There's Everyman and then there's Everyschlub. While a good chunk of network television programming over the decades has valorized the American Everyman in dramas about beat cops, detectives, firefighters, cowboys, medical personnel, et al, it's the classic situation comedy that belongs to the Everyschlub. Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners established the form; the brilliant Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker perfected it with All in the Family. Then along came The Heffernator, and a fat guy in work shorts never looked sexier. As Doug Heffernan in The King of Queens, Kevin James minted comedic gold. Doug delivers packages for IPS and happens to like his job. He likes watching football with his buds on a ratty couch in his garage, hates jazz but likes Eddie Money, hates reading books but loves TV, and loves his junk food (and lots of it). You get the picture: he's not hip. But in Doug Heffernan, Kevin James had the smarts to portray an ostensibly unsophisticated working stiff plenty sophisticated enough to actually know himself -- a rare virtue. Though it's still commonly underestimated by overthinkers as a vehicle for stupid gags in an unfashionable milieu, The King of Queens is in fact one of the best-written, most expertly acted sitcoms in television history. Over nine seasons the series was consistently, unfailingly funny and made you buy its characters as genuine, complicated human beings. These days James chiefly makes movies. He also, fortuitously enough, still does stand-up, which means we can catch his act tonight at 8 p.m. at the Peabody Opera House (1400 Market Street; 314-499-7600 or www.peabodyoperahouse.com). Tickets are $35 to $75.
Fri., Sept. 13, 2013