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'It's About Time Kevin James Earned Some Respect'

The internet is rediscovering its appreciation for actor-comedian Kevin James through viral memes and reactions to his underrated show "King of Queens."

From a young age, I have always found the face of actor-comedian Kevin James to be strangely comforting. It all started when my mother and I would watch reruns of the CBS show King of Queens together on weeknights. It was one of the few adult sitcoms that she allowed me to watch, as it was humorous without being too crude or profane.

I believe that my mother secretly related to the character Carrie, played by Leah Remini, who was the competent and outspoken wife of the main protagonist Doug Heffernan (played by James). However, she was more vocal about her love for James himself, appreciating his affable persona and talent for physical comedy. In our household, he was considered one of the top-tier television husbands, despite being an infuriating spouse on-screen.

It seems that the internet has also come to appreciate James' likeness, or perhaps they always have. If you take a look on Twitter (now called X), you will find a plethora of reaction memes featuring the actor in a style reminiscent of Kevin Hart. These memes have sparked nostalgia for his widely consumed but often underrated CBS show, conveniently coinciding with its 25th anniversary.

According to Know Your Meme, this phenomenon began on September 21 when a user named @ChampagneAnyone posted a promotional photo of James as Doug, sporting an innocent smirk and shrugging at the camera. This expression conveys a sense of guilt for eating too many Oreos from the cookie jar or forgetting to take out the trash, both of which are typical behaviors of his irresponsible yet sympathetic sitcom character.

The internet has also uncovered ridiculous promotional photos from James' time as a CBS star, including one where he emerges from a sewer and various photoshoots featuring his TV wife, Remini. Some fans have even created fan-cams for this seemingly ordinary comedian who, at one point, was a movie star. All these memes highlight an unspoken appreciation for James, who has been unfairly labeled as a poor man's Adam Sandler.

While I cannot defend some of James' movies, such as Zookeeper or the less memorable I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, I have always believed that he has received an undeservedly bad reputation. The negative reception he has faced as a performer reminds me of the classist and fatphobic mockery that Guy Fieri endured in the mid-2000s before becoming an adored internet icon. Hopefully, James does not face a similar fate of being associated with right-wing politics, like Fieri was.

Much of the recent backlash against James stems from his role on King of Queens. Along with other sitcoms from the early 2000s, such as According to Jim and Still Standing, the show perpetuated the trope of schlubby, lazy husbands who somehow ended up with attractive wives and made their lives miserable with their incompetence. However, it is important to recognize the fatphobia embedded in this critique. This trope has been satirized on shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Louie, and most notably, the AMC meta series Kevin Can F*** Himself, which directly references James' supposedly problematic character.

As a defender of Kevin James, I have not been able to bring myself to watch the Annie Murphy-led show out of spite. It also seemed like a white feminist thinkpiece to me! This two-season series was famously inspired by a controversial casting decision on James' 2016 CBS show Kevin Can Wait, while also satirizing the sitcom stereotype he embodied on King of Queens.

James and the show's producers made the controversial choice to kill off his character's wife, Donna, played by Erinn Hayes, and bring in Remini as the new female lead in the second season before the show was ultimately cancelled. This decision received backlash during the height of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, painting James in a misogynistic light. However, I would argue that casting Remini in a significant acting role while she was actively speaking out against the Church of Scientology was actually a feminist act.

Furthermore, the casual misinterpretation of the central relationship in King of Queens is tiresome. Anyone who has watched the show knows that Doug and Carrie's marriage was far more complex than the typical annoying-husband-passive-wife dynamic. They were both flawed characters, and Carrie was far from tolerant of Doug's immaturity.

Yes, Carrie becomes increasingly bitchy as the series progresses. A superficial analysis of her character arc may label this as a sexist choice by the writers, including James himself. However, one could just as easily interpret her behavior as a response to an unfulfilling marriage and the financial constraints of a working-class household. Her anger was never unwarranted and, at the very least, it was realistic.

In 2023, it seems that people are finally comfortable expressing their fondness for the show and the lovable doofus at its center. Could a meme be enough to spark a Kevin James renaissance? Who knows? I had hoped that his series of dramatic short films on his YouTube channel a few years ago would have garnered him viral attention, but if a simple photo of James shrugging in a flannel can win over social media, then I'll gladly accept it.

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