Review

'The Jim Gaffigan Show' a humane, human comedy, fun and funny

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times TV Critic

Comedian Jim Gaffigan has a new sitcom, reasonably titled "The Jim Gaffigan Show." Premiering Wednesday on TV Land alongside the identity-theft comedy "Impastor," it cements that network's transition from a producer of old-fashioned three-camera comedies built around actors who have aged out of network comedies to newer-fashioned single-camera comedies aimed at viewers for whom the name Valerie Bertinelli holds no nostalgic charge.

"Impastor," starring Michael Rosenbaum as a ne'er-do-well masquerading as a small-town cleric, is one of those stories in which someone becomes a better person by impersonating one; its breath is somewhat labored, its effects less than persuasive. "Gaffigan," by contrast, though it traveled from NBC to CBS (where two pilots were shot) before coming to rest at TV Land, does its work with ease, and with all the conviction and charm that easiness bestows.

"If you're wondering what it's like being the father of five young children," Gaffigan says in the burst of expository narration that begins the series, "just imagine you're drowning. And someone hands you a baby."

Created by Gaffigan and Peter Tolan ("The Larry Sanders Show") and developed by Gaffigan and wife Jeannie Noth Gaffigan, the show echoes the couple's own life, which does, indeed, include five young children shoehorned into a fifth-floor, two-bedroom walk-up in lower Manhattan. The show is about family, but it is not exactly a family comedy.

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For the Record

10:25 a.m.: An earlier version of this article identified Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan as the creators of "The Jim Gaffigan Show." It was created by Jim Gaffigan and Peter Tolan.

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It is not ostentatiously edgy in the way, say, of "Modern Family," but it has spice to it; it is made for grown-ups. The first episode concerns vasectomy, and later in the season, there will be drinking. And that the Gaffigans are religiously, if not rigorously, Catholic is in its own way radical for television, all the more so because it's integrated into the characters and not just a pretext for comical genuflecting.

The kids provide grounding; they give Jim and Jeannie (compatibly played by Ashley Williams) a shared responsibility. They're also work that Jim tries to avoid and someone to steal food from — his compulsive eating being a major subject here, as in his stand-up. But while they're part of the premise, they are also largely beside the point. They create a kind of background noise, from which one will occasionally emerge to offer a straight line, but they are not required to be cute.

As a comedy about a doughy middle-aged comic living and working in New York, with other comics representing themselves (Chris Rock, Dave Attell), "Gaffigan" bears a superficial resemblance to Louis C.K.'s "Louie." (Fred Armisen, Janeane Garofalo and Jon Benjamin also play small parts, and one long sequence, in an episode in which Jim becomes controversial, includes an astonishing run of cameos from Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, Glenn Beck, Joe Scarborough, Nancy Grace and Jim Cramer, among others.)

Temperamentally, however, it's in a line of comedies running back at least as far as "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," in which Father is woolly headed and distractible — something of a child himself, half-formed, part-baked — and Mother is clear-eyed and practical.

Also in that tradition, the couple have been given single friends to make trouble and represent less domestic attitudes. His is a fellow comic, played by Adam Goldberg, in what I think of as a typical Goldberg role (acerbic, aggressive, neurotic), though he is not always this well-served; hers is Michael Ian Black as a college boyfriend who has since realized he's gay and whose role is to snipe at Jim.

And though this can seem schematic on paper, it is all particular in practice — a humane, human comedy, fun and funny.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'The Jim Gaffigan Show'

Where: TV Land

When: 10 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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