Earlier this year it was revealed that Childrens Hospital alum Erinn Hayes was let go from her starring role as Donna on Kevin James’s CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait and that the show would deal with her firing by killing off her character altogether. In August, executive producer Rob Long defended the decision to TVLine, saying that the goal was “to give Kevin’s character a real drive and a real predicament” and that they “were really attracted” to watching Kevin, in Long’s words, “learn how to do all the stuff” that comes with being a single parent after his wife’s death. He also said the decision was “out of respect” for Donna’s character – a thought echoed by Kevin James in an Entertainment Weekly interview leading up to the season 2 premiere. “It’s a tricky situation but I felt we did it in a very classy way,” he said. “This deepens my relationship with the children. It puts more weight on me [as a dad], which is great in a way.”
But that’s not exactly what happened. In fact, there was only one substantial reference to Donna during the season premiere, and it was just a tossed-in reference to her being dead for a year – a decision that resulted in a decent amount of negative backlash from viewers. And fans probably shouldn’t hold out hope that the show will eventually address the details surrounding Donna’s death, if James’s new interview with the New York Daily News is any indication.
“I get that people are like ‘Whoa, why would you do this?’ But it really felt like a thing like this was needed for this show to drive forward,” James said, adding that, thanks to Donna’s death, his character now has “to deal with my daughter in a different way, and she’s gonna go to college, or one’s getting married, or the holidays. And it deals with things in a different, weightier way.” James also said it’s unlikely Donna’s death will ever be addressed further since the show is “meant to be a lighthearted sitcom” and that, in season 1, “the plot of the show didn’t have enough drive. If we got through a second season, I wouldn’t see us getting through a third one. We were literally just running out of ideas.”
While it appears that James has no plans to back up the “weighter” approach to his character by actually addressing the cause of it, a romantic storyline between his character and his former King of Queens costar Leah Remini – whose character is essentially a replacement for Donna now – is inevitable: “You have to at some point,” Remini said. “It’s not a ‘no,’ it’s just there’s so many episodes to do before that.”
This really doesn’t seem like an approach that’s “classy” or “out of respect” for Hayes’s character, does it? In any case, I would definitely be interested in a show – maybe with some help from Hayes’s Childrens Hospital collaborators – where Hayes stars as a dead TV sitcom housewife in the afterlife. Writer/producer John Levenstein has also offered up some excellent suggestions, especially Kevin’s Angels:
Season 3 of Kevin Can’t Wait will feature Kevin, twice widowed, working as a grief counselor and dipping his toe back into the dating pool.— John Levenstein (@johnlevenstein) August 2, 2017
The kid dies and becomes a 3rd angel on Kevin’s shoulder. His catch phrase is “too many angels in the kitchen!” He’s a thrice-widowed chef. — John Levenstein (@johnlevenstein) August 2, 2017
Got it! Kevin’s Angels. He’s on a speakerphone giving instructions to his three dead angel wives. They do stuff. Baby angel is comic relief.— John Levenstein (@johnlevenstein) August 2, 2017