'Kevin Can Wait': Kevin James says changes are 'the jolt we needed'

Leah Remini and Kevin James (Photo: Jeff Neumann/CBS via Getty Images)
Leah Remini and Kevin James (Photo: Jeff Neumann/CBS via Getty Images)

Kevin Can Wait is headed in a new direction for Season 2, but star Kevin James says the change wasn’t driven by the chemistry between him and his former King of Queens co-star Leah Remini, who guest-starred on the show last season. Sure, after the well-received two-parter, CBS announced that Remini was joining the show as a series regular, but her presence will just be one of many new drives for Kevin Can Wait, James says. The actor — who plays retired cop Kevin Gable — adds that Remini definitely wasn’t a driving factor when it came to the decision to kill off his character’s wife (played by Erinn Hayes).

“The original drive in this show was … what I wanted to do was be a single father,” James tells Yahoo TV. “I thought that would be a little bit of a unique thing. I still hadn’t played a father at all [on TV], so it was nice. The first season was great, but it felt like we slipped into something where the weight of the show was on ‘how am I going to deal with retirement?’ And it just wasn’t enough. It didn’t feel like enough of a drive for the show.”

The decision to kill off the family matriarch, Donna Gable, wasn’t an easy one, but James says the new direction of the show opens up a whole new world of story ideas and paves the way for “heavier” relationships between Kevin and his three kids.

“There’s more drive to how I deal with my children now,” the actor says of his character’s life as a widower. “And it’s not just about, ‘Oh geez, I wonder if I’m gonna be able to drink beer and eat pizza with my friends today.’ We wanted to make it a little deeper that way, and for the duration of the show give it a stronger viewpoint, and to have more of that emotional weight onto the show. It’s about a single father raising a family, which is a good drive for us.”

With his wife gone, Kevin Gable also has to make a living. so his retirement is officially revoked. For Season 2, he’ll join forces with Remini’s character, Vanessa Cellucci, at her security firm. “I’m going back into the workforce as well, and that also is a drive,” James says of the upcoming storylines. “There’s a need to take care of my family now more than ever — and that was the jolt we needed, I think, in this series.”

Of course, Doug and Carrie Heffernan shippers are hoping Kevin can’t wait to get romantic with his former King of Queens wife. But don’t hold your breath for that, because James isn’t sure his character will dive back into the dating world so soon after his wife’s death — let alone with his new boss.

Kevin James and Erinn Hayes (Photo by Jeffrey Neira/CBS via Getty Images)
Kevin James and Erinn Hayes (Photo by Jeffrey Neira/CBS via Getty Images)

“I don’t know yet,” James says about Kevin Gable’s romantic future. “Literally, we’re taking this show as it’s happening, as we’re going on. It’s just kind of life happening. We didn’t really say he’ll definitely get into the dating world; he’s gonna end up with Leah Remini, or this or that. We have not, honestly, answered any of that. We have so many stories now to write based on this new viewpoint that we’re just taking it like that, and saying, ‘Which way is the show gonna go?’ We’ll just find out as we go.”

James says he stayed in touch with Remini in the decade since King of Queens wrapped and they have remained good friends. But with all due respect to Hayes’s dearly departed Donna, the actor doesn’t deny his on-camera chemistry with his longtime KOQ co-star.

“To get back and act with her again was just fantastic,” says James. “It’s comfort, because you know they’ve got you, you got them, and you kind of go back and forth and you give off each other. And it’s really been amazing, and the audience reaction to Leah being here. … She got a standing ovation her first night walking out. She literally broke into tears; she was crying. It was really nice; it was really great to see the reception she got. I was a little upset because I think it was bigger than my reaction!”

“We’re incredibly excited about this and we hope people love the show, and we have so much fun doing it,” James adds about the retooled Kevin Can Wait. “We’re a few episodes in now, and I gotta say: The response with the live audience has been amazing — so hopefully, it translates.”

Kevin Can Wait premieres Monday, Sept. 25, at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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