Whether its star intends it this way or not, TV Land’s “The Jim Gaffigan Show” (premiering Wednesday) will correctly be perceived as a sunnier answer to the cloudy-day tendencies of FX’s “Louie.”
The similarities are plain: Both are single-camera, half-hour shows that depict semi-autobiographical takes on living a comedian’s existence in New York. In “Louie,” Louis C.K. turned the essential outline of his life — divorced, mid- to late 40s, father of two girls, working the stand-up circuit — into a ruminative collage of encounters, many of them depressing, insightfully weird and not always occurring in a linear narrative fashion.
Gaffigan’s world is much less artful, more straight-on and also culled from his real life: married, mid- to late 40s, father of five (yes, five) young children, eking out a living as a stand-up comedian who is known for keeping his act “clean.” Interestingly, both “Louie” and “The Jim Gaffigan Show” demote the fictional versions of their stars a rung or two down the career ladder, much like Jerry Seinfeld did on “Seinfeld,” leaving the characters free to interact in the world without the burdens of fame or fortune. I guess a lovable schlub is not as lovable if his stand-up success adds another comma to his tax returns.
That’s why we find this Jim Gaffigan living in a two-bedroom apartment (the layout of which has a shelter-magazine’s knack for small-space envy) with his bossy wife, Jeannie (Ashley Williams) and their chaotic brood. Fear not for Jeannie — there’s a daytime nanny (Vanessa Aspillaga) to help and the constant dropping-in of her droll gay friend Daniel (the ubiquitous Michael Ian Black). “You look like a dead marshmallow,” Daniel says, arriving to the sight of Jim spread out on the sofa in boxer-shorts splendor.
“You look like every bad guy on ‘Downton Abbey,’ ” Jim replies, sucking on a Fudgsicle.
Jim, whose jokes revolve almost entirely around eating, seeks daily refuge in a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen with his no-good comedian pal Dave (the also-ubiquitous Adam Goldberg). The set-up is fine and the humor is mostly mac-and-cheese-flavored, but the first few episodes of “The Jim Gaffigan Show” struggle to nail down the “Modern Family”-like precision that seems to be the desired goal. That could explain why CBS ordered two iterations of the show and eventually passed; it has the feel of a project that’s been revised a few times too many.
An early episode explores the pitfalls of being perceived as a churchgoer (in fact and fiction, Jim and his family are Catholic) but never gets around to saying whatever it thinks it needs to say about religion. In another, better episode, Jeannie tasks Jim with three simple errands that he nearly botches. One mishap involves their son’s preschool drawing of his father’s penis, which is a funny way of pushing this story slightly further than the usual doofus-dad shenanigans. Gaffigan has perfected his shtick, mixing deep sarcasm and negativity with a fine-line inoffensiveness. It works as a stage presence, but not so much as a TV character.
Michael Rosenbaum (“Smallville’s” Lex Luthor) stars in TV Land’s other, raunchier new Wednesday comedy, “Impastor,” as Buddy Dobbs, a man so desperate to escape the thugs who are after him for gambling debts that he steals the identity of a deceased man who had recently been hired to lead a small-town Lutheran church.
Arriving as Pastor Jonathan Barlow, Buddy discovers that the pastor he is impersonating is openly gay, but that’s the least challenging hitch in his ruse — as an avowed atheist, he also has no theological knowledge, no ministerial skills and no sense that a Lutheran service shouldn’t resemble a tent revival. (“We’re Lutherans. We don’t do joy. We top out at quiet contentment,” the church’s council president admonishes him.)
“Impastor’s” cleverest lines and riffs on religiosity are somewhat overwhelmed when the show gives in to temptation and becomes a zany caper. Rosenbaum makes for an energetic and appealing rapscallion, but the other characters are as flat as cardboard; there’s no time to develop them because the first three episodes move along at an exhausting speed. Blame the Google search, which pretty much sapped all plausible life out of a comedy premise in which a guy can get away with pretending to be somebody else. A viewer starts to lose faith in it pretty quickly.
The Jim Gaffigan Show (30 minutes) premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on TV Land.
Impastor (30 minutes) premieres Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. on TV Land.