A new AMC+ satire mocks the family sitcom cliché of schlubby husbands paired with beautiful wives. Here are a few of the more egregious examples.
In 1998, during the second episode of the CBS sitcom “The King of Queens,” the husband, Doug (Kevin James), learns that the women in his wife’s family put on weight as they age. So even though Doug is fat — “I look like I’m in my twelfth trimester,” he says — he plots to keep Carrie (Leah Remini, a knockout then and now) slim.
The episode, which has aged about as well as a tub of expired cottage cheese, is fatphobic and unfunny. It also lays bare a common family sitcom cliché: a husband who can appear infinitely schlubby and a wife who must remain incontrovertibly hot. In shows like these — shows that clearly inspired “Kevin Can F**k Himself,” a caustic satire arriving Sunday on AMC+ — the attractiveness gap often yawns and it nearly always yawns one way.
This isn’t to ding sitcom dads as unattractive. And if they display a greater diversity of body size, well, that’s a diversity TV ought to embrace across gender. Instead, the standards for female beauty are enforced rigorously on network shows, while those for men and their waistbands remain comfortably loose. Audiences accept this, though when roles are reversed — when a show, sitcom or otherwise, pairs an absolute hunk with a less glamorous woman — some viewers lose their minds.
On the HBO show “Girls,” a Season 2 episode featured Patrick Wilson opposite Lena Dunham and a corner of the internet reacted poorly, saying that a man with looks like Wilson’s would never sleep with a woman like Dunham. The commentary, from both reviewers and social media users, became so vicious that Wilson’s wife, the actress Dagmara Dominczyk, felt compelled to respond. “Funny, his wife is a size 10, muffin top & all, & he does her just fine,” she tweeted.
Sitcoms, and family sitcoms in particular, occupy fewer prime-time slots now, but streaming and reruns mean that the gap persists. Here are a few of the more egregious examples.
‘The King of Queens’
Carrie and Doug
A paradigm of the schlubby guy snags hot wife trope, the show stars James as a UPS-style deliveryman, with Remini as his legal secretary wife. The Washington Post critic framed it this way: “Hard-working shmoe put-upon and set-upon by life’s complications and his own relatives.” The show makes a point of emphasizing Remini’s sex appeal. Conversely, as in a pole-dancing scene, James’s looks are usually played for laughs. (His tight shorts, too.)
Despite some fluctuations, James maintained a larger body size throughout, while Remini received criticism for her real-life pregnancy weight gain. During James’s follow-up sitcom, “Kevin Can Wait,” the series eventually killed off a first wife, played by Erinn Hayes, and replaced her with Remini, proving that the series saw slim brunettes with cute highlights as essentially interchangeable, if not outright disposable.
Lois and Peter
From “The Flintstones” on, prime-time cartoons have also engaged in the dishy wife, slobby husband template. (“The Flintstones” was itself a riff on the primordial marital sitcom — and arguable schlub/hottie exemplar — “The Honeymooners.”) Think Fred and Wilma, Barney and Betty, Homer and Marge, Bob and Linda. Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy,” which debuted in 1999, depicts dad Peter as an multichinned chucklehead while sketching mom Lois with the ha-cha-cha figure of a catalog model.
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As a Season 3 flashback reveals, he fell in love with her for her looks, while she loved his questionable humor and ample gut. Despite Peter’s incompetence and Lois’s occasional physical abuse, the show insinuates an active sex life between the two, with some very niche role play. (She once dressed up as Grimace.)
‘According to Jim’
Cheryl and Jim
The second-wave Blues Brother Jim Belushi stars opposite ’90s cutie-pie Courtney Thorne-Smith on this ABC show, which debuted in 2001. It has earned an astonishing 14 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the marital mismatch inspired a lot of head-scratching. “If the wife is so damn smart, why did she marry such a boob?” a Variety critic wrote.
Belushi’s character — and maybe Belushi, too — seems convinced of his own charisma, even as the show gives him a halfhearted mullet and a wardrobe that fits him like a glove, a glove someone has repurposed as a balloon. “I’m in great shape,” Jim says. “What shape is that,” Cheryl replies. “A circle?” Thorne-Smith, of course, looks terrific throughout. Here’s an exchange from a Season 2 episode:
Jim: I married her for her looks.
Cheryl: I married him for his money.
Jim: Hah! I win!
Bill and Judy
Mark Addy, an English actor trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art who later appeared as a corpulent, dissipated king on “Game of Thrones,” stars opposite the ’80s pinup Jami Gertz in this CBS comedy that debuted in 2002. (The show is set in Chicago, though Addy’s accent suggests otherwise.) A pre-“Gone Girl” Gillian Flynn, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called it a tired iteration of the “Fatty-Gets-a-Family formula.”
The parents met in high school and as Bill tells their son in a Season 2 episode, Gertz’s Judy was “the hottest chick in our class, she was way out of my league.” She remains so. Conveniently, Judy values chivalry over looks, telling her daughter, “Hot comes and goes but if you find someone who knows how to use a napkin, chain him down.” Unlike a lot of sitcom dads, Addy isn’t especially funny, though he does demonstrate genuine affection for his wife.
Gloria and Jay
This zippy mockumentary, which debuted on ABC in 2009, starred Sofia Vergara as Gloria, a Colombian bombshell, and Ed O’Neill as Jay, a closet and blinds mogul, who looks a bit more like a bomb fragment. (O’Neill’s previous sitcom, “Married With Children,” also presented an attractiveness gap, though narrower.) The trope is deployed with some self-awareness. The Times critic, reviewing the pilot, complimented Vergara’s “tonally perfect sendup” of the fiery Latina stereotype.
The family assumes that Gloria has married Jay for his money — the series’s fifth episode, “Coal Digger,” centers on this premise. But Gloria disputes this, minimizing the difference in their looks. In a Season 6 episode, she says, “A lot of people assumed that I married you for your money and that’s only a very, very small part of it. I married you because you’re sexy. You still are. Who knows how long that’s going to last for either of us?”
‘Parks and Recreation’
Gayle and Jerry
Most of the couples on this affable series, which began on NBC in 2009, had equally good looks. (Though what Rashida Jones’s Ann ever saw in Aziz Ansari’s Tom remains an enduring mystery.) There was, however, one deliberate exception.
Jerry (Jim O’Heir), the office manager of Pawnee’s Parks and Rec Department, is flatulent, paunchy and pathologically clumsy. In the second season, at a Christmas party, his co-workers are introduced to his wife, Gayle, played by the supermodel Christie Brinkley. As in “Modern Family,” the show deploys the hot wife trope self-consciously. The real joke — a sweet one — is that while Jerry remains the butt of every office gag, Gayle and three gorgeous daughters worship him as an ideal husband and father.
Source: Television - nytimes.com