Today is the 20th anniversary of the debut of TV show The King of Queens! It debuted on September 21st, 1998, according to the show’s IMDB page. As a big fan of the show, I just had to make note of it!
For those of you unfamiliar with the show’s basic premise, it focused on character Doug Heffernan, a driver for a delivery company called IPS, which is understood to be alluding to UPS. Doug lives in Queens, New York with his wife Carrie and her father Arthur. They’re a working-class family reminiscent of a modern-day Honeymooners — except with a father-in-law always present.
I’ve always loved the show and have thought it didn’t get the kind of recognition and acclaim it deserved — and still deserves, in my opinion. I mean, it was popular enough, running for 9 seasons on network TV. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned in best-shows lists and TV retrospectives the way shows like Seinfeld and Friends are. Yet I believe it’s right up there in terms of quality; in fact, I like it better than both of those shows.
The dialogue on the show was very realistic, the acting was very natural (especially after the show hit its stride towards the end of season one) and the premises were odd enough to be funny, yet normal enough so viewers could relate.
Take, for instance, this episode in which Doug and Carrie have finally paid off their credit card debt (image and text below courtesy of the show’s official Twitter account):
To celebrate this accomplishment, Doug and Carrie decide that each of them will indulge in a treat for themselves.
Soon after, Doug buys himself a whimsical item — a cheap harmonica. Carrie, on the other hand, comes home with a pricey leather jacket.
Doug flips out, saying their treats were supposed to be reasonable; purchases like hers will only get them back in the hole.
Carrie goes to return the jacket and then realizes she could have waited until the end of the return period, enjoying the jacket for as long as possible before returning it to get her money back — essentially “borrowing” it for free. This discovery leads her into a downward spiral in which she begins buying lots of designer clothing, wearing it, then returning it. It eventually gets out of hand, with her temporary clothing empire filling up an entire room of the house and necessitating the need for a complicated return schedule based on each store’s policies.
To me, that kind of plotline strikes the right balance between being amusingly unique, yet surprisingly understandable — it’s entertaining without requiring a major suspension of disbelief since it’s not too over-the-top.
Then there was the episode where Carrie’s out of town and Doug can’t sleep without her, which sounds sweet, but it turns out he’s not necessarily missing his wife being by his side in bed — he just needs somebody there to be able to sleep.
So what does he do? He manages to entice Carrie’s father to move upstairs to sleep in bed with him (sounds overly creepy if you haven’t seen the show, but it’s actually really funny in an absurd way — if anything, the underlying creepiness is what makes it amusing!):
What I liked most about that part of the episode, when they’re shown waking up together, is how they start laughing. It works for the scene, since it can come off like the characters are so happy with their odd, new arrangement, but I also think the actors were truly laughing during filming — it seemed like their natural reaction to the scene was coming out and wasn’t scripted. I love when real moments like that happen and aren’t cut out!
Another favorite episode of mine, and one which I think is great example of the show’s natural, relatable humor and plotlines, involves an episode called “The Hungry Man.” In this episode, Doug is getting ready to head out to work when his wife Carrie asks him to join her at a work dinner she’s just gotten a call about; the dinner is at her boss’ apartment that night.
At first Doug says no since he’s working a double shift at his job and won’t be off in time, but then decides to surprise her by skipping lunch and working through it in order to make it to the dinner. However, he hadn’t had a chance to eat breakfast that morning, so by the time he gets to her event, he’s starved — only to find out it’s not a dinner after all. Turns out Carrie had found out that day at work it would just be drinks.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Doug asks her in frustration — and hunger.
“I didn’t know you were coming!” Carrie says, and rightly so.
I love this episode because you can see both sides of the situation, like how Carrie can’t be blamed for not telling him there was no dinner — last she knew, he had to work! Yet you can’t help feeling bad for Doug who was trying to do the right thing but is clearly suffering for it. Plus it’s a great representation of one of those days when everything goes wrong!
Here’s a photo from the episode which shows Doug rummaging through Carrie’s boss’ apartment looking for something, anything, to eat during the event — and having very little luck:
Ultimately, if you haven’t seen the show (and I’m always surprised by how many people have never watched it despite it having been on TV for so long in its original run and now in reruns), I recommend you see a few episodes in full to see what I mean about the fun dynamic between the actors and the realness of it all. I feel like the writing and acting didn’t try too hard for the laughs in a forced way, unlike so many other sitcoms that do. Instead, they were earned on the merits of the good writing and excellent delivery.
Also, the storylines weren’t based on lowest-common-denominator humor unlike many other recent shows like How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men; I know those shows have been popular, so I apologize if I offend those of you who may have liked them, but they just never worked for me what with their sexist jokes and slimy characters.
Oh, and some random trivia:
The King of Queens featured actress Mary Lynn Rajskub in a minor part from a September 2002 episode in which she plays a woman working at Carrie’s office. Here’s a picture — which, incidentally, shows her perfecting the scowl face she became especially well-known for in her role as Chloe O’Brian on 24.
Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame also made a few appearances on The King of Queens, too. He played an annoying neighbor who lived next door to Doug and Carrie — here’s a photo from a May 2000 episode in which his character, Tim, attempted to sucker Doug into a pyramid scheme selling water filters and their licenses:
Disclaimer: I originally wrote this blog post 4 years ago, on the 16th anniversary of the show’s debut. I remember thinking at the time, hmm, is it weird to post this on a 16th anniversary as opposed to a more commonly-celebrated milestone like 10 or 20 years? But because I love the show so much and was inspired to write about it then, I went with it. Now, though, I decided to re-blog the post and have it reflect that we’ve hit that 20th anniversary mark! I still love this show and maintain that although it was popular, it’s underrated and didn’t get the attention I feel it deserved and deserves. Long live the King (and Queen) of Queens: