Doug Heffernan (Kevin James) drives a truck for courier service IPS. His wife, Carrie (Leah Remini), is a legal secretary in Manhattan. They have a good life in Queens, goofing around with their best friends, the Palmers — Deacon (Victor Williams), also a driver at IPS, and Kelly (Merrin Dungey), a friend of Carrie’s from high school. Everything’s going great in the earliest days of their marriage, until they find out Carrie’s irascible father, Arthur (Jerry Stiller), has mismanaged his finances and urgently needs a place to live. Doug is going to have to move his big-screen TV and Jets swag out of the basement so that Arthur can move in. The challenges of integrating this cantankerous old man into the household lead to a wide range of comical situations — some predictable, many very much not.
The King of Queens, which ran on CBS from 1998 to 2007, is not generally part of the critical conversation around prestige sitcoms. Unlike Cheers, it wasn’t showered with Emmys for its sharp direction and incisive writing. Unlike Seinfeld, it didn’t change the ethos of the form and expectations for how much “heart” an American situation comedy must contain. Unlike Parks & Recreation, it doesn’t confirm anyone’s notions of female empowerment or the importance of local government. Unlike The Good Place, it’s not … about philosophy and stuff.
That isn’t all the show has going against it. The King of Queens is in a critically drubbed subgenre: “Fat Guy/Skinny Wife.” This vertical predated King of Queens, with shows like The Honeymooners, Family Matters, and even The Simpsons, but the success of The King of Queens arguably kicked off a CBS boomlet with sitcoms like Still Standing and According to Jim. Discerning viewers are supposed to disdain such shows because of their inherent sexism (true gender equity will have been achieved when America welcomes its first Fat Wife/Skinny Guy sitcom, I guess). This class of shows has become such an exemplar of lazy sitcom development that it has become the basis of Valerie Armstrong’s deconstructive meta-series, now in its second season, AMC’s Kevin Can Fuck Himself (a title that references Kevin Can Wait, a post-Queens Kevin James vehicle that, after its first season, killed off his character’s original wife and made Leah Remini a series regular).
Having watched every episode of The King of Queens more times than I have nearly any other sitcom, I might know the show’s weaknesses nearly as well as Armstrong. The King of Queens isn’t among the shows that, in mid-2020, started pulling episodes from streaming due to instances of blackface, but an otherwise silly episode like “Strike Too” will sour with a casual use of the word retarded. (The context is a teacher admonishing one offscreen high-school student not to apply it to another, but still, it feels like a scene that would be written differently now.) Other episodes will be rolling along with a perfectly innocuous A-plot anyone could enjoy when suddenly up will creep a gay-panic B-plot, generally revolving around Doug’s high-school friend Spence (Patton Oswalt) and his roommate, Doug’s cousin Danny (Gary Valentine). Sometimes it feels like these plots are edging toward being sneakily subversive, with the producers wondering what would happen if Danny and Spence acknowledged that the reason they act like a couple after years of cohabitation is that they might really both want to be in one together, but in the early and mid-2000s, network sitcoms — particularly on CBS — were certainly not ready to have that conversation.
But despite its blind spots and the creakiness of early episodes before producers and cast really locked in on what the characters would and should be, the reason I’ve watched The King of Queens so much — thank you, TV Land, for your nightly six-episode block, conveniently scheduled at bedtime — is that it’s funny. It just is! A man who ruins his own life by making ill-considered and entirely avoidable choices, and a woman who sabotages her own happiness by being a jerk who can never let anything go: These are two characters who are destined to create conflict with one another, and who will thus generate stories for the better part of a decade. But that never would have worked if not for the way the functional aspects of the leads’ relationship came into focus over time: Carrie fell for Doug because he’s sweet, sincere, fun, and unpretentious. Also, she may have had a hard time finding anyone else to marry her, because she can be mean as hell.
The King of Queens wasn’t a sitcom game-changer; it wasn’t out here trying to make the audience grunt knowingly in recognition of its cleverness or admire its innovation or actually, secretly, be about depression and trauma. It was trying to elicit hard laughs, and it got them; it still gets them from me on some episodes with jokes I know are coming.
Across its nine seasons, The King Of Queens aired 207 episodes; if you have 25 hours you need to fill, you could do much worse than the top 50 episodes, as ranked below.
All episodes of The King of Queens are currently streaming on Peacock.
“Cheap Saks” (Season 6, Episode 15)
Carrie meets Trish (Janeane Garofalo), an interesting woman who even works at Saks! Whoops, she’s an ex of Doug’s, and things didn’t end well: He slept with her even though he knew they didn’t have a future, then took money from her purse for a cab, then played a needy message she left him for a bunch of people, which she heard. Trish assures Doug that she’s okay with him now. Doug is relieved, and happy for Carrie that she’s made a wonderful new friend! But Carrie finds Trish unbearable and plans to ditch her right after the Saks friends and family sale. Doug lets Trish down easy, and it seems like she is going to be able to make a graceful and dignified exit from their lives. Then, Carrie plays her messages for Arthur’s walker Holly (Nicole Sullivan) … and Trish returns to hear it. Spence also makes a friend: he and Brett (Scott Atkinson) keep getting together socially, but Spence is pretty sure Brett is gay and doesn’t know why he isn’t hitting on Spence. He then ends up hitting on Brett, who rejects him, claiming not to be gay but then eyeing down a hotter guy on his way out of the movies. This plotline is, I would say, on the line of offensive; it feels reflexively gay-panicky for 2004, when it aired, and yet is also almost open-minded to such a degree that if it were airing now, Spence would just be bi and everyone would be fine with it, you know?
“Screwed Driver” (Season 4, Episode 19)
While Carrie is out of town, Doug’s parents, Joe (Dakin Matthews) and Janet (Jenny O’Hara), come to stay for a visit, and the resumption of their old living arrangement also causes the family to revert to their former dynamic. Doug blows off studying for an exam at IPS; when he fails, Janet essentially demands a parent-teacher meeting, just with her forty-something son’s manager at his full-time job. One could argue that Doug has spiritually been an adolescent for the entire four seasons we’ve known him to this point, but this episode blows his tendencies out into absurdity by portraying how easily he slides into acting like an actual 16-year-old, ignoring responsibilities and bellowing to his ma for snacks.
“Arthur, Spooner” (Season 5, Episode 1)
Carrie is assigned to manage several people organizing files for a big case at her law firm, but she hasn’t exactly been placed in charge of a dream team; Neal (Steve Hytner) thought he was going to be in charge and is going to stay bitter about it. Mary Lynn Rajskub’s Priscilla says she’s there because she’s in an abusive relationship and just needs somewhere safe to be at night. (This “joke” sours an episode that would have been ranked much higher without it.) For backup, Carrie eventually decides to bring in Holly, but when Holly does an unflattering impression of her, Carrie impetuously fires everyone. Meanwhile, Doug is pretty sure he’s not going to be able to fall asleep if Carrie’s not there. Given the many times we’ve seen Doug asleep alone on the couch, this seems unlikely, but anyway: he invites Arthur up for company while he watches TV in bed, and is out cold a minute later. For anyone whose sleep hygiene has developed disordered aspects with age, this is painfully relatable — and though you might expect gay panic in Doug’s realization that he wants to share his bed with Arthur, the nonsexual seduction techniques he employs on his elderly father-in-law are both funny and, given how rarely they get along, unexpectedly touching.
“Swim Neighbors” (Season 3, Episode 22)
A terrible storm knocks down the fence between the Heffernans’ and the Sackskys’ backyards, which the Sackskys take as an opportunity: there’s no need to rebuild it if they decide to turn their two yards into one big compound! Carrie pretends to consider it, then calls a fencing company to build one as high and as fast as is legally permitted. Tim (Bryan Cranston) and Dorothy (DeeDee Rescher) are offended, and take revenge by putting in an above-ground pool that allows them to peer right over Carrie’s extremely tall fence. Carrie tries to pursue legal remedies, but soon her friends, then Doug, and eventually even Carrie herself are seeking refuge from the relentless heat wave in the cool waters of the Sackskys’ pool. This arc of inchoate rage to shameful comeuppance is classic Carrie, and for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to have a backyard pool in our childhoods, it never quite stops being a signifier of ease and luxury. Combining those positive qualities with Carrie’s trademark spite make this a very memorable episode.
“Paint Misbehavin’” (Season 3, Episode 14)
Everyone’s getting together for a paintball party for Deacon’s birthday, but just about everyone has beef against everyone else. Spence is annoyed that Danny is worming his way into the gang. Doug’s sister Stephanie (Ricki Lake) is still pissed that Richie (Larry Romano) slept with her years ago and never called her. Doug and Kelly are both mad that Carrie thinks Deacon is hot. So it’s either the best or worst time for them all to be out in the woods shooting at each other. I can take or leave Eric Roberts’s guest turn as a paintball nut who’s just hanging around and joins the party so they’ll have even teams on both sides — an episode-ending tag that contrasts his steely energy on the paintball battlefield with his henpecked home life is a throwback to sitcom norms from decades earlier — but Doug taking a paintball pellet to save a bucket of chicken is an excellent climax.
“Icky Shuffle” (Season 6, Episode 23)
Arthur is fired up to win the senior center’s shuffleboard competition not only for the prize of assorted foot care products, but also to keep it from patrician jerk Philip Waldecott (William Daniels). Arthur enlists Doug to play with him, only to discover that Doug lacks the finesse required for the delicate game. By chance, Arthur learns that Spence had an impressive career as a youth shuffleboarder, but threw it away due to a dalliance between his mother Veronica (Anne Meara) and his coach. However, he lets Arthur talk him into playing again, only for history to repeat itself when Veronica and Arthur hook up — another L notched by perpetual victim Spence. Carrie, suffering a terrible cold, is pleasantly surprised when Holly brings her some restorative homemade soup. She then continues demanding more of Holly’s cooking, including after she is well and Holly has fallen ill. There’s not much to this plotline until Sullivan pulls out a notepad and starts writing down Carrie’s order like a waitress; I can’t resist an “Is Sprite okay?” gag.
“Flash Photography” (Season 5, Episode 8)
Bridesmaid Carrie is desperate to be done with the nuptials of Jake (David Eigenberg) and Samantha (Jennifer Aspen), Carrie’s most irritating friend. So it’s very inconvenient for Carrie when, the day after the wedding, someone finds a shot of a penis with a little top hat on it among the photos from the disposable cameras at the reception. (Kids: This is something we used to do in the early years of this millennium.) Jake accuses Danny, Samantha’s bitter ex, but in fact, the culprit is Doug. When it seems like Carrie agrees with him that something about the little top hats invites bits, he admits that his is the offending wang. He’s ready to confess for Danny’s sake, but she doesn’t think he should, primarily because she doesn’t think the shot is sufficiently flattering. “It’s not my behind, it’s my befront” remains an ageless laugh line for me, but even before Doug’s amateur modeling enters the story, this episode captures something we’re not supposed to admit: how awkward and tiresome other people’s weddings can be.
“Ruff Goin’” (Season 9, Episode 5)
Carrie doesn’t care that she, Doug, and Arthur are the only neighbors on their street not to have been invited to a block party, but Doug does, and tries to endear himself to Glenn (Tim Bagley) by volunteering to adopt a dog Glenn is fostering. Before long, the dog is as lazy as Doug, who lets Carrie convince him that the dog’s got to go. I would be a lot more upset by their solution of driving him several states away to let him loose if not for the fact that he just ends up right back at their door thanks to his microchip. The dog returns to Glenn’s care, and future block parties will now surely be safe from the Heffernans forever. A montage of Carrie resentfully caring for the dog includes a segment in which she spills an enormous bag of kibble on the floor that I wish had kicked off a national conversation on why that packaging has to be so unwieldy!
“Gambling N’Diction” (Season 8, Episode 13)
One of Carrie’s new managers, Sherry (Mindy Sterling), tells Carrie as politely as she can that Carrie is not going to advance at work because of her accent. Carrie, who seems to always to have suspected this, is despondent until Spence tells her that he can cure it. Cue the My Fair Lady sequence! It actually does work until Carrie finds herself cornered with a visiting Janet, whose broad Queens accent sprays Carrie with trigger words like “cawfee,” undoing all of Spence’s lessons. I love both that Remini embraces her accent, and that she was willing to goof on herself like this.
“Strike Out” (Season 3, Episode 7)
The IPS strike has been going on for weeks, and Carrie and Kelly decide to address their husbands’ shiftlessness by sending Deacon (with his infant son, Major) over to Doug’s for a play date. It starts out innocently enough, but soon the two striking drivers, the baby, and Arthur are out on the porch heckling neighbors and pranking motorists as they’re trying to park. They’ve pretty much escalated to the level of adult Dennis the Menaces preparing to harass any nearby Mr. Wilsons when, finally, they get word that the strike has ended. Though it lasts only three episodes, producers mined the strike for a lot of different kinds of material; we see how much more ambitious they get with a similar premise in season six when Carrie is out of work. Here, it’s just funny to see Doug and Arthur getting along while being dirtbags, knowing it can’t last.
“Departure Time” (Season 3, Episode 21)
Joe and Janet have such a long layover at the airport that everyone is going to come spend it with them at their gate, because it’s April 2001 and that’s something people can still do. Joe and Janet then reveal that there is actually real business to deal with: They have a living will detailing the circumstances under which they don’t want heroic measures taken to save their lives in case of a medical crisis, and they want Doug to sign it. Soft-hearted Doug is not ready to do it; when Stephanie offers to sign in his place, years’ worth of younger sibling (and boy-versus-girl) resentment is obvious in Janet’s dismissiveness of her as an option. Eventually, Doug comes around, but the groundwork laid here in terms of Doug’s worldview and his parents’ protectiveness of him comes to bear in future episodes.
“Awed Couple” (Season 7, Episode 8)
Kelly and Deacon have started spending more time with another couple who have kids, which means Doug and Carrie need to line up another go-to couple in their place. They try to meet people at a home improvement store, but Doug has no game so the Heffernans are forced back to the annoying Bergers, Neal (Craig Anton) and Marcy (Suzanne Cryer). When they’re all out at go-to hangout spot Cooper’s, Neal and Marcy’s friends the Koehlers, Marc (Scott Rabinowitz) and Renee (Kate Orsini), happen by the table and immediately vibe with Doug and Carrie. They hate book clubs! They love meat! Doug and Carrie try to hang out with Neal and Marcy exactly long enough to get the Koehlers’ phone number, but Marcy catches Carrie rifling through her address book on the Bergers’ boat and spitefully throws it in the water. Doug’s quick reflexes send him straight into the drink after it, but Marc and Renee are, sadly, one-off characters. This one will surely resonate with anyone who’s tried to make a friend past the age of, oh, 22.
“Damned Yanky” (Season 6, Episode 16)
Doug is in and out of consciousness after surgery on a burst appendix when Carrie, at his bedside, hears him making sexy overtures toward a bunch of different women and is offended that none of them are her. Under attack, Doug admits that Carrie never appears in his sexual fantasies: When he imagines any scenario in which he’s having sex with another woman, Carrie is dead. Carrie demands that he cease this practice immediately, even going so far as to script some premises for him herself in which she’s just absent. But Doug’s subconscious can’t be stopped. In general, fanciful episodes of this show are less effective for me than ones that remain grounded in reality, but “Damned Yanky” is an exception; the moment when Doug tries to crash the car Carrie’s riding in his dream, and Dream Carrie comes storming in to yell at him is great. (Is there also a through line from this episode to the decision to kill off the wife between seasons one and two on James’s next sitcom Kevin Can Wait? Discuss!)
“Golden Moldy” (Season 5, Episode 16)
Doug and Carrie are heading out the door for a Caribbean vacation they can barely afford when Arthur tells Doug about an overwhelming odor in the basement. Doug thinks he’s exaggerating until he goes down there, opens a panel, and nearly barfs from the smell. But there’s no time to deal with it, so he tells Arthur to get an estimate and leaves on the holiday he and Carrie have agreed they’re going to splurge on. Along with their neighbors Debi (Marcia Cross) and Mike (Michael Lowry), they book spa treatments and golf outings. Then Arthur calls and tells Doug the mold remediation is going to cost $7,000, and Doug can keep the secret no longer. It’s the start of a multi-episode arc, and it’s too bad for Mike and Debi that they got caught in it just when they thought they were about to be served Sizzling Lobster and got bologna on the beach instead — one of several hilariously obvious cost-cutting measures the Heffernans employ to save face with their fancier friends.
“Flame Resistant” (Season 5, Episode 7)
Doug’s high-school girlfriend Margy (Lola Glaudini) is back in town working as a server at Cooper’s when she runs into Carrie and Doug. Carrie has no problem with her at first ,but since Margy’s return coincides with a visit from Janet, Carrie is surprisingly hurt to find out her mother-in-law still wants to see Margy. Doug’s attempts to point out to Carrie that she doesn’t especially like spending one-on-one time with Janet don’t land, and — in an inversion of Doug’s quasi-romantic pursuit of Arthur in “Arthur, Spooner” — Carrie finally lets Janet know she regards the time Janet spends with Margy as disloyal to Carrie. At the same time, Doug is focused on proving to Margy that he really did finish writing her a song he told her he would (he didn’t). Carrie has just caught Janet at Margy’s when she hears Doug outside, serenading his ex. It’s a bad episode for Carrie, who is unaccustomed to rejection and thus not gracious about it, but a good episode overall.
“Window Pain” (Season 5, Episode Two)
Carrie is eager to make friends with their new next-door neighbors, Mike and Debi, who are polite, elegant lawyers — pretty much the polar opposite of the Sackskys they have replaced. She starts off badly when she realizes that the office window is open, allowing Mike and Debi, sitting quietly by their window, to hear a vicious fight between Carrie and Doug. Carrie must then start a doomed campaign to make Mike and Debi like them. Elsewhere, Arthur is bullying Spence into buzzing him through the turnstile at the subway station where Spence works. When Spence cuts him off, Arthur starts hopping the turnstile instead and gets caught. Doug’s making a scene out front when the cops bring Arthur back, under the new neighbors’ watchful eyes. Mike and Debi come around, but this is pretty much the worst first impression Carrie ever makes, and some of her least successful social climbing in the series.
“Queens’bro Bridge” (Season 5, Episode 22)
Carrie is casual as she tells Doug the lawyer’s calls Arthur’s been dodging are probably about that house he owns. Doug is aghast: Arthur owns a house and he isn’t living in it? Carrie explains that the house was left to Arthur and his estranged half-brother, Skitch (Shelley Berman). Doug makes it his mission to mend the rift between them, but Arthur was right to have avoided Skitch all these years: They haven’t even finished moving into the house before Skitch is bullying Arthur, who ends up back with Doug and Carrie. Given how tough Arthur is to deal with, his sworn enemy had to be a different kind of villain, and Skitch is a fully realized jerk and the worst kind of tormentor — a diabolically creative one; Berman plays him with great relish.
“Lush Life” (Season 4, Episode 20)
Doug is in the process of eating a piece of pizza forbidden on his new diet when Carrie comes back from an after-work get-together. He braces for a purple nerple, but she tells him to go ahead: She’s had a few drinks, and she’s pretty relaxed! Doug discovers that the secret to living with Carrie (or, to be precise, getting away with his own self-destructive behavior) is to ply her with drinks when she gets home. Arthur is upset when he figures out what’s going on, until he comprehends how it can also benefit him, and the two of them festively welcoming her home with a full bar is a great sight gag. The new cocktail hour tradition ends when neighbor Lou (Lou Ferrigno) dimes Doug and Arthur out to Carrie, which is a shame; Carrie actually did seem to be a lot more mellow. She even did some drunk skating! Seems fun!
“Missing Links” (Season 4, Episode 17)
It’s time for the annual trip, courtesy of Carrie’s law firm, to a very fancy golf course. Every previous year, Carrie and Doug have brought Kelly and Deacon, but at this point in the series, the Palmers are separated. Then Deacon and Doug meet Leslie (Angelle Brooks) at Cooper’s. All they know about her is that she thinks the guys are hilarious, and that’s enough to convince them that she has a great personality and should join their foursome. She is, predictably, a lot less interested in Carrie. Leslie is one of the best depictions of a “guy’s girl” I’ve ever seen on TV, and it’s a relief, as the episode goes on, when even Doug and Deacon start to get exhausted by her over-laughing everything they say and do.
“Walk, Man” (Season 4, Episode One)
After Carrie has a pregnancy loss in the season-three finale, she and Doug decide they may be ready to start trying to get pregnant again. The problem (per usual) is that Arthur is always around and they don’t have a lot of privacy. Spence has just hired Holly to walk his dog, so Doug and Carrie hire her to walk Arthur too, initially on the pretext that she’s a student and wants to hear his old war stories, though that quickly falls away. The arrangement works well at first, but then Doug gets annoyed that Carrie wants to use some of her Holly time on non-sex pursuits like exercise classes. Considering how Holly’s introduced to the show, it’s truly remarkable how much the show’s producers find for her to do, and when she leaves in season eight, she’s really missed!
“The Shmenkmans” (Season Two, Episode 18)
Finding a backup couple for Deacon and Kelly given the demands of their children, an endemic problem in the series, is first introduced here. Marc (Sean O’Bryan) and Abby (Elisa Taylor) are a perfect second-string couple, except that they may be using Doug and Carrie as their backups for another couple. Because the Shmenkmans are so vague about making plans, the Heffernans end up double-booked, and the Palmers and the Shmenkmans end up meeting at a casual brunch … where it seems like spending time with Deacon and Kelly’s children Kirby (Philip Bolden) and Major (sorry, uncredited infant!) may be changing Marc and Abby’s minds about whether they want to have kids too. As half of a childless couple, I feel for Doug and Carrie on this one. Stay in your lane, Shmenkmans! It’s a good lane!
“Fatty McButterpants” (Season 3, Episode 3)
We’re still early enough in the run of the series here that Carrie is concerned about hurting Doug’s feelings with regard to his weight: She’s been buying his clothes at big-and-tall shops and sneaking them into the house in department-store bags. Doug is mortified when he finds out, and when he asks her how much weight she thinks he should lose, he is even more irate to hear her estimate of 30 pounds. To retaliate, he tells her what aspects of her presentation he’d like her to work on: She should wear less makeup, change her raucous laugh, and disguise her large forehead. These are all, of course, ridiculous — and features of hers that he later admits he loves — and attacking her this way only sends him further down a self-esteem spiral. But the physical choices Remini makes to show Carrie addressing this feedback are gold.
“Nocturnal Omission” (Season 6, Episode 5)
Carrie has some very exciting news: Kelly has decided that she wants to reconcile with Deacon. She has received it at just about the worst possible time, though, since Deacon is about to go on a date with Melanie (Judith Shekoni), an extremely gorgeous British flight attendant. Carrie is very sure that they should tell Deacon about Kelly’s imminent return until she goes over to Deacon’s, actually meets Melanie, and thinks maybe Deacon should enjoy the date. Then Deacon finds her looking at photos of Kirby and Major, and that’s the end of that. Carrie’s turnaround on Melanie is the peak of the episode; whomst amongst us would not have a favorable opinion of the literal devil if he gave us first-class upgrade certificates?
“Clothes Encounter” (Season 5, Episode 21)
Having gone through the mold ordeal (see “Golden Moldy”) and some serious budget cuts, Doug and Carrie have paid off their credit cards in full. Doug thinks they each deserve to buy themselves a treat, and comes home with a harmonica. Carrie is dismayed to see what his idea of a treat is, because hers is a leather jacket. Bitterly, she returns it, and learns that the store’s policy means she could have kept it for a few more days. A scheme is born! Carrie gets very familiar with the return policies of various luxury shops, buying items with the intention of returning them, and if she gets a little rash on her arm from where she tucks the tags in, it’s a small price to pay for what Doug terms her “shopping bulimia”; her savant-like visualization of what item needs to go back where, and when is likened to John Nash of A Beautiful Mind, which honestly flatters them both. Doug is upset by Carrie’s dishonesty, but let’s be real: Carrie just invented Rent the Runway.
“Switch Sitters” (Season 6, Episode 14)
When Carrie returns Major (Desmond Roberts) and Kirby (now played by Omari Lyles) to their parents at the end of a babysitting visit, she jokes that maybe they could take Arthur off her and Doug’s hands every once in a while. Deacon shoots back that they’re going to give her a big fat no on that one, and everyone laughs, but after the Palmers have left, Doug wonders why it’s a joke. So the next time Doug and Carrie look after the kids, they declare that Arthur hasn’t eaten and hand him off, cheerfully telling the Palmers his dietary restrictions. The two couples then perpetrate their hostility toward one another via Arthur and the kids. Arthur gets spicy food that keeps him up in digestive distress? The kids get coffee. Arthur gets straight hot sauce? The kids get a scary story. The episode might be rated higher if the ultimate trump card wasn’t setting Kirby loose in Carrie’s makeup; talk, however gentle, about whether the pre-middle-school-age Kirby may be gay is one of the show’s more unfortunate running gags. However, the story does wrap up with a very funny scene where the couples negotiate over how often they’ll each take the other’s dependent(s) and under what circumstances, complete with offers written on napkins and slid across the table.
“Gorilla Warfare” (Season 7, Episode 13)
Doug hasn’t had a lot of great romantic moments in his relationship with Carrie, but he did get off one great line she never forgot: “You didn’t just save my life, Brown Eyes. You made my life worth saving.” She loves it so much that she’s bragged about it to the work friends who’ve come with her to get it engraved on a beer stein, which is why it’s especially embarrassing when the guy at the shop chuckles that he loves that movie too. What she thought was a Doug original is a line from a (fictional) movie called McCormick and JoJo, in which Erik Estrada, playing a cop, says it to his partner, a monkey. Doug’s attempts to top himself (or, really, to top Erik Estrada) stretch over the next several days, until Doug actually does land on a good line: “You’re not just who I love. You’re who I am.” Then before he can say it to Carrie, Danny steals it for Holly, whom he’s fallen in love with. Does Spence end up with the comically oversized “I WUV YOU” teddy bear Danny bought for Holly? You’re damn right he does. Carrie’s weariness at Doug’s desperation to top the movie line softening into tenderness when she sees the many drafts he went through is a rare sweet moment for them.
“Eggsit Strategy” (Season 6, Episode 8)
Deacon is proud of Kirby for buying a koosh ball with his own money and giving it to Deacon as a gift — so proud he’s brought it to work to show off. Naturally, everyone wants to have a toss with it, including Supervisor O’Boyle (Sam McMurray), which is how it ends up locked in his office. Deacon is upset to have lost his son’s precious gift and refuses to let Doug replace it. I get it, but also, don’t bring it to work? It’s a shipping company! It could have fallen into a box and gone anywhere! Doug’s stress pales in comparison to Carrie’s, since the firm is getting rid of some of the dead wood and her boss, Doug Pruzan (Alex Skuby), is the deadest wood there. She scrambles to find out whether she’ll have a job after he gets canned, and has little patience for his constant questions about the omelet bar he’s going to pay for himself to make it look like he resigned and this is the firm’s generous sendoff for him. But a senior partner’s vague assurance that Carrie’s going to be fine turns out to be meaningless, and Carrie loses it at Pruzan’s farewell brunch: “Where’s my omelet bar?” This one’s memorable as the kickoff for Carrie’s unemployment arc, but also for the way it caps off her many fruitless years of trying to climb the ladder at the firm. An omelet bar is really the least they owe her.
“Secret Garden” (Season 6, Episode 7)
Judge Reinhold plays Dr. Crawford, a legendarily sought-after gynecologist, from whose waitlist Carrie’s just been promoted to patient. She has the bad luck of visiting his office the same week Danny launched his landscaping business, and Dr. Crawford hires him after seeing one of Danny’s flyers under Carrie’s bag. When Danny way overshoots the estimate, Carrie is so paranoid about getting dropped as a patient due to their connection that she tells Doug she wants them to pay the difference. Doug does not approve of this plan, but when Deacon leans on him — Kelly referred Carrie and doesn’t want to get dropped due to Kelly’s connection to her — he agrees. Then Danny takes on a bigger job, and since Dr. Crawford didn’t seem to have a problem paying double the estimate, he thought he’d try giving triple a shot. Over his head, Danny goes on the run, leaving the inexperienced Palmers and the Heffernans to try to fix the landscaping under cover of night. Doug peeking in the window and gasping “HE’S GOT VAGINAS IN JARS” is the episode’s best and silliest line. (They’re peaches.)
“Thanks, Man” (Season 6, Episode 9)
Everyone has gathered at the Heffernans’ for Thanksgiving dinner when a stranger (Nick Offerman) comes to the door asking to use the phone. Carrie suspiciously asks him to wait outside, but as the day wears on, her guests grow increasingly empathetic toward the man and curious about him. Eventually, everyone has drifted outside to keep him company; even Carrie, the last holdout, makes her way to the porch in the end. Once everyone is outside, the stranger innocently pops into the house … and before you know it, the cops are there and everyone is reporting what he stole while he had locked them all out. The last shot is known convict lover Holly visiting the stranger in jail, a perfect ending to the saga which, by vindicating Carrie’s distrust, subverts the usual Thanksgiving episode treacle.
“Double Downer” (Season 4, Episode 14)
After reading an article about relationship tentpoles, Carrie wants to go salsa dancing, like she and Doug did on their second date, but Doug counters with an idea about creating a whole new tentpole by going to Atlantic City with Deacon and Kelly, as Deacon wants him to. It does seem like it’s going to be fun until they actually get to the hotel and discover that the Palmer’s aren’t there, but O’Boyle — who overheard Doug and Deacon discussing the trip — has invited himself along. When he seems to realize that he’s encroaching on a young couple’s good time and offers to leave, Doug reflexively tells him not to. And when Deacon does make it there, full of manic energy, he announces that Kelly’s not coming because she has left him due to a lack of tentpoles in their relationship. The episode has a carefully plotted cringe build, and McMurray’s performance as O’Boyle is never better than it is here.
“Jung Frankenstein” (Season 5, Episode 12)
Doug’s attempt to address his disordered eating through therapy has led him to Dr. Wagner (Dave Foley). Dr. Wagner is so effective that Carrie can’t help taking him aside and giving him her own list of Doug’s bad habits she’d like him to fix — her husband should watch less TV, do some things differently in bed, and so on. Even Deacon gets in on the act with a list of his own. Foley is excellent playing the conflict between his own talent as a shrink and his moral qualms about steering Doug toward concerns that aren’t actually his own … but maybe should be.
“Dreading Vows” (Season 6, Episode 4)
Doug and Carrie are out for dinner at a restaurant on a picturesque bluff when they’re so moved with love for each other that they decide to renew their vows there. Before long, they realize that planning a ceremony like this is practically the same amount of work as planning an actual wedding — Carrie’s irritation at a snooty flautist (not flutist) she then has to put on hold is a high point of the early going here — and with reluctance and then huge relief, they both admit they don’t actually want to go through with it. Everyone in their lives decides this means their marriage is on the rocks, and the plan is back on just to shut everyone up. Danny is psyched about getting to be Doug’s best man this time until he spots Carrie coming up the aisle with the one thing for which Doug most wanted a do-over: a chimp attendant. (We never find out if Doug also tells this guy that he made Doug’s life worth living.)
“Vocal Discord” (Season 8, Episode 2)
The voice transcribing software Carrie is using for work is operating when Carrie and Doug have a savage fight; later seeing the transcript of their scrap is sobering, but not so much that they want to seek help officially. Remembering that their neighbor Glenn is a therapist, they pass on the transcript for informal advice and try to apply his recommendations, but not very hard. At the same time, Arthur finds the transcript and decides it’s more compelling than any of the two-hander plays he could put up at the senior center; when Doug and Carrie see him and his co-star (Charlotte Rae) performing their fight onstage, they’re strangely proud of their quick wits and bon mots, particularly when the audience also laughs at them. It’s one of the meaner episodes, but seeing the argument re-contextualized as a play takes out some of the sting. Plus: Mrs. Garrett!
“Trash Talker” (Season 6, Episode 18)
Deacon has a new friend: another dad named Sean McGee (Jon Favreau). When Deacon introduces Doug, he learns that Doug and Sean went to elementary school together, where Sean became Doug’s archenemy by spreading a story that he’d seen Doug lick a trash-can lid. (Everyone wants to know if Doug did it; he insists he didn’t.) Carrie finds the whole “archenemy” thing faintly silly, but as someone with her own list of vendettas, she agrees to make Doug’s foes her own — that is, until she finds out that Sean is a lawyer and might have a job for her. Doug takes his feelings of betrayal out on Sean at Major’s birthday party, where they come to blows in the ball pit. It’s hard to say who’s the winner when they both probably have E. coli now, but anyway, Sean’s a one-and-done, freeing Favreau up for very, VERY early pre-production on The Mandalorian 15 years later. Sometimes an episode like this will have a tag that answers an earlier question with a flashback, but this one doesn’t — leaving it forever a mystery whether Doug DID lick that trash-can lid may be this episode’s slyest choice.
“Slippery Slope” (Season 7, Episode 21)
Doug’s seemingly thoughtful gesture of taking Carrie away for a ski weekend turns out not to be very thoughtful at all when she learns that there are strings attached: The hosts are a time-share company, and the Heffernans will be expected to sit through a sales presentation, in exchange for which they’ll receive a TV. Carrie is terrified of Doug getting separated from her since he is eminently susceptible to a high-pressure sales pitch, and commiserates about it with another couple … who turn out to be plants running a highly sophisticated game on Carrie. Spence and Danny have also come to try to get this TV and are sternly advised against pursuing it due to the family-friendly nature of this suite of resorts, which is why I’m less angry than I might be otherwise that they seem to be going to Vermont to get married largely to demand the free TV they think they are owed. Go ahead and scam the homophobic corporation and then get an annulment, I say.
“Awful Bigamy” (Season 6, Episode 24)
Holly is temporarily staying with the Heffernans at a bad time for Doug: Carrie is cloistered in her home office on a project, and Doug is nervous about spending one-on-one time with Holly. He breaks the ice by telling her a funny work story Carrie had no time for, and Holly continues to endear herself to him by cooking for him. Doug gets all the company and treats he needs from Holly, and then when Carrie gets blocked on her project, she grabs Doug for sex. Between Downstairs Wife and Upstairs Wife, he’s got a pretty good thing going on. Arthur is tired of sharing the basement with Holly, though, and seems close to snitching on Doug to Carrie, but Doug ruins his own scam before long, adding Coliseum Wife to the mix. Nicole Sullivan and Kevin James didn’t generally get a lot of scenes together, so it’s fun to see their comic energies bouncing off each other here.
“Inn Escapable” (Season 8, Episode 7)
Doug takes Carrie on a surprise vacation to a family-run B&B. It seems clear why the place is on the verge of closing: the Heffernans are the only guests, and yet the owner is in the bathtub off Doug and Carre’s room when they check in. At dinner — where they learn they’ve been served poultry that was just defrosted in that very same tub — Doug and Carrie find out the couple blames the failure of their business on the opening of a Hyatt nearby. Obviously Carrie wants to get over there immediately, but she has enough decency (barely) to try to sneak out. Their car is blocked in, so Doug and Carrie take off on foot, and only Carrie makes it to freedom, leaving Doug to be discovered by their hosts and trapped. Seeing Carrie living out loud on the dance floor at the Hyatt’s surprisingly lively nightclub is a joy in contrast to Doug’s misery of forced cat interaction and unsanitary meal prep conditions. When Carrie comes back to retrieve Doug the next day, he’s ready to throw in his lot with their hosts out of spite until he finds a ham in the tub. Hotels forever, B&Bs never. This episode shows why.
“Sold-y Locks” (Season 8, Episode 18)
A stranger eyeing down Carrie in a restaurant turns out not to be hitting on her: He’s interested in buying her hair for a wig — something that will earn her enough money for her and Doug to go on a cruise with Deacon and Kelly. There’s absolutely a way to give Leah Remini a flattering pixie cut, but what Carrie gets isn’t it; when Doug likens her to Moe of the Three Stooges, he’s not wrong. Everyone pretends to agree with Carrie about her sassy, avant-garde new look, but finally Doug admits he hates it and gets her a wig from the cruise performers’ dressing room. When Carrie then has too much fun with her new look, Doug gets jealous and petty. Robert Goulet is the perfect guest star to play himself as a cruise performer, and to react to Carrie’s insane new haircut. Closing the episode with the romance novel-worthy wig on Doug’s head is a wonderful bonus.
“Food Fight” (Season 4, Episode 13)
Spence’s new girlfriend, Becky (Christen Sussin), is a culinary student, and since Spence has a myriad of food allergies and can’t test everything she makes, she needs a guinea pig. Enter Doug! This is a new take on Carrie being jealous of the attention other women pay her husband, and he them: Carrie gets very territorial about Doug when she hears how effusive he is about Becky’s cooking. After initially forbidding him from eating Becky’s food, Carrie eventually backs down and invites Becky and Spence for dinner, and though she explicitly ordered Becky not to make anything, Becky couldn’t help herself and made a salad. Carrie makes sure Doug doesn’t eat it at the table, but catches him in the kitchen scooping up bits of dressing and cheese off the bowl with his finger. She could understand him defying her for fudge or a calzone, but salad?! Becky, who is lucky to get out of this episode alive, is a great foil for Carrie, so it’s a pity this is the only episode Sussin appears in.
“Bed Spread” (Season 5, Episode 25)
Doug and Carrie have to replace their mattress, but while they wait for it to be delivered, they’re going to have to sleep on some loaner twin beds. When it proves impractical to push them together due to casters on the legs, they decide to sleep separately for the time being, and are both astonished to learn that … they love it? Soon they’re splitting up all kinds of activities — eating apart, seeing different movies, and even considering separate vacations. They’ve gotten just a little too comfortable with all the time they’re spending apart when they find out their new bed is about to be delivered — apparently too late for Lou the gossip not to have spread their private business all over the neighborhood. Though it makes sense that Doug and Carrie enjoy pursuing their individual interests (and this is not the only episode on this list in which they do), the episode nicely balances the comedy of their lives apart and the sweetness of their reunion once they realize they miss each other.
“Steve Moscow” (Season 5, Episode 18)
Doug and Carrie hire the area’s foremost contractor, Steve (Charles Rocket), to fix their mold problem. Unfortunately, the contractors come and go as they please. On site, they make messes and get in everyone’s business. Carrie makes Doug ingratiate himself to Steve and his crew by going over to their offices with vodka and drinking it with them at their request so that the Heffernan job will stay at the top of their list. When this is only a temporary solution, Doug begs Carrie to fight her natural instinct to scream at Steve until the crew is totally done — and the fact that “Pavel broke your toilet” is the last thing one technician tells Doug on the way out the door is exactly the fuel Carrie needs to unleash all the hell she’s been holding in. It’s glorious, particularly for anyone who’s ever endured a home improvement job by unreliable contractors; one senses that several writers contributed hellish experiences from their own lives to flesh out the episode.
“Offensive Fowl” (Season 9, Episode 8)
Doug almost strikes a chicken with his truck, which turns out to be a pivot point for him: he develops such feelings of tenderness toward it that he becomes a vegetarian, which then leads to a general intellectual and empathetic awakening across all areas of his life. Carrie is not sure how to deal with this, other than to be annoyed about being forced to eat meat on the sly. Her sneaking food reverses the balance of power in their relationship in a way we haven’t seen before. It’s very funny seeing what an enlightened version of Doug is like, but of course it’s not meant to be, as the intermittent cutaways to fast-food company war rooms developing new products to tempt him — maybe him specifically — remind us.
“Dog Shelter” (Season 5, Episode 23)
While visiting Joe and Janet, Carrie is surprised to see a home movie of Doug’s dog, Rocky — also present in this very condo — at a picnic for the United States Bicentennial. Eventually the truth comes out: This is not the original Rocky; it is, in fact, Rocky IV. That’s not all: Doug repeated kindergarten. And he was born in Canada. Carrie encourages Janet and Joe not to shield Doug from difficult truths, in which spirit Janet tells Carrie a harsh truth she’s kept from her: one of the previous Rockys died when Carrie left a door open, Rocky got out, and “a gator got her.” (This sounds especially folksy in Jenny O’Hara’s accent.) Carrie is horrified, Doug is upset, and everyone agrees that truth is overrated, closing the episode by singing happy birthday to whichever Rocky this is. Every time we see Doug with his parents like this, we appreciate how he became the character we have come to know as an adult: It’s not that they did a bad job, but their excessive coddling definitely had its effects!
“Life Sentence” (Season 4, Episode 8)
After Arthur has a heart ischemia, Carrie installs a nanny cam in the basement, for his safety; it’s accessible in its own closed-circuit TV channel, which Doug’s friends discover by chance while flipping around in the garage and find strangely hypnotic. Second, she and Doug review their life insurance arrangements so that Arthur is provided for in the event that one or both of them dies before him. In their first conversation with Bill (Frantz Turner), the insurance agent, Carrie says that of course if she dies first, Arthur will continue living in the house, but hearing it laid out that way comes as a shock to Doug, who reluctantly agrees to her plan. Bill returns the next day with papers, and while Spence, Danny, and Deacon watch the nanny cam feed, Doug finds a pack of cigarettes in Carrie’s purse. He confronts her about deliberately taking up smoking again so that she will die first and stick him with Arthur, then grabs a nearby can of whipped cream and sprays it straight into his mouth to beat her to the grave. Arthur finally stops their nonsense, and as the guys watch, rapt, the three apologize and hug on it. “That was the best one ever,” says Spence, teary. “I’m just glad they finally added a Black guy,” says Deacon. So much heart and a sharp parody of reality TV — a much richer text than it seems on first glance!
Jerry Stiller was obviously a comic genius, but like his previous role — George’s father Frank Costanza on Seinfeld — Arthur could be less a character than a collection of quirks that would arise and fall away as the plot required. He’s most effective in episodes like this, which treat his daughter and son-in-law’s complicated feelings about him seriously … while also showing the audience how challenging it would be to live with someone like him.
“Eddie Money” (Season 4, Episode 23)
Over Carrie’s express orders, Doug takes $100 out of the kitchen cash can to join a boxing pool at work … and wins $5,000! His celebration is short-lived, though: He can’t tell her he won without admitting that he went behind her back. So he and Deacon set about trying to blow the whole wad in one day — including hiring the titular Eddie Money to come play for them in the living room. It’s hard to spend that much cash, particularly on a deadline, but Doug just makes it … and then realizes he forgot to put back the original $100 he took. A perfect dumb button to a very idiotic plot, but this show is particularly good at montages — all the show’s performers really excel at silent comic acting over well-chosen needle drops — and seeing the characters really ball out through one only to realize they’ve barely spent 20 percent of their wad is a great use of the form.
“Home Cheapo” (Season 9, Episode 7)
Doug and Carrie are absolutely blindsided by the news that Deacon and Kelly have bought a vacation home. Instead of being happy for them, they start speculating about exactly how the Palmers could afford it, thinking back on all the times Kelly and Deacon have slipped out on paying bills when the four have been out for meals. A trip to the house only makes Doug and Carrie more envious about the beautiful new property, and suspicious about where the money to buy it could have come from; the more they clamp down their usual generosity, the more Kelly and Deacon comment amongst themselves on how cheap Doug and Carrie are. Carrie’s innate spitefulness turned against Kelly and Deacon always makes for good material, especially here, as envy is paired with the always touchy subject of money. The kicker: Carrie’s guess was right and the down payment did come from a settlement on Kelly’s botched boob job.
“Four Play” (Season 8, Episode 20)
The Palmers and Heffernans, out at the movies, can’t agree on whether to see a thoughtful foreign film or a dumb action movie. Suddenly, the solution seems obvious: Deacon and Carrie can go to the former, and Kelly and Doug the latter! The two new pairs keep finding more and more activities they enjoy doing together: Deacon and Carrie want to go salsa dancing; Doug and Kelly would rather eat salsa and chips. While the aforementioned “Paint Misbehavin” addresses Carrie’s physical attraction to Deacon, “Four Play” is the first time we’ve seen any inkling that Kelly and Doug have a lot in common, and since Doug’s interests tend to be childish, there’s something to be said for the Sliding Doors reality in which Doug does marry Kelly and become Kirby and Major’s stepdad. Unfortunately, Kelly soon gets sick of Doug. He gets pouty and refuses to go anywhere with her, but doesn’t enjoy glomming on to Carrie and Deacon’s intellectual pursuits either. Before it all falls apart, however, the montage of the new couples’ various new activities is delightful, and it’s remarkable that, this far into the show’s run, the writers are still finding new dimensions to explore in the couples’ friendship.
“Pour Judgment” (Season 7, Episode 11)
Yet another opportunity to move up the ranks at IPS leads Doug to admit to Carrie that he did once have a dream he gave up on: When he was a bouncer, he had a chance to fill in as a bartender, but couldn’t keep up with the pace, and abandoned his fantasies of Cocktail-ish glory. But now he’s ready to sign up for bartending school! As we see in a training montage set to “Kokomo” — what else? — Doug does learn. After his first night at Cooper’s, where no one wants his advice and nothing sexy or glamorous happens, Doug is ready to give up again, but when he empties his pockets of tips and Carrie sees how much he made in just one night at a crappy bar in Queens, she urges him to get a job in Manhattan. Doug washes out when he gets an eyeful of a strobe light and smashes a shelf of glasses … then also washes out on the IPS aptitude test. But hey: His tough yet fair bartending instructor, Luke (Eric Allan Kramer), gave him a hug, so he did get something out of this escapade! I know Kramer was a series regular on Lodge 49 (RIP), but cast him in something else, someone, please; he is so funny.
“Connect Four” (Season 5, Episode 9)
Carrie gets four tickets for a month’s worth of Knicks games, and with the Palmers still separated, she and Doug need to find a new couple to take. Her first suggestion is her friend Elly (Jenica Bergere), because she didn’t know Elly’s husband Stuart (John McCann) has several decades on everyone else in their party. Doug then offers up his co-worker Eddie (Eddie McClintock), but Carrie doesn’t vibe with Eddie’s girlfriend Simone (Judy Prescott), whose only topics of conversation are her odd-sized breasts and tiny vagina. Then comes the fateful day: Eddie’s available for a game, but not Simone; Elly’s available, but not Stuart. What if Elly and Eddie came? The four of them get along so well that Doug and Carrie can’t stop thinking about Eddie and Elly becoming a couple on a more permanent basis, and set about trying to get them to break up with their current partners. Carrie’s adrenalized babbling and sudden craving for steak after returning from planting the seed in Elly to dump Stuart is wonderful — and for the episode to end with Eddie and Elly then trying to set Carrie up with a friend of Eddie’s feels like the logical next step. It’s easy to imagine Eddie and Elly as the protagonists of their own parallel sitcom, shit-talking the Heffernans’ seemingly terrible marriage behind their backs and running their own scheme to split up Carrie and Doug for their own selfish purposes.
“Present Tense” (Season 8, Episode 17)
At the party for Doug and Carrie’s 11th wedding anniversary, Deacon and Kelly are excited to present the couple with a very special gift: a wildly unflattering oil painting of the Heffernans. Doug and Carrie don’t plan to keep it, given that Carrie’s right forearm and hand are gigantic, while Doug has enormous buck teeth. Deacon insists on helping Doug hang the painting prominently. Since Danny and Spence are always looking to move up the friendship ranks, Doug and Carrie arrange for them to stage a break-in in which the house is “robbed” of the painting. Soon, we learn the painting was part of a scheme the Palmers had hatched: Doug and Carrie previously gave them a set of borderline racist “Harlem Jazz” figurines for their anniversary, and Deacon and Kelly had been hoping to induce Doug and Carrie to admit they hated the painting so that they could say the same about the musicians. Knowing Doug and Carrie faked the break-in, the Palmers return to the artist for a replacement — this time, giving Carrie tiny raisin eyes, while Doug looks spectacular. Deacon is sure turning them against each other will force the situation to a head, but the Heffernans would rather flee than fight, so the Palmers just blurt that they hate the jazz guys. Carrie snatches them up, bitterly saying they have lots of other Black friends who would love them and, as she storms out, Doug silently shrugs and mouths, “No, we don’t” — a tiny choice that still makes me literally LOL after having seen this episode at least a dozen times. The feud is short-lived, however, as a game of Truth or Dare Jenga with the annoying friendship try-hards Spence and Danny sends them back to the Palmers.
The King of Queens was surely sold on the premise of a man living with his intolerable father-in-law, but Arthur doesn’t appear in this one at all, and by this point in the run, viewers might not have even noticed, given how strong the chemistry was among Kevin James, Leah Remini, Merrin Dungey, and Victor Williams. “Present Tense” is a wonderfully absurd story about how easily kindness can slide into passive-aggression, as the vicissitudes of longstanding couple friendships remains one of this show’s very strongest suits.