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.