But it wasn't always that way: when James first rose to national prominence via his starring role in the CBS sitcom The King of Queens, which aired for nine seasons from 1998 to 2007, he was not a divisive figure. He wasn't a critical darling, but the early reviews of his show tended to be affectionate, encouraging, and respectful, focusing on his character Doug Heffernan's blue-collar wit and his chemistry with co-star Leah Remini, who played his long-suffering wife, Carrie. In fact, Entertainment Weekly's positive review of the show was glowing, referring to it as "a near-perfect synthesis of Seinfeld and Raymond, recombining many of the best elements of each show into something wholly, delightfully new."
It's hard to imagine a critic writing that rapturously about a James vehicle now, but going back and rewatching episodes of The King of Queens, I think that review got it mostly right. The King of Queens was a funny, serviceable sitcom, the type of show you got sucked into because you forgot to turn the TV off on your way to the fridge. It had Jerry Stiller doing Frank Costanza. It had Patton Oswalt occasionally standing very still. It had that very funny string of episodes where Doug's delivery company went on strike. In a pre-streaming TV world, it was the type of show you just watched because it was on, then eventually said, "Hey, this is actually pretty good!"