'Kevin (Probably) Saves the World' is a Jason Ritter showcase

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World (Photo: ABC)

Although for all I know the show was conceived well before its star came aboard, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, premiering Tuesday night on ABC, seems like such a total showcase for the charms of Jason Ritter, that criticizing the show in any way amounts to a form of personal attack. So I’ll tread carefully here. This hourlong dramedy relies heavily on Ritter’s ability to sell its outlandish, at times confusing, premise, and to the degree that it succeeds, it’s almost entirely due to the star’s powers of persuasion over any objective standard.

Ritter plays Kevin Finn, who we’re told is carefree to the point of selfishness, even meanness, although I failed to see many of the negative qualities in his character necessary to impel the big change that serves as this show’s reason for existing. Down on his luck and morose about it, Kevin moves in with his sister, played by JoAnna Garcia Swisher, and his niece (Chloe East). Much is made of the notion that Kevin “hasn’t been there” for these relatives, although it doesn’t seem as though the sister and niece have particularly “been there” for Kevin over the years, either.

Anyway, he moves in with them in a farmhouse that looks like a set left over from Smallville, and its landscape of the Midwestern plains is soon dented by a meteor that disgorges a — woman? angel? magic fairy? divine messenger? — who has a mission: To enlist Kevin in, yep, saving the world. Much of the pilot is spent with Kevin denying the mystical origin of this character, Yvette, played by Kimberly Hebert Gregory. Because we know Yvette is on the supernatural level (or else the show would have no reason to exist), it gets a little tedious having to watch Kevin witness repeated evidence of Yvette’s extra-human abilities before he accepts the inevitable.

The show has a Touched by an Angel blended with Highway to Heaven aura, lightened by Ritter’s gift for physical comedy (a trait he seems to have inherited from his talented dad, the late John Ritter). And it implies a thinly veiled metaphor that positions Kevin as nothing less than a Christ figure (celestial being appears to Kevin, tells him his purpose is to “protect humanity” and “save the world,” leaves him on Earth to do his sacred work). Heavy stuff, in theory; light-hearted most of the time in execution. Gregory, as Yvette, is so good she almost overcomes the trite sassy-black-woman stereotype too many of her lines force her to react against. Garcia Swisher, as Amy, is disarming as always. I assume the show is going to settle in to a miracle-of-the-week pattern, with Kevin helping out one benighted soul after another. If so, it’s the rigidity of this structure that will test the durability of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. For some of us, its predictability will be the reason to let it fade from our viewing; for others, this same quality will be a source of comfort, and a reason to tune in every week.

Kevin (Probably) Saves the World airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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