King of Queens hive, stand up! Our time is now! Promo shots of actor/comedian Kevin James have taken over the Twitterverse, which has snowballed into memes referencing James’ most popular role as Doug Heffernan, the UPS driver with a heart of gold on the aughts-era CBS sitcom.
The wave of memes started here, with a Getty image (still watermarked, which makes it funnier), showing James, as Doug, standing in the middle of the kitchen set in a bashful, silly little mood. Kevin is giving off “my mans over there thinks you’re cute” vibes and the Internet is just eating it up. (It’s the same look I give when I pass a joint and someone asks, “who rolled this?” It’s a humble way of living and I wouldn’t have it any other way.) On one hand, there’s nothing deeper to read into the virality beyond Twitter loving to run a great picture and joke format into the ground in record time. But when it comes to James and especially King of Queens, it scratches a relatable itch that feels prevalent these days.
Real sitcom historians remember Queens as a classic Wife Guy show, with James as the archetypal hapless husband with a Regular Job (in this case, UPS driver) who just wants to clock out and watch the game, opposite Leah Remini as Carrie, the frustrated wife who’s a little out of his league. The show also featured Jerry Stiller as Carrie’s kooky dad Arthur, who lives with them, and was a launching pad for the likes of Patton Oswalt.
The series enjoyed a staggering nine-year run on CBS (1998-2007), but millennial cable watchers know it more as a peak late-afternoon hours syndication classic. “My eyes are gettin’ weary, my back is gettin’ tight”—my TBS and TV Land heads, come on, sing it with me! That 4-6pm rerun block, complete with the Everybody Loves Raymond pairing, made me into a King of Queens aficionado (the shows took place in the same “universe” and often featured crossover appearances). Pour one out for the lost art of channel surfing and landing on a great episode of your favorite sitcom, which cord-cutting has basically neutralized.
King of Queens didn’t have an air of high-brow like Seinfeld, or feel tailor-made for the so-called “coastal elite” TV audience—it’s set in outer-borough New York City, after all. The everyday man can relate to Big Heff, especially now with UPS drivers making six figures a year. But what’s most important: King of Queens was, quite often, laugh-out-loud funny. James got to do a lot of the broad comedy (that he’d later go even broader with in the Sandler Cinematic Universe) but Remini held her weight—despite Doug’s bullshit, she was a petty hater in her own right and always out to get revenge.
The late, great Jerry Stiller often stole the show: one of the best episodes of the series is the one where Arthur relapses into a nasal spray addiction—he takes a couple hits to the nostrils, throws on some jazz, and melts into the couch like the dopeheads of yesteryear. (Ben chimed in to the meme craze, tweeting about how much his father loved working on the show.) Then there’s the underrated wardrobe department: there are plenty of episodes where Doug and his right-hand-man Deacon (Victor Williams) are dipped in Enyce, Akademiks, LRG, and even a Madlib tee. Now, oftentimes they didn’t rock ‘em right, but the effort was there.
Your average King of Queens “plot” mostly revolved around the banality of the Heffernans’ suburban lives— workplace drama, in-laws drama, couple friends drama etc. In the average episode, you’d get Kevin James doing his own stunts as Doug does something hapless and stupid, a premium Remini roasting, Jerry Stiller wreaking Havoc, and Patton Oswalt being a nerdy virgin. It’s all basic sitcom stuff (especially for CBS) but the comedic timing and chemistry between those four paired with the sheer go-for-broke stupidity of some of the plotlines made it sing.
(That chemistry, particularly between James and Remini, was such a winning formula that it carried over to James’ next CBS vehicle Kevin Can Wait, with a fair bit of drama. James’ wife on the series, portrayed by Erinn Hayes, was unceremoniously killed off after one season and Remini was brought in to restore the King of Queens vibes, a dismissal that earned a few raised eyebrows from critics at the time.)
Incidentally, King of Queens turned 25 last week. Was the deluge of memes an elaborate work by the powers that be to promote the show’s milestone anniversary? What are the odds that the original meme was tweeted at 8:01 pm on September 21, 2023, almost exactly 25 years after the first episode premiered on CBS at 8:30 pm? Either way, this is the universe—or suits at Big Viacom—telling us to fire up what is quietly one of the best, or at least most solid, sitcoms ever.
They don’t make sitcoms like this anymore. (I have a theory that high resolution HD takes away the sitcom charm.) The Raymond and King of Queens Universe tell the story of a Northeast middle class that hardly exists today. I rewatched both shows front to back over the summer and they still hold up. What can I say? Dysfunctional but loving families are the wave.