TV Land, once Cable TV’s Cousin Oliver, has gone all Marsha, Marsha, Marsha seemingly overnight. Their latest one-two punch, The Jim Gaffigan Show and Impastor, rival the best comedic fare on HBO and Comedy Central and just might be the best two scripted series on TV this summer.
The Jim Gaffigan Show
Gaffigan mines his irreverent family-themed adult stand-up routine to fuel his first headline series (after a solid two year run with a supporting role on TBS’s My Guys). Ashley Williams (How I Met Your Mother) is perfectly cast as the fictional Jeannie Gaffigan; the real Jeannie serves as a show producer and writer. The Fat Dad/Hot Wife combo is a sitcom staple; what makes this one more believable than the rest is the fact that semi-fictional Jim and Jeannie work as well on screen as the real ones do off screen. Raising five kids in a 2-bedroom New York apartment is a fertile premise, with the Big Apple cast as a supporting character (reprising her role from Sex and the City). Adam Goldberg plays Jim’s BFF ‘Dave’ no differently than every other time ‘Adam Goldberg’ has appeared on screen; the persona is usually fun in very limited amounts. Michael Ian Black (who also currently stars on two other series, Another Period and Wet Hot American Summer) co-stars as Daniel, the supportive, sassy, gay ex boyfriend of Jeannie. This is a role Black was born to play, he gives what could have been a one-note character loads of depth and plenty of game conflict for Jim.
The big draw here is Gaffigan and his deadpan, honest, lovable and effortless performance. This could easily become the next big sitcom about nothing. The more mundane the circumstances, the better the characters shine. While the characters of Jeannie and Dave are primarily foils at this point (and the kids are just set-pieces), last week’s episode about Daniel’s relationship with his boisterous father just might herald Black’s best on-screen performance. The episode added the right amount of weight and heart to the series, showing it has room to grow without ever leaving that apartment. One can only hope the writers take a cue from The Big Bang Theory and overhaul Goldberg’s character. Simon Helberg was funny for a season as the lecherous Howard Wolowitz, but he became infinitely more interesting, 3D and human while struggling to keep a relationship afloat with Bernadette (Melissa Rauch). My suggestion, bring back Lydia (a sight-gag played with dignity and va-vooom by Victoria Hale) as Dave’s hot, Mrs. Robinson/Nurse Jackie love interest — I could even see a spin-off featuring those two. Finally, who are the kids? Plenty of stories to learn in what I hope will be plenty of seasons.
Impastor reunites Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane alumni Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville) and Sara Rue (Less Than Perfect). It has a super sharp premise: big city crook assumes the identity of a dead, gay, small town pastor. This is Breaking Bad reimagined as a half hour comedy. The stakes are so high in the set-up, every act break in the first four episodes comes with a believable and thrilling cliffhanger. There is so much material to be mined before his cover is blown that I hope the writers and producers milk it before staging the big reveal the way MTV did on Faking It (a stellar series that could have mined years of comedy out of their premise: two girls pretend to be lipstick lesbians to gain high school popularity). Faking It’s big secret was revealed in Season #1; now that promising show has been reduced to just another racy high school soap opera.
Rosenbaum shines as a leading man, he is simultaneously skeevy and utterly charming in the anti-hero role. I hope the show goes the Burn Notice route: featuring standalone episodes where our hero helps town folk sort their problems despite having zero qualifications, woven in with the mythology of his former life steadily catching up with him. There’s no need to rush. In a genius move, the show is also beginning to show cracks in the facades of the supporting cast, led by David Rasche, who has not aged a day since Sledge Hammer!. Tune in this week as we go all LOST and learn the dark past of seemingly perfect Alexa played flawlessly by Mircea Monroe (Showtime’s Episodes, Heart of Dixie).
New either series? No worries. Dive right in and you’ll catch right up within minutes. Both series air Wednesday’s this summer on TV Land.