[6 May 2007]
The King of Queens revolves around the marriage of Doug (Kevin James) and Carrie Heffernan (Leah Remini), a working class couple who don’t have fame, fortune, or even their dream jobs, but nevertheless make do with what they do have. True, they have friends (Victor Williams and Merrin Dungey as Deacon and Kelly Palmer), and extended family (Gary Valentine as cousin Danny Heffernan, and Carrie’s quirky ol’ dad, Arthur Spooner, played by Jerry Stiller). But, mostly, they have each other.
Overall, Season Eight of The King of Queens is a lot of fun. As a DVD package, though, I’d be pretty skeptical about purchasing it for more than $20US, considering the show’s hefty syndication presence. In my area, the reruns air about four times a day, on two different channels. It’s very easy to satisfy your need for a King fix.
The discs and the packaging photos are pretty and sleek, however, with vibrantly airbrushed photos that make human beings look like animation. The set contains 23 episodes, which should keep even the most zealous fan busy, plus there are some solid guest performances from Charlotte Rae (Hey, that’s “Mrs. Garrett” from Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life!), Kirstie Alley, Huey Lewis & the News, Ray Romano, Lou “the Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno, and Adam West (TV’s methodical, slow talking Batman himself).
Unfortunately, the package is devoid of special features—not a single interview, Behind the Scenes feature, or blooper reel—unless you take “special feature” to include montages of classic sitcom material and a preview for an Ice Cube family movie.
I was hoping for some commentary about one or two episodes. A good one would have been the episode where Doug encourages Carrie to take a pole dancing class (“Pole Lox”) to spice things up between them in the bedroom. Unfortunately, Carrie doesn’t have a talent for pole dancing. In frustration, Doug demonstrates the finer points of the craft. Turns out, he’s a natural!
Or maybe someone could explain this season’s flashback episodes. In “Consummate Professional”, Doug finally admits that he had lied to Carrie about having a job when they were dating. Back then, Doug figured that if he pretended to have a job and showed some signs of being mature and responsible, then Carrie would finally sleep with him. Think that’s shady? (That should be a rhetorical question!) Well, it gets worse when Carrie confronts him about his inability to explain what he does for a living. She says, “Oh. My. God. You didn’t make up some fake job just so I would sleep with you, did you?” See, that right there is where I say, “Lady, if you have to ask that question, somethin’ ain’t right.” If I had a daughter and I found out Doug had pulled this kind of crap with her, I’m not sure what I would do but it would be more of a C.S.I. episode-type thing, not something one would find on a sitcom.
Anyhow, as Doug drives home, he spots Carrie following him to “work”, forcing him pick a job, any job, so he can keep up the charade of being employed (“Oh, this chick has trust issues,” says Doug, like a total jerk). He pretends to work for the IPS delivery company, and ends up working there for real. The episode is pretty lame, although it’s not as weak as “Raygin’ Bulls”, in which Carrie’s father Arthur confesses that Carrie’s real name was Simone but he gambled it away in a poker game. Apparently, Arthur’s opponent had wanted to name his child Simone (and Arthur knew it), but Arthur named his own daughter Simone first. Problem is, young Simone/Carrie appears in the flashback in which Arthur gambles the name. It seems like she should at least remember being called “Simone”.
When King first started, I didn’t pay much attention to it. For one thing, it was a spin-off of Everybody Loves Raymond and, since I didn’t love Raymond (despite the fact that Raymond was a big hit with viewers), I figured I probably wouldn’t love characters who loved Raymond. I’m not knocking Raymond or its popularity. I’m just saying that I can’t watch it without my mind drifting to the things I need from the grocery store or items I need to scratch off my to-do list.
For another thing, I thought King was a knock off of The Honeymooners, with the marital complacency of Married With Children thrown in for texture. But then my sister made me watch The King of Queens, or “Doug and Carrie” as she calls it, and when I finally let the show wash over me, I realized I was wrong.
Much has already been written about the similarities between The King of Queens and The Honeymooners. On the Honeymooners, Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden was a regular guy making his living as a bus driver. He lived in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife Alice, and they hung out with Ed Norton and his wife Trixie, Alice’s friend. Ralph and Alice argued frequently and vehemently, with plenty of hilarious barbs (often targeting Ralph’s hefty physique), paving the way for one of TV’s most recognizable routines, the bit about Ralph sending Alice “to the moon” with one shot “to the kisser”.
Compare that to The King of Queens. Doug works as a driver for a package delivery company called IPS. Heavy in build, Doug most resembles Ralph Kramden when he’s wearing his IPS uniform. Doug, along with his wife Carrie, live in Queens, New York, and they have knockout, drag-out arguments, as you’ll see on the DVD, notably in the “Vocal Discord” episode. Realizing the frequency and severity of their arguments, Doug and Carrie try to eliminate the insults they regularly level at one another. Insults Carrie wants Doug to eliminate: “she-beast”, “Dracula” and “Hitler, Jr.” Insults Doug wants Carrie to eliminate: “blob”, “the blob”, “Blob Barker”, “Blobba the Hut”, and “Rub-a-dub Chub”. And that’s just a single episode!
Doug can pump up the volume, but he’s not a Ralph Kramden clone. If Doug were to see Ralph Kramden flipping out because Alice didn’t cook dinner, Doug would be saying, “Dude, chill out. Let’s make some hotdogs.” Doug’s not really trying to “be the man of the house”, because it’s not that type of relationship. As for being the “breadwinner”, he’s hardly interested in earning a job promotion or acquiring a bigger house or a fancier car.
In fact, sometimes all Doug wants is a little attention, like when he starts getting his haircut all the time because he enjoys the pampering he gets from the hairdresser (“Shear Torture”). Or when his previous disdain for karaoke turns into eagerness when he thinks he has a secret admirer from the audience who has been emailing him, the impetus for Carrie’s classic responses, “You’re having some thing with some cyber-skank?!” and “You and your karaoke slut are through.”). Doug’s got a romantic side, too, like when he arranges a romantic getaway with Carrie at a bed and breakfast (“Inn Escapable”) or when he surprises Carrie at her hotel room (with a trail of rose petals leading to the bed, no less!) during one of her business trips (“Hartford Wailer”). Doug’s a big kid, a teddy bear even.
In fact, Carrie’s more like Ralph Kramden than Doug is (and her father Arthur can reach the feverish Kramden pitch with his yelling). Carrie’s the one who worries about the bills. Carrie’s the one who gives the orders around the house. She’s the one with the rugged exterior persona. In “Fight Schlub”, Doug is surprised by Carrie’s interest in mentoring a teenager because she had previously asked him, “Why would I want to spend my time with some pimple-faced reject who’s probably gonna end up robbin’ a liquor store?”
As for “physical comedy”, Carrie’s the one who’d be doing the “Pow, right in the kisser” routine, and since Carrie cuts to the quick with her wicked punch lines, she would probably add, “Do you remember me sayin’, ‘Someday, Doug, I’ll sock you right in the kisser’? ‘Memba dat? Well, someday is today over, buddy boy, you know what I’m sayin’?” In Season Eight, she sprays Doug in the face with disinfectant, leaves him stranded at a bed and breakfast inn while she spends the night partying, and lands a punch that sends him down a flight of stairs. In the episode where Doug revels in his haircuts by the cute hairdresser (“Shear Torture”), Carrie finds that she enjoys her workouts with her personal trainer just as much.
In previous seasons, Carrie’s temper was offset by her looks; it was like she had time traveled from the 1950s. From certain angles, and with her hair fixed the right way, Leah Remini could hold her own in an Audrey Meadows (“Alice Kramden”) look-a-like contest.
Thus, The King of Queens doesn’t depict a marriage of opposites, although it might appear that way at a glance. A first time viewer might wonder, “How in the world did Doug end up with such an attractive, practical woman?” It’s not like he’s a gorgeous hunk. Plus, Doug lies to Carrie for selfish, sometimes immature, reasons. A good example is when he milked Carrie’s guilt over his injured knee to get special treatment (“Knee Jerk”), similar to the time on Three’s Company when Jack Tripper totaled his roommates car and feigned amnesia to avoid the consequences. But when you really get down to it, Carrie has her own issues. Watch a few episodes and you’re likely to conclude, “Geez, these two are perfect for each other.”
You’ll find lots of married (or dating) couples on television who are goal-oriented and pragmatic—like the Huxtables on The Cosby Show or the Keatons on Family Ties. But the Heffernans aren’t exactly like that. They are both guilty of lying and scheming, but what makes their schemes so adorable, I think, is that we know (and I suspect they do, too) that the immediate gratification they’ve sought will inevitably come to an end.
In this light, we don’t necessarily enjoy Doug and Carrie because we identify with them; rather, it’s more that we understand their motives although we probably wouldn’t act on them the way these characters do. More importantly, there are times when we identify with the side characters, like Deacon and Kelly, especially in situations where the Heffernans aren’t exactly sympathetic. For instance, in “Move Doubt” (a genius of an episode title, by the way), a house next door to Doug and Carrie goes on the market. Deacon and Kelly have been looking for a house, but they aren’t at all eager to live next door to the Heffernans.
I can’t say I blame them. Doug and Carrie always seem to have some scheme in play that would make them way too irritating for me to want them as neighbors. I also like “G’Night Stalker”, in which Spence seeks to pull a prank on Danny Heffernan as payback for all the pranks Danny has pulled on him. Doug remarks, coldly, “Let me break it down for you. You’re not a prankster. You’re a victim. Accept it and you’re gonna save yourself a lot of heartache.” Spence’s response fuels the episode and I was definitely rooting for ol’ lonely Spence when he finally made Doug regret those words.
Spence’s revenge just goes to show you that the side characters aren’t afraid to be as petty as Doug and Carrie. In “Present Tense”, Deacon and Kelly commission an “unflattering portrait” of Doug and Carrie as an anniversary gift. In the painting, Carrie’s right hand is as large as a baseball glove while Doug’s front teeth make him look like a beaver. Deacon and Kelly pretend to have good intentions, but they’re really trying to give the Heffernans a “bad” gift to create an opening to confess their dislike for a gift the Heffernans gave them.
Doug and Carrie had given them a set of black figurines. While I can’t speak for other black people, I’m positive I wouldn’t have been any more impressed with the gift than Deacon and Kelly were. Still, the whole thing is funny, and quite realistic. For all their usual scheming, Doug and Carrie didn’t mean any harm, operating under the assumption that they had found a gift that Deacon and Kelly would enjoy. Moreover, the touch of vengeance in Deacon and Kelly’s plan keeps the pair from becoming flat and static. It also adds an interesting undercurrent to the couples’ friendship.
Speaking of the “Present Tense” episode, the racial dynamic of King is well handled, in my opinion, with Deacon Palmer, a black male, acting as a smarter and hipper version of Ed Norton. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who complains about television images of black people more than I do. When I perused the Season Eight package, I said, “Can somebody please explain why the black characters aren’t mentioned on the back cover’s description of the show? They mentioned Huey Lewis and he’s not even part of the cast!” My friends, of course, noted the “white” cast members who aren’t mentioned on the back cover either, like Patton Oswalt’s character of Spence Olchin or Gary Valentine’s Danny Heffernan. “That’s beside the point,” was my reply, causing everyone to groan.
They’re sick of hearing me go on and on about television in general. They’re like, “Yeah, Quentin, we get it. We can’t tell you why there’s only one adult African-American female character on Guiding Light. Why are you watching soap operas anyway?” Maybe I have a tendency to go too far.
At least I can spare you a tirade here by praising Deacon’s role on The King of Queens. What I like is how smoothly the show incorporates “race”, never turning Deacon into a “spokesperson” for “the black community”, never turning his “blackness” into an overblown plot device. You know how some shows have special episodes about race? “It’s an episode you’ll never forget,” the promotional spot might say. And then the episode turns out to be something like: a clerk profiles the black character and follows him or her around a department store on suspicion of shoplifting. Or the black character goes to a party hosted by rich people and everyone thinks the black character is the butler or the maid. Fortunately, King doesn’t do that. Stupid things happen in real life, for sure, but I think “race” and “racism” are much more complex and multifaceted than many of the one-dimensional situations presented by dramas and sitcoms.
On King, Deacon’s friendship with Doug actually embraces some of those complexities. The show doesn’t feature “race”, but it doesn’t run away from it either. Deacon’s a normal guy who’s trying to get through the day on his job and take care of his family—just like most other guys. He likes beer and sports, but also art and theater, as we see in the episode where the couples realize they should switch spouses when they go out because they’d have more fun that way (“Four Play”). Doug and Kelly like scary movies; Deacon and Carrie enjoy “cultured” films. In his foursome with Spence, Danny, and Doug, Deacon knows he’s the “lone black guy” in his group of friends, but he’s also “one of the guys”. It’s a cool dynamic, allowing for humor as well as realistic communication.
In addition to the episode about the black figurines, clever allusions to race are sprinkled into the dialogue. One funny exchange occurs in “Pole Lox”, when Doug gets the idea to suggest pole dancing to Carrie. Upon hearing the idea, and considering whether he would ever suggest it to his own wife, Deacon says, “It never occurred to me. We’ve got plenty goin’ on in the bedroom as it is.” Doug squints and goes, “Do you ever get tired of being a racial stereotype?” Deacon shakes his head, “No. Do you?” Another good one, at the beginning of “G’Night Stalker”, occurs when Doug isn’t interested in participating in karaoke. Deacon says, “Relax, man. We’ll all be there. It’s gonna be a hoot.” Doug makes a face and retorts, “A ‘hoot’? You gotta stop hangin’ around white people.” Later that episode, Deacon’s karaoke performance is so un-cool it makes all the other black guys in the club leave in embarrassment. Personally, I thought Deacon’s song was all right but, hey, I guess that’s how it goes sometimes.
Similarly, it’s refreshing that the show embraces Doug’s generally carefree demeanor, as well as the reversal of so-called “traditional gender roles” (see Doug folding the laundry at Carrie’s request at the beginning of “Vocal Discord”). I doubt I’d like Doug as much if he blew his top the same way Ralph Kramden did. Doug gets animated about things, but his explosions are different from Ralph’s explosions. Ralph looked like he was about to spontaneously combust. Besides, although I don’t think Ralph ever really intended to knock Alice to the moon, I’m not comfortable with his jokes about hitting her. The Cosby Show’s Claire Huxtable would’ve never tolerated it, and he would have received a serious beat down from Roseanne or the first and best Vivian Banks (Janet Hubert-Whitten) on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
At the same time, Doug’s fixation on “simple things” leads him to frivolity, like his jealousy over his favorite restaurant’s decision to name a sandwich after his friend Deacon (“Sandwiched Out”). Or, in his attempt to live it up during his Carrie-less weekend in “Raygin’ Bulls”, Doug bets Ray Romano a hundred dollars that, between the two of them, he’d have an easier time getting a woman to dance with him. When the bet leads to them catching a serious beat down from an offended boyfriend, it’s hard to figure out what the moral to the story was.
Maybe it tells us that boredom will make you do crazy things. Luckily, the boring moments in Season Eight are few.