With the series premiere of The Jim Gaffigan Show, famous comedian Jim Gaffigan has successfully mined his unconventional, food-obsessed stage persona to create a much more conventional, staid sitcom on TV Land. As far as TV sitcoms go, it seems reliably amusing, with each joke at least eliciting a chuckle if not a laugh, with solid writing and performances from its ensemble cast. It’s not going to transcend and revolutionize the medium in the way Seinfeld, Arrested Development or Louie did, but the show seems perfectly aware of and content with its unremarkable ambitions, and it’s hard not to enjoy. And it doesn’t have a laugh track, thank God.

Jim Gaffigan plays a composite version of himself and his stage character; he’s a successful standup comedian named Jim Gaffigan, an overweight, ghastly pale performer of humble Midwestern origins living in downtown Manhattan with his infinitely more attractive wife, Jeannie (Ashley Williams), and their five (!) kids, stuffed into a two bedroom apartment that they have long outgrown. Rounding out the cast, so far, we have Gaffigan’s best friend/foil/polar opposite, Dave (Adam Goldberg), a fellow comedian characterized by his bachelorhood, irreverence and propensity for cracking jokes about the domestic life at his best friend’s expense. Then there’s Jeannie’s best friend, Daniel (Michael Ian Black), the couple’s snooty, perfectly coiffed and attired real estate agent who used to date Jeannie until he came to terms with his sexuality. Neither spouse bothers to conceal their mutual dislike for their respective best friends, and Daniel seems especially prickly towards Gaffigan, a tension that is sure to provide storylines and laughs throughout the series.

The pilot, in 21 short minutes, effectively delivers some solid jokes, establishes these characters, the relationship dynamics at work between them and frames the story around Gaffigan’s abnormally large family and their desperate need to upgrade to a larger apartment. The central plot of the pilot involves a false pregnancy scare for Jeannie, whose strict Catholicism makes conventional birth control beyond the pale, and Gaffigan feigning interest in a vasectomy in an attempt to playfully assert his independence from his wife. An amusing cat-and-mouse game develops between them as they try to get the other to be the first to admit their bluff. The story also riffs on the couple’s continuous, lengthy search for a bigger apartment, aided by Daniel, which is constantly thwarted by Jeannie initially proclaiming each place “the one” but quickly finding increasingly absurd reasons to reject perfectly suitable dwellings. Meanwhile, Dave gives both the audience and Gaffigan a conduit for a less conventional, more hedonistic lifestyle to bring us out of the otherwise omnipresent domestic comedy/drama.

Gaffigan is the anti-rock star comedian, but not in the wayward, sexually frustrated/neurotic, chronically alone and self-loathing manner in which Louis C.K. carries that banner in Louie. Instead, Gaffigan is a wholesome family man whose only vice seems to be having too many children and consuming horribly unhealthy foods and snacks — he’s either devouring some processed treat or mentioning how much he wants to go to Shake Shack in just about every scene, with a running visual gag of him wolfing down a dessert or sandwich while viewing apartments reminding me of Julian from Trailer Park Boys perpetually holding an alcoholic beverage in his hand – whose only post-performance “after-party,” as he sarcastically dubs it, involves him getting thrown up on by one of his kids and getting them into the bathtub. He’s as endearing a portly, oversized and unattractive man-child in the show as he is on stage, much to the show’s benefit.

Moving forward, I hope the show gets a little more daring with its comedy and completely dispenses with any jokes involving children hearing inappropriate things from grownups and adorably asking what it means while mispronouncing the naughty word — that’s about as tired and hackneyed as comedy can get these days without resorting to “your momma” jokes. That being said, it seems likely that The Jim Gaffigan Show will continue to deliver with its comedy and its characters and keep audiences hooked, as long as one isn’t expecting a genre-defying sitcom.

 

 

 

 

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