Comedy is a subjective thing and that's one of the reasons why it's so hard to do it for television. A good drama is a good drama, but it's possible to have a witty and subtle comedy that many viewers just don't get. It's also very possible to be part of a solidly broad comedy that the critics will hate.
Kevin James understands his sweet spot for comedy. He's good at physical comedy and can deliver a punchline with the efficiency of a battlefield surgeon. But the times when his post "King Of Queens" movie career wasn't successful, it was primarily due to picking projects that didn't give him the supportive infrastructure to shine. James isn't the type of comedian who can magically weave jokes out of nothing. But give him the structure and he can mold it into solidly entertaining comedy.
As an example, I attended a few live tapings of "King of Queens" and what struck me was how focused James was on wringing the laughs out a scene. He was the first person to stop a scene and say, "Hey, I think there's a better line here" or he'd spend a couple of minutes finding the funniest way to do some bit of political shtick. Kevin James knows what's funny, even if it isn't always apparent on the screen.
I think it's a kindness to describe the premise of "Kevin Can Wait" as the type of show you'd expect from a CBS comedy starring Kevin James. It's safe, predictable and genetically designed to appeal to the widest possible audience. James plays a recently retired police officer, who is struggling to adapt to his post-work life. He tries to organize his fellow police retirees into group outings, wrangles gently with his wife Donna (Erinn Hayes) over finances and tries to give up over the future of his two youngest children. And then there's his college-aged daughter Kendra (Taylor Spreightler), who decides to quit law school to support her app-building fiancee Chale (Ryan Cartwright).
There is not one aspect of "Kevin Can Wait" that is surprising or enlightening and if anyone else was starring in the show, I might not be so forgiving. But despite all of the flaws, ranging from flaccid punchlines to plot twists that were tired in 1995, James manages to somewhat breath life into the pilot. Hayes is a good comedian and she and James have decent on-screen chemistry. Taylor Spreightler is always delightful and here's hoping that her role turns out to have more meat in it than is noticeable in the pilot.
But there is much to work on. Chale's character (and voice) are more irritating and predictable than funny. There are so much better ways of getting Kendra to quit school & move home rather than the "she falls for someone her father hates" trope. At least so far, Kevin's interactions with the ex-coworkers aren't much of a treat, either and I wonder if would make more sense to have him meet some new people (I'm assuming that's the reasoning behind the decision for him to work somewhere part time). And then there are the punchlines, which just need to be sharper and more on-point. I'm no comedic genius, so if I'm writing better jokes as I watch an episode, then you know the show is in trouble.
So ultimately, what you think about "Kevin Can Wait" will have a lot to do with what you think about Kevin James. For me, I like the guy and am willing to give the show a chance to find its stride. But like any relationship, I need more than just "okay" to stick around for the long haul.