (Mary-Charles Jones) and Jack (James DiGiacomo) — need his attention, too. Kevin would rather direct most of that to his pals and fellow retirees, who include Goody (Leonard Earl Howze), Duffy (Lenny Venito) and his brother Kyle (Gary Valentine, James’ real brother), a fireman. More real life intrudes: His college-age daughter Kendra (Taylor Spreitler) returns home with boyfriend Chale (Ryan Cartwright).
As a condition to his return to prime time, in his first series since “The King of Queens” (which wrapped nine seasons in 2007), Stony Brook native James sought to have this produced on Long Island. Filmed in front of a live audience at Bethpage’s Gold Coast Studios, this is the first network prime-time series to originate from a Long Island-based facility.
MY SAY “Kevin Can Wait” is neither as bad as you may have feared nor as good as you may have hoped. It’s squarely and innocuously in the middle — your basic boilerplate sitcom that’s all meat and potatoes, with not much else on the plate. Kevin James didn’t return home to Long Island to reinvent the oldest form of television, or to reinvent himself. He obviously hasn’t.
There’s absolutely nothing over the pilot’s 22 minutes that will surprise — or for that matter offend, confuse or bewilder — James’ longtime fans. He is as he always was, and you can file that under the “good news.”
“Kevin Can Wait” is even a little bit of what “The King of Queens” was, too. Imagine the possibilities if the Heffernans had moved a little to the east from Rego Park — easy to do because CBS has already reimagined them. There are still the four pals, bound by their love of beer and, well, beer. There’s still the patient spouse, who is just attractive and poised enough to turn the guy she married into an even bigger schlub. (Audrey Meadows and Jackie Gleason perfected that trick decades ago.)
Arthur Spooner (Jerry Stiller) — who played the father of Leah Remini’s character, Carrie — isn’t here, of course, but the same generational fireworks can be expected because the daughter’s geeky Sheldon Cooper look-alike of a fiance has moved in.
What’s revolutionary obviously isn’t on screen but what’s off, or just beyond the walls of the fake family sitcom living room. That’s Long Island out there, folks. You know it as home. The television industry knows it about as well as the dark side of the moon. But to get James to return to prime time, CBS effectively had to concede to this deal-breaker.
The network wasn’t about to take any chances, either. (According to trade accounts, CBS chief Leslie Moonves sat in on table reads.) CBS wanted something with mass appeal as opposed to just regional appeal, and one result is a largely generic Long Island. Maybe the family lives in Suffolk, but could just as easily live somewhere in Nassau, too. Even the Barones (Lynbrook) and the Seavers of “Growing Pains” (Huntington) chose counties. There is, in fact, a reference to All American Hamburger (based in Massapequa) so “Kevin Can Wait” will probably settle in there in later episodes.
James has promised Long Island will “star” in his series just as much as the stars, so expect lots of outdoor shots (there’s one in the pilot) and local references, too. At the very least, “Kevin Can Wait” should be filled with plenty of LI Easter eggs.
BOTTOM LINE The meat-and-potatoes network sitcom James’ fans expect, with an added bonus — Long Island.