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TV Series Review

We Americans do love us our real, fictionalized comedians on TV.

It ostensibly began with Seinfeld. And the idea has since sprouted across the television spectrum: on FX (Louis C.K. in Louie), HBO (Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm), IFC (Marc Maron in Maron), even arguably on Showtime (where Friends alum Matt LeBlanc plays a fictionalized version of himself in Episodes). Playing yourself is all the rage in comedy—and a good way to get yourself nominated for an Emmy to boot. Both LeBlanc and C.K. snagged nominations in 2015.

Now there's a new fake-real comedian joining this ever-so-meta party: Jim Gaffigan on TV Land, playing a guy named Jim Gaffigan. In The Jim Gaffigan Show. Of course.

The Changing Face of Clean

The televised Gaffigan shares some similarities with his real-life self. Both are Catholic—though on TV, Gaffigan seems less than fully committed to his faith. Both seem to be happily married, more or less, even if his TV wife has to put up with a lot of irresponsible behavior from, ahem, her better half. Both serve as father to five kids. And both have a reputation for "clean" comedy.

"In full disclosure, I did curse occasionally," Mr. Gaffigan told The Wall Street Journal about his early stand-up days. "But I felt like I wasn't done writing the joke if I was relying on a curse word. It's like, we're all adults here, and some of my favorite comedians are really filthy. But I'm an eccentric observation guy. If you're talking about mini muffins, is it really necessary to say f---?"

A Catholic, critically acclaimed, clean comedian starring in his own television sitcom? Sounds promising, right? Well, hold Bob Newhart's phone there, mister. Gaffigan is a stand-up comedian and may well be a stand-up guy. But his show sometimes falls down on the job.

Outed as a Christian

Remember how Gaffigan said he would curse "occasionally" onstage? Well, he includes that on TV, too. (We hear the likes of "b--ch" and "a--" sprinkled through some episodes.) The show's been known to take a turn to the ribald, as well, with its subject matter ranging from the funny side of vasectomies to one of Gaffigan's brood drawing a preschool picture of his dad's penis. The series also features a somewhat stereotyped gay character who once dated Gaffigan's wife, Jeannie, and now serves as her best friend and Jim's best enemy.

That said, The Jim Gaffigan Show manages to be both relatively clean and relatively clever—as insightful in its own way as Louie can be, but without that show's much-chronicled raunch. Compare it to Chuck Lorre's never-ending stream of crass CBS comedies(Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory), and Gaffigan reads like a Smothers Brothers routine. Critics who've given the sitcom high marks regularly reference Gaffigan's clean persona and laud the show for its good heart.

One telling episode deals with Gaffigan's paranoia of the wider world learning about his Catholicism. "We played off the notion of being outed as Christian, that being Christian in entertainment is like being gay in the '50s," he told The New York Times. "It really touches on my fear surrounding being known as a Christian."

To be openly Christian in 21st-century America does indeed open yourself up to judgment. But Gaffigan, in this show, seems determined to portray a different sort of Christian than those reviled by Bill Maher or mocked on Family Guy. Christians, he says, are regular people too, who sometimes don't really want to go to church, and sometimes … curse.

"There are positions in this culture war that Jim doesn't want to engage in, he just wants to do jokes about avocados," Gaffigan told the Times. "We know conflict sells, but 90% of my friends are devout atheists. The messages is: He believes in God, it's not that big of a deal. When we were kids it didn't matter if someone was religious, it just mattered if they were annoying."

Thin as a Promise

Gaffigan doesn't want to be annoying. And, happily, he's not. But for those who think that believing in God is a big deal—the biggest, really—The Jim Gaffigan Show can sometimes feel like a broken, if funny, promise.

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Episode Reviews

The Jim Gaffigan Show: July 3, 2016 "The List"
The Jim Gaffigan Show - July 22, 2015: "Super Great Daddy Day"



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Jim Gaffigan as Jim Gaffigan; Ashley Williams as Jeannie Gaffigan; Michael Ian Black as Daniel; Adam Goldberg as Dave; Vanessa Aspillaga as Blanca




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Paul Asay

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