Jason Ritter (definitely) charms his way through Kevin (Probably) Saves the World and it (maybe?) works
To start, a confession: In anticipation of the Kevin (Probably) Saves the World premiere, I could not stop calling it Kevin (Probably) Can Wait in my head. But reader, after watching said premiere, I am here to tell you: This Kevin really cannot wait. He has a mission: a high-concept, high-stakes, hi-jinks mission. Kevin’s mission is to save the world…probably.
Of course, nearly all of that is in the parenthetical title. The most surprising part of the Kevin premiere isn’t the plot, but how funny it can be, thanks much in part to the well-documented charisma of its lead, Jason Ritter. The most concerning part is how unsurprisingly sappy it can be when you consider its spiritually driven premise. Throughout its premiere, there are distinct notes of Touched by an Angel (angel tasks), Joan of Arcadia (God tasks), and Little Miss Sunshine (suicidal uncle arrives, inadvertently healing a complicated but endearing family, etc.). None of that is bad necessarily, but it is my hope that Kevin will lean into that last influence as, thus far, its human elements are wringing out more magic than its spiritual conceit.
And I do hope this show can figure it out, because it’s a charmer, if not a perfect one, with a handful of delightful leads. Moments after we see multiple meteors of some kind striking down all over the globe, a BMW ables its way into Tyler, Texas. That BMW contains Kevin (Ritter), who we soon find out is arriving on his twin sister’s doorstep after losing his job, losing his girlfriend, and subsequently attempting suicide. Thankfully, his attempt was unsuccessful, both for obvious reasons and because Kevin is all that remains between the world and…a fiery Revelations-style hell? I don’t know, that part is actually pretty unclear.
But first, Kevin is experiencing a bit of hellish awkwardness inside his sister Amy’s (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) house as she attempts to connect with him, though it’s clear the two have gone quite some time without a fruitful sibling relationship. And then there’s Amy’s daughter, Reese (Chloe East), who is the definition of “sullen TV teen,” which — even when given solid reason for the behavior, like her father passing away 18 months ago — is still generally a tough character trait to swallow.
Reese seems uninterested in connecting with Kevin, even though he offers up his best YA literature ideas to her: “Serious question, would you rather read a book called Vampire Sluts or Murder Teens? Or Robot High School?” Broken relationships be damned, everyone is about to be thrust into a big ol’ familial bonding bomb because that night, a helicopter arrives to whisk Amy away to a top secret Aerospace Command Center. See, Amy is a respected professor of aeronautical engineering who specializes in weapons, and given that 35 meteors have struck earth in the last 24 hours, the world’s governments are concerned that these might not be your average falling space rocks.
As Amy tells world leaders that these don’t seem like weapons but they also don’t really seem like meteors, the 36th not-meteor touches down on U.S. soil…within spitting distance of Amy’s Texas home where her brother is asking her daughter if she would read a book about robot high schoolers.
She would not, but she would go look at a meteor hole with her uncle. Unlike her uncle though, Reese would not immediately run down into that fiery hole and put hands on a steaming space rock. But that is what Kevin does, and the next thing he knows, he’s coming to in his car with a goofy smile on his face, his niece furious with him in the driver’s seat, and the aforementioned meteor sitting in the back, with no recollection of how he got it there. It’s too heavy for him to get it back out when they arrive back at the house, so he leaves it in the car…
Until it explodes with light and more or less gives birth to a spiritual guide by the name of Yvette (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), who accidentally knocks Kevin out with the car door.
When Kevin comes to in the morning, Yvette is in Amy’s kitchen making Kevin a green juice and straddling that ever so common line between “house intruder” and “anointed messenger of God.” Yvette insists that she’s the latter and calmly explains to Kevin the facts: “In every generation since the dawn of man there are 36 righteous souls in the world, and they protect humanity by merely existing. Now, there’s only one — you, Kevin. You are the last of the righteous.” Them’s the stakes, Kev, so you can put the butcher knife down and just accept that everyone is going to think you’re talking to yourself from now until the point when you (probably) save the world.
Since Amy is still gone, Kevin has to take Reese to school, during which he attempts to ignore the fact that he seems to be going insane, and also valiantly tries to embarrass his niece by blasting Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” as he drops her off. But inspiring songs can’t cover up the fact that Kevin is being tasked with an inspiring mission by…well, here, let me offer you my favorite ongoing joke of the premiere:
Kevin: Are you an angel?
Yvette: Angels are a human construct. Let’s just say I’m a warrior for God.
Kevin: Okay. Can I see your wings?
Yvette: All right, we’re done here.
But they’re not really done. Yvette tells Kevin that as the last of the righteous, he has “a sacred mission to restore balance to the world by anointing 35 new souls.” Kevin has a slight hiccup with this suggested mission: He’s not a righteous person. He’s a former investment banker who neglected his family, and as he states quite clearly to Yvette, he values “money, naps, girls, sushi, muscles, an awesome electric guitar” over serving God and protecting humanity. Perhaps the only flaw in casting Jason Ritter in this role is that it’s very easy to buy him performing good deeds as part of a righteous quest, but nearly impossible to imagine that he was ever a shallow, greedy jerk, or really anything but an adorable do-gooder (a.k.a. the Parenthood effect).
Do good he must, though, as Yvette tells Kevin it’s imperative they start building his spiritual power. Kind of going along with things by now, he starts by trying to comfort his niece. It quickly becomes clear that a grieving teen is not the easiest place to begin, so Yvette says they’ll just have to start small with simple acts of kindness, and eventually God will show him the way to the other Righteous 35, whom he will, of course, anoint with an embrace. “A hug?” Kevin scoffs. “Should I just register as a sex offender now?”
Oh and one other quick thing: Kevin can’t tell anyone that he’s the last righteous soul on earth, tasked by a secret, invisible spiritual warrior with finding and hugging 35 other righteous souls.
Which makes it particularly hard to explain to a furious Amy why he took her daughter to a meteor site, passed out, and then forgot to pick up Reese at school. But Kevin tries anyway: “The truth is, when we were in 8th grade, I sold your underwear to Kevin DeFalco.” No, wait, that’s not right: “Sophomore year I stole your band camp money to buy weed!” Okay, so Kevin literally can’t tell Amy about his quest, and these apparent jokes are the final straw for his sister, who wants so badly to heal their relationship, but can’t hold onto it to the detriment of her daughter.
So Kevin leaves. He tells Reese bye and that he’s sorry, and heads to the airport, where…things get weird. First he bumps into a young man while a video advertisement repeats “transform yourself, transform yourself” over and over in the background. He and the young man have some kind of, shall we say, spiritual connection as they lock eyes, but as Kevin chases after him, he finds that Reese is chasing after him. She’s still furious with him for not being there after her dad died, but she doesn’t want him to not be there all over again. Kevin tells her that she needs to trust that he’s going to briefly neglect her again, but this time it’s for a good cause.
He approaches the young man and explains that he’s not a good person, but something has changed in him and he’s realizing that maybe there’s something to live for, and maybe this young man is a part of that. And then he asks to hug him…
And thank the TV-version-of-God, the young man pulls out a pencil with a note on it that reveals that he is deaf, so he couldn’t hear Kevin, but Kevin can buy his pencil for a dollar. And then Kevin decides to just give him all the cash in his wallet, so the young man hugs him. Ethereal light floods the airport; trumpets blare; somewhere, doves fly, I imagine. Kevin takes Reese back home, and she suddenly opens up to him about her dad’s death, and Amy welcomes him back to the house with a tearful embrace.
Everything isn’t perfect, but it’s better than it was. When Yvette reappears, Kevin tells her, “It was like, for one brief moment, I understood the universe and my place it.” Well, that’s great and all, buddy, but Yvette tells him that guy who hugged him was not a member of the Righteous 35 — just a nice young man. Then some magic butterflies fly out of the closet and Reese chuckles across the hall as she listens to her uncle have a full-on conversation with himself. It is not a strong ending to the premiere, and yet Kevin repeatedly asking Yvette to just tell him if she has wings still got a chuckle out of me in the final seconds.
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World isn’t perfect, but as it waffles between natural charisma and a slightly forced concept, it’s better than it could be.
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