Don’t keep up with the inner workings of Kevin James’s latest sitcom? It may be time to pay attention, because something odd just happened behind the scenes.
On “Kevin Can Wait” — the most-watched new comedy on broadcast TV last season — James stars as Kevin Gable, a newly retired cop who is thrilled to kick back and relax, until he realizes his family will always drive him crazy. Erinn Hayes plays Donna Gable, his wife of 20 years.
Or at least, she did until recently — on Saturday, Hayes confirmed that her character has been written off the series.
“True, I’ve been let go from the show,” she tweeted. “Very sad, I had a great experience season 1. Thank you for all the support from our wonderful fans.”
TVLine, which first broke the news, reported that “the sitcom is heading in a new creative direction in Season 2.” Variety followed up with a story echoing that Hayes’s dismissal from the series — which averaged 9.1 million viewers — was for creative reasons and “not a reflection” of her performance.
Here comes the strange part — even weirder than the wife and mom character being let go from a family sitcom. The news happened a day after CBS announced that Leah Remini would join the cast as a series regular. Remini, who played James’s wife on the hit CBS sitcom “The King of Queens” for nine seasons, guest-starred as an undercover cop in the “Kevin Can Wait” two-part season finale in May.
Apparently, things went well. Variety confirmed she’ll return to play the same character, who was Kevin’s former partner and rival on the police force.
So, essentially, the show is just swapping out James’s TV wives, which is … unusual. Given that the show focused on family, it may have to switch gears to Kevin’s job as a cop; in the finale, James and Remini’s characters teamed up to catch a criminal. At the end of the episode, Kevin denied he’s interested in going back to work. “I love being retired!” he said, which is a clear sign in TV land that he’s probably headed out of retirement.
It also makes the finale’s ending a bit awkward, which concluded with the family sitting together in the living room, as Donna announced that she had quit her job as the school nurse.
“What are we going to do?” Donna said, panicked, as she realized that neither she nor her husband had a job.
“We are the Gables. We have survived much worse than this,” Kevin replied triumphantly.
Except now, not so much, and Hayes’s departure raises many questions. Even though sitcoms don’t necessarily need stringent plot consistency, viewers might notice an important character has simply vanished. How will the show explain losing Hayes? Would the writers possibly go the divorce route, or something darker? Does this mean James and Remini will turn into TV spouses yet again? In the finale, their characters bickered constantly, and you know what that usually means. How weird would that be?
The network and producers are banking on viewers wondering all of these things — and, naturally, tuning in to the second-season premiere in the fall. Well played.