Some Thoughts on The Jim Gaffigan Show

the_jim_gaffigan_show_Man_Crush

I have been a fan of Jim Gaffigan’s stand up for quite a while; of all the comics that I saw during Comics Come Home last year, I think I was most excited to see him live. At first glance, Gaffigan doesn’t have a ton in common with the comics that I generally favor – he works clean and his material is far from edgy in that he draws his inspiration from everyday life and his tendency to overindulge when eating. But funny is funny and ever since I heard his routine about Hot Pockets I was sold and have sought him and his comedy ever since. His involvement was part of the reason that I started watching the TBS comedy My Boys, a show that I am convinced that I may very well have been the only person watching. Gaffigan just seems like a great guy, so I was really excited for him when I heard that he was pitching a sitcom.

I was less excited for him when I heard that CBS had passed on the pilot and that the show had landed at TV Land.

TV Land is a fine channel for a retrospective tour of “classic” TV –I’m all about the Roseanne and Golden Girls repeats, but you kind of lose me with The King of Queens, Reba and Gilligan’s Island – but their original programming has not been great. TV Land is where TV actors go to die; the strategy for original programming was to throw together a bunch of actors that you know from other shows and write the most dated and sitcom-y jokes possible. Exhibit A: Hot in Cleveland, starring Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendy Malick and Betty White. Exhibit B: The Exes, with Kristen Johnson, Donald Faison and Wayne Knight. I like a lot of the people involved with these shows so I gave them both a look, but for me they were borderline unwatchable. That style of comedy may have worked for me in the 80s, but comic sensibility has changed quite a lot since then. I don’t begrudge anyone getting a paycheck, but when I think of shows on TV Land, that’s all I think about – that these people have to be doing this just for the money. I’m sure these shows appeal to a wide variety of people, but I wanted better for Gaffigan than a hokey sit-com that relies on faux nostalgia and generic laughs. I’ll admit it – I am a TOTAL TV snob. I wasn’t particularly thrilled when the show was being developed for CBS, either, but I felt even worse about TV Land. So I had a little moment of silence for Jim Gaffigan’s successful TV dream and wished that things had tuned out differently. Maybe next time, I thought. I had zero intensions of watching the show; I figured that it would only make me sad.

However, Gaffigan’s website made an episode available to watch last month (well before the premiere) and since there was nothing much going on I decided to see how bad the show really was. I love a good preview more than anything, so I settled in expecting to see a shadow of the comedy that I’ve come to love from Gaffigan – and that’s if I was lucky.

Believe me, no one was more surprised than me when I actually really enjoyed the episode. Though there were some markings of the classic sit com that we all grew up with, The Jim Gaffigan Show felt like a much more updated version. It didn’t feel stale or clichéd; instead the show seemed to breathe some fresh life into a dying breed of comedies. The show may not be as complex or dark as the comedies that I generally tend to enjoy – think most comedies on FX – but it made me smile and laugh without having to try all that hard. I’ve now seen three episodes and while the first one that I saw was still the best of the bunch (not the pilot), it wasn’t an aberration either. I’m actually enjoying some original programming on TV Land. Who knew?

The Jim Gaffigan Show is a fictionalized version of Jim’s real life – he lives in a two bedroom apartment in New York City with his wife Jeannie (Ashley Williams) and their five (!!) small children. The show follow their chaotic life of parenting so many kids in such a small space in the city as well as Jim’s life as a stand-up comic. Michael Ian Black co-stars as Jeannie’s friend Daniel and Adam Goldberg rounds out the cast as Jim’s scummy friend Dave. In some ways, The Jim Gaffigan Show is a G-rated version of Louie, without some of the more absurdist and esoteric elements. Though Jim is a stand-up comic on the show, they don’t dedicate much time to him doing traditional stand-up material. Instead, the show is more focused on his home life and what happens off the stage. There’s still plenty of laughs and Jim’s food obsession is front and center on more than one episode so fans of Gaffigan’s stand-up will not be disappointed. His humor is still apparent throughout, just delivered in a different way.

What really helps the show tremendously is Jim Gaffigan’s inherent likability; he just seems like a really great guy that you’d want to be friends with, so you automatically enjoy spending 22 minutes a week with him. I don’t know if I would enjoy this show nearly as much if he wasn’t the star. The rest of the cast is great – both Michael Ian Black and Adam Goldberg are playing the type of character that they do best (snarky for the former and a lech for the latter) and Ashley Williams is great in her scenes with Gaffigan. The stakes are generally pretty low – one recent episode revolved around Jim trying to not eat red velvet cake – but they are very relatable (I, too, have a weakness for anything red velvet). But most importantly, of course, is that the show is just funny. None of these other elements would matter if the jokes don’t land and the show doesn’t make you laugh. Thankfully that isn’t an issue with The Jim Gaffigan Show; his comedic voice shines through the more traditional sit com format.

The episode that I saw first (scheduled to air August 5th) and which I think is the strongest of the series deals with Jim and religion. The show doesn’t shy away from the Gaffigan’s faith on the show – their priest is a recurring character – but it is presented in such a way to not be an issue for non-believers or people of other beliefs. The episode in question plays with Jim’s fears about being perceived as religious; it’s an interesting spin on the issue, where Jim is somewhat comfortable in his position as a believer, but not comfortable with some of the baggage that comes with such a label. It’s bar far the edgiest of the episodes that I’ve seen – and it’s not really all that edgy except for dealing with an issue that can be controversial. It was handled so well and was so funny that it is what sold me on the series.

So I learned an important lesson with The Jim Gaffigan Show – you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or, in this case, a series by its network). You never know when a channel is going to go in a completely different direction with their programming or offer up something that is a little off-brand. Granted, that is less likely to happen for a major network that is doing well than a small cable outlet – CBS probably isn’t changing their stripes anytime soon – but it is still important to actually give a show a chance before summarily dismissing it. The Jim Gaffigan Show isn’t reinventing the wheel, but its voice and viewpoint are just different enough to make it a fun way to spend a half hour. I don’t know if it would find a consistent spot on my DVR lineup in the fall, when the TV offerings are vast and plentiful, but it is a perfectly acceptable alternative in the summer. I’m glad that Gaffigan got a real shot at a TV comedy. Success really couldn’t happen to a nicer or more deserving guy. He deserves all the red velvet cake that he wants.

The Jim Gaffigan Show airs Wednesdays at 10 pm (ET) on TV Land.

Fish in the Dark – Cort Theater (New York, NY), 7.2.15

11119986_10155775878305564_3119467029784878713_o

It’s not really possible to be as big of fan as Seinfeld as I am without also being a fan of Larry David. Not only is he the co-creator of the show and one of the writers for most of the show’s run, but he personally served as the inspiration for the character George Costanza. This is more than apparent if you’ve ever watched David’s brilliant HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm; George is not a character that was created from the ether, but an amalgam of David’s behaviors and things that have happened to him. In a lot of ways, Jason Alexander’s great performance as George was really an impression of David that was just slightly tweaked.

So I knew that when I heard that David had written a play for Broadway (Fish in the Dark) that I would have to go check it out; he had some fun skewering being in a Broadway show during Curb and since his series has been on indefinite hiatus for the last few years I’d really missed his brand of humor. Larry David originally starred in Fish in the Dark, but I didn’t get around to checking the play out during his run. What actually sealed the deal for me purchasing a ticket was when who they announced David’s replacement – none other than Jason Alexander! Since I’m on a quest to see all four of the leads from Seinfeld live and in person at least once in my life, this was a golden opportunity. Besides, who is better qualified to take over for Larry David than the guy who basically played Larry David for years? I was already going to the city on July 2nd for a matinee performance of Jake Gyllenhaal in Little Shop of Horrors, so I decided to double down and purchased a ticket for an evening performance of Fish in the Dark. That’s a lot of theater in one day, but I felt that I was up for the challenge.

I was so geared up to see Fish in the Dark that it wasn’t until I was sitting in the Cort Theater that I realized that I had no idea if this was a musical or a play. I was leaning toward a straight play, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if David had tried his hand at a little musical theater. I also realized that I had no freaking idea what this play was even about; I’d done zero research and was spending my hard earned money on name recognition alone. It turns out that Fish in the Dark a) is in fact a play, not a musical and b) is a comedy about a family and how they react to a death in the family (surprise – not well). The dysfunctional family dynamics in play as well as some hidden family secrets are mined for laughs; the writing and comedy beats will be familiar to anyone who is a fan of Seinfeld. In a lot of ways, Fish in the Dark is almost like an episode of Seinfeld; it’s not hard to imagine switching out the characters of brothers Norman (Jason Alexander) and Arthur (Ben Shenkman) with George and Jerry without having to do many re-writes. The play is littered with questions of etiquette and minutia that could have easily been addressed on an episode of Seinfeld: should you bring a date to visit your father in the hospital? Do you tip doctors? Did the 14 year old who gave a better eulogy than you have help writing it? Fish in the Dark is clearly from the mind of Larry David; it has his fingerprints all over the production.

In fact, since I’ve seen every episode of Seinfeld a bazillion times, I even picked up on a few lines that I’m pretty sure were actually used in Seinfeld. There is a discussion in Fish in the Dark about dying from an odor, which is also covered in “The Smelly Car” episode of Seinfeld. As soon as the actor said it on stage, I knew it was familiar. Actually, all of Fish in the Dark felt familiar, in a good way, because of the amount of time that I’ve spent with Larry David-related projects. It was comforting, like discovering a lost episode of Seinfeld or Curb that I never knew existed. I was at home with the comedic beats and ludicrous plot points almost immediately.

Of course, having Jason Alexander delivering David’s dialogue only served to give me a greater sense of déjà vu while watching the play. Alexander is so well versed in the art of being Larry David that it’s almost probably second nature to him and that comes through in the performance. He is relaxed and really becomes the character of Norman, which is really an extension of the character of George, which is really just an extension of Larry David. I have zero regrets about seeing the show with Alexander, but I can’t help but think what a treat it was to see David in his element on stage. He’s not really an actor, but if he’s doing some version of himself he can sell the hell out of it.

The rest of the cast of Fish in the Dark was great as well. Glenne Headly was very funny as Norman’s wife Brenda and Ben Shenkman played well off Alexander as brother Arthur. Jayne Houdyshell manages to almost steal every scene that she’s in as family matriarch Gloria and Rosie Perez was a pleasant surprise as family maid Fabiana (I’m not normally a big fan of her work). I didn’t realize it at the time, but Fabiana’s son Diego was played by Jake Cannavale, the son of actor Bobby Cannavale. It’s a smaller, but important, role and he does a nice job; it doesn’t hurt that he’s inherited some of his father’s good looks. The cast as a whole adapted quite well to the inherent weirdness and lunacy that is Larry David and hit all the right comic beats and sold all the bickering and obsessing. The only downside of Fish in the Dark is that because I am so familiar with David’s specific brand of comedy, some of the jokes and material felt a little like self-parody. The play is very funny overall, but occasionally some of the plot points or arguments felt a little too Larry David, even for me. That was the exception rather than the rule and the audience that I saw Fish in the Dark with laughed uproariously throughout the entire play.

I’m definitely glad that I was able to see Fish in the Dark, especially since it was a limited run production. If you don’t like the writing on Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, this isn’t the show for you, but it was ideal for someone like me. He cast was solid and the play was very funny in the expected Larry David-sort of way; he has a very specific voice and vision and if you connect with it, Fish in the Dark is right up your alley. For me, seeing the play was kind of like going to fantasy camp and seeing a live read of a Seinfeld episode. Larry David isn’t breaking a lot of new ground with Fish in the Dark, but even if it’s a little familiar it was still very funny and enjoyable. For Larry David’s first attempt at writing a Broadway show, Fish in the Dark is “pretty, pretty good.”

Fish in the Dark closes August 1st.

U2 – Madison Square Garden (New York, NY), 7.22.15

2015-07-22 18.42.52

In August of 1992, U2 played a concert at Saratoga Raceway, which was one town over from my hometown. The Raceway didn’t host a ton of concerts and the fact that U2 was playing there was kind of a big deal. It seemed like pretty much everyone I knew went to that concert – except me. I don’t remember why I didn’t go; my hunch is that my family was on vacation, though I also just didn’t go to very many concerts when I was a teenager. What I do remember is the strong feeling of missing out; it seemed when school started in September that everyone had been at this show. I was constantly taunted by people wearing their concert T-shirts during gym class. I coveted those stupid ZooTV shirts and felt like I’d missed out on something truly memorable, a shared experience that I wasn’t a part of. I’ve been salty about this ever since; we all know that FOMO (fear of missing out) runs strong in me and I resolved that I’d eventually remedy this gross injustice by seeing U2 in concert. It’s why seeing U2 landed a spot on my pop culture bucket list.

The irony here is that I’m not even that big of a U2 fan.

I mean, I like U2 just fine and everything, but they’ve never been in contention for my favorite band. My U2 fandom probably peaked in the early 90s and even then it took a back seat to my love of grunge music. If a U2 song comes on the radio, there’s probably a 50/50 chance that I’ll change the station; partly because some of their songs are just really overplayed and partially because their songs aren’t fun for me to sing along with because I don’t really know the words. There are U2 songs that I really like – “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” is my favorite – but even though the album that they were touring to support was automatically added to my iTunes library, I’ve never listened to it. So I was very passionate about seeing a band in concert that I wasn’t even that passionate about.

Given those limitations, I was still pretty excited about the show; I love an excuse to go to NYC and even if I didn’t know all the songs that they played I was fairly confident that U2 would at least put on an interesting show. They were playing 8 sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, so obviously seeing them perform is still a pretty big deal to people and they have a pretty enthusiastic fandom. A good crowd can get you pumped up regardless and their enthusiasm was contagious as we waited for U2 to take the stage.

The stage set-up was in and of itself interesting; there was what would traditionally be the main stage at the other end of the arena, but then there was a long catwalk that lead to a secondary smaller stage that was right in front of my section. I had managed to score seats on the lower level, so I was fairly close to this secondary stage. If I had been at a Rangers game, these seats would have been amazing.

2015-07-22 19.08.27

 

I also may or may not have been sitting behind Thor:

2015-07-22 20.19.07

There only downside of our section was that we were sitting perpendicular to the giant video screens that hung over the stage. This was slightly disappointing, but there was a smaller video screen facing us that we hoped would give us a taste of what the people on the sides of the arena were experiencing. But assuming they spent any time at all on this smaller stage, I had a prime location.

Since there was no opening act, the show began fairly promptly around 8:30. There was a slow build in anticipation throughout Madison Square Garden as the seats began to fill in and people anticipated U2 taking the stage. Bono entrance was fairly anticlimactic – he actually walked in front of us to get on the small stage and then slowly walked the length of the catwalk to join the rest of the band on the far end of the arena. I don’t know what exactly I was expecting, but it seemed that someone like Bono would have made a more dramatic arrival. If the crowd was quietly buzzing before, they were practically giddy with anticipation one he appeared; U2 fans seemed a little more rabid than the fans at your run of the mill show. Most people around me had seen the band multiple times; in fact, a lot of them had seen U2 multiple times on this tour. Their energy was slightly intoxicating and I felt a little bit like an imposter.

They kicked things off with “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” which is off their new album so I’d never heard it before. Not the most auspicious way to kick off my U2 experience, but that one is on me, not them. Even though the song was new to me, I still enjoyed it and watching U2 in action. Though they may not be the biggest rock band on the planet – if they even ever were – they still can rock out and put on a very entertaining show. Love or hate Bono, he’s entertaining to watch. That dude rarely stands still, which made my photographic documentation of the concert a little tricky. Just when you think he’s settled down, he suddenly has another burst of energy. I know that he’s still adapting to not being able to play guitar after his injury, but I think that this has actually freed him up a bit and allows him more leeway in his movements and theatrics.

DSCN1308

DSCN1313

Visually, the U2 show is pretty cool. Those giant video screens were put to good use as Bono actually climbed up to the narrow catwalk between the two screens so that he was actually interacting with the images. As drawings of their hometown in Ireland whizzed by, it almost gave the appearance of Bono walking down the street. It was like nothing that I’ve ever seen before – and given my location I didn’t really see it all that well this time either. The images on the screen in front of us were much smaller and they kept cutting the feed to show the rest of the band; while I’m always excited to see The Edge, it kind of took away from what they were trying to do visually. But what I did see was very different from anything that I’d seen at any other concert.

DSCN1316

Later in the show, the entire band got on the catwalk and would appear within the graphics:

DSCN1350

The other downside of the giant video screens were that the apparently had been lowered from where they were when the show started – probably to allow Bono easier access to climb up – because my view of the main stage was obstructed. This wasn’t the case when the show started, but now I had two giant video screens in my way. I honestly wasn’t that bummed about it – if anything it gave me a chance to sit down when they were on the far end of the stage – but a lot of the people in my section were pretty annoyed. In all honestly, I felt like they spent a ton of time down on the small stage that was right in front of us, so we really didn’t have anything to complain about. I’d be far angrier if I thought I had front row tickets and then half the show was either on the other end of the arena or taking place inside video screens. I had not anticipated being close to U2 at all, so really the fact that they were close as often as they were was gravy to me.

The band made full use of the catwalk and their wireless instruments to move about the entire stage. Even drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. got to be mobile; in one of my favorite moments he played a snare drum during “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the collective U2 spanned the stage.

DSCN1335

The band was set up down in front of me on the small stage when Bono pulled a woman up from the audience to dance with him. I had anticipated this – they had done this at earlier shows – and she got to have her moment to shine during “Mysterious Ways.”

DSCN1366

After that song ended, he asked her to stay on stage and act as the videographer, handing her a cell phone that was synched up with the video screens. Bono then said that he wanted to pull someone else up from the audience to help him sing the next song. This seemed somewhat unusual and he picked a guy out of the crowd that had a giant sign (I couldn’t see it, but I would later find out it said “singer with a broken finger “). There was something familiar about the person’s movements as they climbed the stairs to the stage and I noticed that the person wasn’t dropping the sign from in front of his face, which was a clear indication that this was not your average audience member. Once I saw his left hand all bandaged up, I knew – that was Jimmy Fallon!! Once he got on stage he dropped the sign and proved that I was right. If a regular U2 concert was good, a U2 concert with a Jimmy Fallon appearance is even better.

DSCN1368

True to his word, Bono handed the microphone over to Jimmy and let him take the lead vocals on “Desire.” It was fabulous –Jimmy was running all over the stage and even busted out his Bono impression once the real Bono put his sun glasses on him. Jimmy even busted out a harmonica and played a little. It was spectacular and they all looked like they were having a ball. I was SO happy that this was all going down right in front of me; I had a great view of all this awesomeness that was unfolding.

DSCN1375

 

After the song, Jimmy said that he had some friends that wanted to join in and sure enough – out comes The Roots! This really was the perfect show for me to have picked to attend; who would have expected all of this on a Wednesday night, the third show of U2’s MSG residency? It’s like they went out of their way to make sure that I had a good time. Questlove and company played “Angel of Harlem” with U2 and that was glorious as well. Ha-ha – suck it people in “the front row.” Section 102 is where it was at! Just a truly amazing surprise that I am so grateful I got to see firsthand.

DSCN1382

The rest of the show was great as well, though of course the surprise guests were really the pinnacle for me. I didn’t even care that U2 didn’t play my favorite songs; they put on a solid show that was both visually and musically pleasing. For a band that’s been around for nearly 40 years, they are most certainly not resting on their laurels; they are still trying to innovate and give the audience something different. It’s like they still had something to prove, which I guess maybe they do. Bono sounded great and the band was tight; the 2+ hours that they played really seemed to fly, even with the brief intermission.

DSCN1322

DSCN1356

It may have taken me twenty plus years to finally see U2 live in concert, but I’m glad that I finally did it. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily ever see them live again, but it was a highly entertaining show that I would have enjoyed even if The Tonight Show didn’t break out in the middle of it. U2 may not be the biggest band in the world anymore, but they are still relevant to the musical landscape and aren’t looking to relinquish their crown without at least going down swinging. It’s a testament to the show that they put on that I enjoyed it as much as I did, coming right on the heels of my awesome time at the Foo Fighters show. Bono even kept his speechifying to a minimum; if anything, he was less “Bono” than I expected. Perhaps he’s chilled out in his old age.

Fun time, great show and I didn’t even mind going into the work the next day on less than five hours sleep. Mission finally accomplished – I’m no longer the only kid on the block who has never seen U2.

Setlist:

The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)

Out of Control

Vertigo

I Will Follow

Iris (Hold Me Close)

Cedarwood Road

Song for Someone

Sunday Bloody Sunday (acoustic)

Raised by Wolves

Until the End of the World

Invisible

Even Better Than the Real Thing

Mysterious Ways

Desire (with Jimmy Fallon)

Angel of Harlem (with The Roots)

Every Breaking Wave (acoustic)

With or Without You

City of Blinding Lights

Bullet the Blue Sky

Pride (In the Name of Love)

Encore:

Beautiful Day

Where the Streets Have No Name

One