Let’s say you’re a TV producer, and you have decided that — despite the fact that your show is a family sitcom — it’s time to kill off the wife character after the first season. Things were going fine, but now your leading man’s former female co-star is available, and, well, a lot of viewers would probably like to see them together again onscreen.
Between seasons, you let go the actress who plays the wife, and let fans know that starting in the second season, that character will be dead. So, when the premiere rolls around, you:
(A) Have an episode-long tribute to the character.
(B) Show the characters grieving through the first few scenes, then gently pivot to a new plotline.
(C) Time jump to a year after her death; write a couple cursory lines about how the characters miss her; and then briskly move on.
On Monday night, “Kevin Can Wait” doubled down on option C. How did Erinn Hayes’s character, Donna, die? Well, we have no idea. It was never addressed.
If you missed it, the above scenario played out this summer as CBS’s hit Kevin James sitcom “Kevin Can Wait” added Leah Remini (James’s former co-star from “King of Queens”) as a full-time cast member — and thus, sent Hayes (who played James’s wife and mother of his three kids) out the door. A bit awkward, considering that the first season finale ended as the whole family gathered around on a couch together, declaring they could get through anything.
“True, I’ve been let go from the show,” Hayes tweeted in June. “Very sad, I had a great experience season 1.”
It was weird. “Y’all are crazy @KevinCanWaitCBS,” actress Megan Mullally tweeted, summing up the feelings of many viewers. “Erinn Hayes is a truly great, hilarious actress who can do literally anything. Your loss.”
Then, in August, CBS confirmed that Donna would be dead — but promised to do right by the character, even in a sitcom. “I’m not sure we can make that hilarious,” CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl said. “It will be treated with dignity and respect, and the show will move forward. It’s something that will have taken place in the past.”
Indeed, the show opened as Kevin scrambled to get his younger kids ready for school. When he opened the mail, he found a postcard.
“It’s from your mom’s gym,” Kevin told the kids, reading the card out loud: “Haven’t seen you. We miss you.” He paused. “You know what? So do I.”
“Okay, you know what?” said Kevin’s older daughter, Kendra ( Taylor Spreitler). “Give me that. I will call them right now. It’s been over a year since she died. They shouldn’t still be sending this.”
“Thank you,” Kevin said. “Oh, but don’t throw that out. On the bottom there’s a coupon for a Kung Fu lesson. I wanna go to it.”
The next scene found Kevin at a bar with Remini’s character, Vanessa, his former partner on the police force. While the series will soon find Kevin working with Vanessa once again (and setting up some will-they-won’t-they sparks!), in this episode, Vanessa was there simply to help him get his daughter’s British boyfriend a green card.
The whole green card situation took up most of the episode, and at the end, was solved by a quick wedding. As Kevin delivered an emotional speech about his daughter getting married, he added, “We’re just missing one thing.”
“I know,” Kendra said sadly. “I wish Mom was here, too.”
“She’d be very proud of you,” Kevin said. There was a long pause, and he continued: “Well, time’s ticking! Let’s get you married, alright?”
…and that was Hayes’s goodbye. Granted, the show isn’t an in-depth drama, and Hayes was only on for one season. Still, that’s 24 episodes, and plenty of time for viewers to get attached. For CBS’s sake, here’s hoping that fans are just as excited about Kevin’s new co-worker/probable love interest. On Monday night, some weren’t having it:
Never watching #kevincanwait again. Killing off your wife and mother of your children isn’t really that funny. Erinn Hayes was hilarious.
— Jack Wunschel (@drummerjack) September 26, 2017
CBS has made a mistake. We miss Erinn Hayes. #KevinCanWait
— Liz Filter (@emfilter) September 26, 2017
Nope! You lost a few viewers from my home. What you did to @hayeslady was wrong on so many levels.
— Lynnw24 (@lynnw24) September 25, 2017
— Dread Pirate Roberts (@kaciedilla) September 26, 2017
— Misty Ray (@ray_misty) September 26, 2017