The King Of Queens stars KEVIN JAMES as Doug Heffernan, LEAH REMINI as Carrie Heffernan, and Jerry Stiller as ARTHUR SPOONER.
The seventh season of The King Of Queens is stronger than the two following. This seems obvious — most shows past their peak tend to decline on a bell curve. However, I get the impression that this is far from universally believed. In fact, prior to my survey of the series for these posts, I thought the contrary: that Eight and Nine were stronger than Seven. Why? Because the last two years are flashier and, as a casual observer, I bought into the accompanying hype about their value. While the final year contains the series’ emotional resolution and adds narrative momentum that provides a sense of purpose seldom before seen, Eight boasts a handful of well-liked, big-laugh-getting Victories In Premise — episodic triumphs that are easier to spot and enjoy. Now, Seven isn’t completely devoid of classics, but I don’t think many fans would argue that there are more gems, and shinier gems, in at least six or seven of the other seasons, Eight included. Again, you may ask “why?” Well, some attribute Seven’s muted excellence — and coming after Six, a peak adjacent year, this decline is noticeable — to changes in the creative personnel. Creator Michael J. Weithorn had taken a step back, as had executive producers Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldmsith. But the year’s change in quality is perhaps not directly attributable to these behind-the-scenes moves, for although there is a definite, albeit intangible, shift in sensibility, it’s not totally new; what we see here is basically an acceleration of a trend that we’ve been tracking since at least Season Five: the dominance of the comedic idea over specifically character-rooted exploration. It’s what made Season Six not worthy of being associated with Four and Five, and it’s what makes Seven even more of a comedown from Six… As usual, I think the episodic selections speak for themselves, but I want to describe what I mean, for The King Of Queens has never been a terrifically character-driven show — it’s always been a little bit more obsessed with funny notions. And yet, there’s a difference between a comedic idea that stems from the characters and one that doesn’t.
That is, there are episodes like “Furious Gorge” (my MVE) that could only exist with regulars such as Doug and Carrie, dealing with elements of their personas that are unique and attached to the central thesis. And then there are episodes like “Slippery Slope” that put the two into situationally funny scenarios that could essentially work with any set of characters; we’d not only find the idea funny regardless, we’d even find it funny on, say, Still Standing. To wit, I think there’s a misunderstanding this year about the function of Doug and Carrie’s flaws. As we’ve seen, showing them both as imperfect has been a way to suggest that they’re a perfect match, no matter what anyone thinks. But stories that see the two behaving badly — like the indignant misanthropes of late Larry David-era Seinfeld — while failing to make the necessary connection regarding their coupling, are dramatically limp. That means, entries such as “Silent Mite,” where a regular is led to be exaggeratedly disagreeable just because the amusing story demands it, are no more rooted in character than any other plot that bends their depictions accordingly. Yet, as with the comic broadening that goes along with the rise of all these Victories In Premise, we’ve always expected Queens to have this unideal narrative focus. Our concern, then, is more acute: it’s the disconnect with character — the fact that Seven’s narrative heightening isn’t motivated through them or often asks for more than their personas can believably allow… However, there’s some good news here. With Remini no longer pregnant and James heavier again, Doug/Carrie get as much — if not more — face-to-face time than they did last year. (Okay, the last third or so of this season isn’t great, as unmotivated ideas take over, but otherwise, the rest of the year is Doug/Carrie-heavy.) Overall, then, I’d say that Seven’s funny-but-non-specific ideas, which are guiding the year’s interests unfavorably, are STILL more character-rooted than Eight’s and Nine’s. And that’s ultimately why I consider Seven a better year… So, on this note, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this season’s finest.
01) Episode 150: “Lost Vegas” (Aired: 10/27/04)
Doug hopes to butter up Carrie so that he can be rewarded with a weekend away.
Written by Tom Hertz | Directed by Rob Schiller
Don’t be fooled by the late October airdate — this is the season premiere. Still in its Wednesday slot, Queens‘ opener was pushed back several times (to avoid competition from special events) until it finally returned the day before November Sweeps. This entry is a simple Victory In Premise, but it’s not as funny as some of the ridiculous Honorable Mentions featured below. Rather, this premise is victorious because it’s suited to the leads, as Doug is scheming on his wife — catering to Carrie so that he can get “credit” from her that he can use to go have a guys weekend. There are a couple of great moments — particularly in the climactic scene where Doug refuses to waste his “credit” on sex with Carrie and confesses to the plan — but really, this is a more low-key affair, and I highlight it here both because of its aforementioned viability for the series/characters (yes, it’s something of a general husband/wife premise, yet there are enough character details to make it seem right for Queens specifically), and because it represents the first half of the season’s Doug/Carrie focus, which is welcome after Six.
02) Episode 152: “Furious Gorge” (Aired: 11/10/04)
Instead of going to an overeaters group, Doug secretly attends a meeting for abused men.
Written by Ilana Wernick | Directed by Rob Schiller
My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Furious Gorge” is probably the most straightforward exploration of the series’ thesis outside of the two-season peak. With a premise that is built entirely around the established personality flaws of Doug and Carrie, this is the type of story that could only happen on The King Of Queens, and as we’ve explored, this is a crowning achievement based on the year’s less commendable storytelling standards. But the idea is a natural triumph, for when Carrie forces Doug to attend a support group for overeaters, his flaws — namely his weakness for food and his penchant for deceit — lead him across the hall to another meeting where the snacks are better: a support group for men in abusive relationships. Doug finds comfort both in the group’s donuts and from their encouraging belief in his tales of woe regarding Carrie and how she “abuses” him. If this seems like a sensitive subject, keep in mind that the script doesn’t let Doug get away with minimizing it, because Carrie quickly finds out about his secret meetings and goes down to give him (and the group) a figurative kick in the keister… Here, though, there’s an outstanding comedic irony, for the story relies upon Carrie’s outrageous temper, which both gives credence to Doug’s spin and guarantees that, even though she’s in the right and Doug’s in the wrong, she’s still not convincing the folks in Doug’s group that she’s NOT everything he said because she does figuratively kick him in the keister a lot… So, this is riotous fun: bold in the way that many of this year’s stories are, but channeled through character. Thus, this was an easy MVE pick: classic King Of Queens.
03) Episode 154: “Name Dropper” (Aired: 12/01/04)
Doug fakes a heart attack to get out of an uncomfortable situation in Carrie’s office.
Written by Rock Reuben | Directed by Rob Schiller
As is probably true with every entry highlighted this week, “Name Dropper” is a basic Victory In Premise and no matter what other strengths exist within its execution, it starts with a funny idea that any sitcom would be glad to have… theoretically; as long as it was appropriate for the characters, which is the case here. That is, this premise — despite its guiding point of interest — is a cut above many of the year’s other offerings for it’s, again, the kind of show that probably couldn’t work without the particulars of this series and these characters, as Doug’s propensity to scheme to get his way and/or avoid an uncomfortable situation is what motivates the plot. (This week, Doug forgets the name of one of Carrie’s co-workers, played by Suzy Nakamura, and instead of asking for her name again while introducing her to Arthur, he fakes a heart attack.) It would be a gaudier and more gimmicky premise if this kind of behavior wasn’t in keeping with Doug and his established persona but it is, and the idea is further supported by a thesis-adjacent truth about Carrie being embarrassed by Doug in public, which goes back to the way society views them and how they view their own value within the relationship. One of Seven’s best.
04) Episode 158: “Cologne Ranger” (Aired: 01/12/05)
Doug refuses to stop wearing a cologne that Carrie doesn’t like.
Written by Rock Reuben | Directed by Andrew D. Weyman
What I like best about this outing — aside from the typical “it’s funny and it works for the characters” — is that, in an idea-driven year, it’s a concept that not only avoids being uncomfortably big (unlike some of the Honorable Mentions below), it’s also something that I haven’t seen before. I mean, don’t get me wrong — as a husband/wife show in an era overrun with them and within a genre (the situation comedy) that has ALWAYS been propelled by them, we’ve seen this category before: the battle of wills, which is what this installment ultimately ends up being. But I don’t think we’ve seen a disagreement about a partner’s choice in cologne: an everyday, relatable conflict that is then of course magnified thanks to both characters’ quirks and shortcomings — like Carrie’s temper and her possessiveness of Doug (which stems from her belief that she’s better than him), and Doug’s need for validation (which he gets from other women courtesy of his new scent), and, once again, his impulse to lie instead of being honest. Accordingly, this is an example of a show that maybe could exist on another husband/wife series, but if so, wouldn’t be handled as well, and wouldn’t be handled in a similar way, for the episode is marinated in the known traits of our central players. This is another favorite.
05) Episode 159: “Domestic Disturbance” (Aired: 01/19/05)
Doug hires his own housekeeper after he doesn’t like the one Carrie picked.
Written by Tony Sheehan | Directed by Ken Whittingham
This is another battle of wills between Doug and Carrie, and before I get into why I enjoy it so much, I want to reiterate again how gratifying it is that this year has no shortage of entries that set their sights exclusively on the central couple, putting the two in conflict with each other (or the world), and even if some of these ideas are sparked externally, the way their plots unfold typically rely on the characterizations and their flaws. (Season Six may have been better overall, with ideas that themselves felt more attached to character, but Seven has an edge as it pertains to the Doug/Carrie focus.) With all that noted, this clash involves the hiring of maids, and after Carrie refuses to fire her recent selection, Doug decides that he’ll hire one of his own: Veronica (Anne Meara), Spence’s mom… Okay, this is convenient and may sound like a “typical sitcom” premise, yet I think the teleplay is funny enough to justify the development, both because the ensemble is well-used (including Spence), and also because it engages Arthur so hilariously, as he finds himself attracted to Veronica… but only when she’s in the middle of her domestic duties (which, needless to say, she’s terrible at doing, anyway). So, it’s a fun one.
06) Episode 160: “Pour Judgment” (Aired: 01/26/05)
Doug reignites an old dream of being a bartender.
Written by Owen Ellickson | Directed by Rob Schiller
Although I think this overrated outing leads more with its situational premise mechanics more than the ones highlighted above do, there’s still some relevance for character underscoring its existence… at least in the A-story, where Carrie pushes Doug to do more with his life, which he takes to mean revisiting a long-held dream of becoming a bartender. Naturally, Carrie balks until she realizes how much more money he’ll be making on tips, and just as he wants to quit, she’s encouraging him to keep it going. It’s a routine idea — and I typically don’t like stories with big centerpieces outside of our main sets (they feel less character-rooted because they immediately become bigger) — but this central drama between Carrie and Doug hits right to the heart of their concerns about their own compatibility, and it’s precisely this kind of conflict that will motivate the last few offerings of the final season, where Carrie’s dream for MORE in her life (including a move to NYC, which is mentioned here), is used to symbolize the central tension regarding their mutual fears that she settled with him. Also, most fans enjoy the Arthur subplot — he’s running for office at the senior center — but I see it as a more situational attempt to comedically best a stronger Arthur/Deacon subplot from last year’s “Affidavit Justice.”
07) Episode 161: “Gym Neighbors” (Aired: 02/09/05)
Doug lies to Carrie about working out with Lou Ferrigno.
Written by David Bickel | Directed by Rob Schiller
I get the impression that some of this entry’s popularity is based on the metatheatrical subplot in which footage from Jerry Stiller’s 1976 appearance on The $10,000 Pyramid is edited and passed off as the time that Arthur went on the show and won big. (A warm-up for next season’s “Acting Out.”) It’s the kind of wink that in the early 21st century, where all the trendy comedies were engaging in media literacy to reinforce their smartness, is a Victory In Premise that’s easy to love. Frankly, it’s stunty and I don’t care about it… What I do care about — and the reason that I think this actually is one of the season’s finest — is the A-story, in which both Doug and Carrie agree to train individually with their neighbor Lou Ferrigno (who’s put to good use here for once). The plot is motivated from established character traits, as Doug — who’s always been one to avoid hard work, especially exercise — discovers that he can bribe Lou with a video game, and keep Carrie from learning that, while she’s busting her butt exercising, he’s only hanging out in the garage, vegetating as usual. It’s a terrific idea for The King Of Queens, and like the best from this list, it could only happen with this set of characters.
08) Episode 162: “Gorilla Warfare” (Aired: 02/16/05)
Carrie learns that something romantic Doug said to her was actually a movie quote.
Written by Mike Soccio & Owen Ellickson | Directed by Rob Schiller
One of the last Doug/Carrie episodes of the season, before Seven devolves into a Seinfeld-ian, multi-story, idea-driven “how funny can this get” fest, this installment is nevertheless not the strongest of the year’s highlighted couple shows. This is due both, on a general note, to the teleplay, which isn’t as inventive or surprising as the year’s classics (or near-classics), and to the fact that this is probably a show that simply hits because of its premise. And unlike many of the above, which hit because their premise works for the characters, this one is merely a comic notion that could appear on any husband/wife show, regardless of their depictions, for the idea of one partner using a romantic quote that the other one comes to learn is from a movie (and a stupid movie where a guy says it to a monkey) is inherently amusing, and Doug/Carrie have little to do with why that’s funny… However, unlike some un-featured outings, I don’t think the characters are hurt by the utilization of this story, and what’s more, they aren’t being shoehorned into it. We buy it, and so on the idea alone, it works with little oppositional force.
09) Episode 168: “Ice Cubed” (Aired: 04/13/05)
Doug finds another family has a situation that parallels his with Carrie and Arthur.
Story by Cathy Ladman | Teleplay by Michelle Nader & Liz Astrof Aronauer | Directed by Rob Schiller
The last part of Season Seven is loaded with scripts more enamored of their ideas than the central couple, who were otherwise prioritized in the first half of the year. Additionally, too many of these final entries separate Doug and Carrie for a multiple-story construction that resembles Seinfeld, especially when these characters are depicted as cartoonishly awful. As we noted above in the seasonal commentary, such overdrawn misanthropic characterizations only work on Queens when there’s a comment being made on the Doug/Carrie relationship, and, as always, no matter how funny an idea is — or how awful Doug and/or Carrie can be portrayed — it’s not necessarily a good fit for the show… I say all that here because “Ice Cubed” is probably the best of these Seinfeld-ian excursions (some of the others being “Black List,” “Van, Go,” and the entry featured directly below) because the ideas click for the characters — Carrie’s plot has her behaving in ways congruous with her depiction, as does Arthur’s (with Holly). More importantly, though, the A-story, in which Doug counsels an Asian couple that’s debating about whether or not her father should move in with them, is an obvious mirror of the Queens premise that packs big laughs, serving as another idea-driven metatheatrical wink that not only invokes Seinfeld, but also gives the story a reason for existing on this series.
10) Episode 169: “Catching Hell” (Aired: 04/20/05)
At a baseball game, Carrie recruits Spence to pose as her husband.
Written by Chris Downey | Directed by Rob Schiller
Frankly, although this may be funnier than a few of the offerings highlighted above, “Catching Hell” is the one whose inclusion was the least assured. This is because it’s another one of those aforementioned Seinfeld-ian outings: totally idea-driven, with a multiple-story structure that separates Doug and Carrie, while having them both behave in ways that we would deem socially unacceptable, even though these threads are never connected or able to justify both their heightened portrayals or the stories’ inclusion on this, supposedly a series about their relationship… And yet, this one’s here because it’s the most memorable of the Honorable Mentions and the one I’d miss the most if it wasn’t included. This is because, yes, it’s very funny, and I think having both stories take place at a baseball game helps explain why they co-exist within this half-hour. Also, I like that the Carrie plot (which includes guest Concetta Tomei) makes good use of Spence, one of the ensemble’s strongest players… Meanwhile, the less said about the disconnected, purposeless, guest-star driven Arthur/Holly subplot with Hal Linden, the better; this beggar couldn’t be too much of a chooser this week.
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: two Seinfeld-ian outings that were closest to the list, “Silent Mite,” a premise-driven show in which Doug makes an enemy of a “little person,” and “Black List,” which has two separately funny stories where Doug and Carrie are led by their flaws. Then there are a handful of entries with premises that should work for the series, but are surprisingly run-of-the-mill: “Awed Couple,” “Deconstructing Carrie,” “Wish Boned,” and “Buy Curious.” And though this section is already too long, I should note that these gaudy idea-driven, situational, character-who-cares? offerings are popular, but not ideal: “Hi, School” (with Burt Reynolds) and “Slippery Slope.”
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Seven of The King Of Queens goes to…
Come back next week for Season Eight! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday!