‘The King of Queens,’ or: The Healing Power of ‘Inconsequential’ Television

The King of Queens got me through some dark times, man.  As I’ve written about in my escapades of living in Los Angeles, losing my job, moving three times in thirteen months, struggling with sobriety, quitting smoking and just general depression in life, I had Doug and Carrie Heffernan to help ease the pain.  In my last apartment in L.A., the days were torture. I worked at a job that hated me and I drove 90 minutes to get home to an apartment that wouldn’t provide me with rest. My upstairs neighbor would drag a chair back and forth (among other noises he concocted and enacted all day, everyday), to and fro, for hours. A homeless drug dealer living in a van directly outside my living room window would smoke cigarette after cigarette with a man who would cough for hours.  But for roughly one to two hours every night, if I was lucky, when everyone went to sleep, I could actually relax. And I would watch an episode or two of The King of Queens.  For that hour or two, I felt happy.  I couldn’t count on much else in my life, I couldn’t even count on a night’s rest, but I could count on a small sliver of a day to turn my brain off.  It’s currently not on streaming, so I would have to watch whatever reruns I DVR’d from TBS or TNT.

Some shows are made to help us think about the world at a specific time, weighing the past and the present, and how we can potentially make the future a better place.  Some shows are about darker themes, man’s penchant for cruelty. And some shows, like The King of Queens, are pure escapism.

 

Shows that function as escapism are easily written off or brushed aside because they don’t bring much more to the table than surface-level enjoyment.  But I think there’s a lot more to it than that. There’s a lot of delicate balancing in order to pull of that feat, to have your intended audience temporarily suspend their worries and fears for the duration of an episode, and successfully turn off their brains.  It requires a cast of characters you can relate to–Doug and Carrie, a married, child-free couple who have a hard time making friends–who are imperfect and can behave despicably, but still be likable at their core.

Escapism, in its modest mission, can be a colossal failure.  Think of a Michael Bay movie of pure pandemonium that evokes images of horror and destruction.  Escapism is more than just a series of images likened to the moving blob of a lava lamp. The success of escapism in pop culture is like the equivalent of sitting down with a big bowl of mac and cheese.  It’s comforting from the inside out.

Kevin James and Leah Remini play Doug and Carrie Heffernan, a relatively-newly married, young working couple living in Queens, NY.  In these types of shows, the dynamic is usually the fat, fun-loving idiot of a husband wants to have fun, meanwhile the shrew of an attractive wife just wants to be responsible, and maybe save some money for a rainy day.  Doug and Carrie both sort of toe the line between responsibility and irresponsibility. They could maybe use a better, newer car, but they spend too much money eating out all the time and saving up for vacations. They both work hard, do well at their jobs (not without the occasional hiccup or crisis of employment) and are comfortable with their lot in life.  A lot of the time, when we see them, they’re laying in bed watching TV. Or cuddled up on the couch together. Sure, they have a dining room and table, and sometimes they use it, but goddammit, it’s just more fun sometimes to eat your meal while complaining about whatever’s on TV.

That Doug and Carrie don’t have kids is a big part of why I always found the show to be relatable.  They both sort of go back and forth on whether or not they even want them in the first place, and when they decide that, yes, having a kid is where they want to go as a family, they realize that, man, it’s a heck of a lot of work, and realize that they have a good thing going and keep on with their child-free lifestyle.  Instead of the show exploring the trials and tribulations of adulthood, the show is about the difficulties in finding and maintaining friendships in an age where everyone else around them has kids.  

I remember The King of Queens being the late-90s-early-00s equivalent of The Big Bang Theory in that it was the show to cite as everything wrong with TV.  If you were in need of a generic TV show title to use as an example of something terrible, you could casually drop in King of Queens as an example of “Fat fun-loving guy is addicted to sports and shitty wife hates fun,” but that was never really fair.  Doug and Carrie were never like that. Their fights are always a little too realistic, where a stupid, flippant thing said gets blown out of proportion by two stubborn people who feel slighted against each other.  They can both behave stupidly and selfishly, but part of the beauty of the show is that we can all behave that way, and often do.  It’s a hard thing to pull off to have characters exhibit that and still be someone you want to root for.

When I was working and living in L.A., because one of the few things I had to look forward to was King of Queens reruns, when I was getting ready to go home I would sometimes just send my wife a text saying, “My eyes are getting weary,” and she would reply with, “My back is gettin’ tight.”  

Just recently, I bought the box set of the entire series on DVD and it’s a barebones release without any special features.  It’s nice to finally be able to watch the show without commercial interruption or having the finale cut off with ten seconds left.  When I was watching it during the dark times in my life, it reminded me of better times, or what my life could eventually be.  Now, it reminds me of finding comfort when I needed it the most.