Tuesday, July 14, 2015


By Dominique Paul Noth
Executive producers Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan during
NY filming of  their 'Jim Gaffigan Show."

The preview reviews are flooding in for "The Jim Gaffigan Show" with its  July 15 debut of its 10-week season on TV Land (Central Time 9 p.m., check the channel number with your provider)

In an era when many viewers still only expect smart sophisticated comedies from the bigwig traditional networks or maybe HBO and Showtime, newspaper reviewers coast to coast not known as pushovers were provided multiple episodes and are clearly startled. Several are  forced to confirm that an unlikely source, TV Land, is making waves built around the Gaffigan show, which was filmed with full blown cast and crew on the streets of New York City in the spring. Hitherto, though attempting their own sitcom or two, TV Land has been best known on cable for recycling sometimes generations-old syndicated sitcoms, not with the  possible exception of  “Younger”  creating modern forward looking  comedy series.

In the case of “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” taking advantage of the tremendous popularity of his concert stand-up tours and the successful specials and two best sellers written with his wife, the episodes will be repeated each week on Comedy Central (7 p.m. Thursdays in Milwaukee). 

Newsday flatly calls the result the smash sitcom of the summer

The New York Times is not far behind, putting it miles above the other TV Land sitcom premiering July 15. 

The Minneapolis Star Tribune says the series means TV Land "slides neatly up to the grown-ups' table“ with “sharp and sophisticated" turns and guest stars. These include, depending on episode,  Chris Rock, Janeane Garofalo. Steve Buscemi and others (some still surprises). 

Executive produced and written by Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan, up-playing their marriage and downplaying their writing teamwork, the series is based on his stand-up career  and their raising five children in a two bedroom New York apartment in the Soho region before moving to a bigger place last year.

 (The television version of Jeannie, played by Ashley Williams, who gained a TV following on “How I Met Your Mother,” was cast, both Gaffigans have said, because her high energy, maternal instincts and flair for their brand of comedy. Jim has joked he remembered selling her to the money folks by saying, ‘This woman could come at Jim with a chainsaw and still be likable.")

West Virginia's Herald Dispatch, after receiving a preview of three episodes,  raves that the "The Jim Gaffigan Show" "is incredibly funny and has a really fresh look for a family sitcom. Within five minutes, you have to wonder why another network didn't think of doing this one any earlier." 

Well, the networks sort of did – and many  reviewers now are wondering aloud  why the  networks passed this up .  That touches on a history the Gaffigans are open about, stretching back years as he succeeded in many films and TV shows while becoming one of the nation’s most successful concert stand-up solo comics. The journey heated up when they had four children (they now have five, the oldest 11 years old). NBC saw a script.  Then with a different cast, CBS actually filmed a pilot, ordered recasting and rewriting  and then commissioned another. 
Consulting during filming.

The Gaffigans have recounted that history in several interviews, quite candidly discussing the process and how once  granted full creative control and a network budget  they became part of a rebranding effort by TV Land. 

The  history of the development is complicated and while it makes for great reading in Vanity Fair explaining  the couple’s meeting and  mutual comedic  affinity, the nature of the  relationship still  seems to confuse some journalists. So it is no wonder that while praising the results ("a sunnier look than Louie")  the Washington Post reviewer screwed up the actual development curve, not recognizing how many of the episodes that are emerging are totally new and jointly written by the couple.

Philadelphia's prestigious philly.com did  recognize that TV Land is making a serious inroad into innovative new half hour comedy.  It singled out "The Jim Gaffigan Show" as the channel’s new quality  hallmark because "Gaffigan chooses not to play it safe. He tweaks both his nice-guy image and the family-sitcom formula just enough to make his show feel new - yet he retains the sense of familiarity that beckons viewers and keeps them watching."

The Detroit Free Press joined the parade of analysis and high expectations: "A solid supporting cast (Michael Ian Black, Adam Goldberg and Tongayi Chirisa) and a willingness to stay true to Gaffigan’s low-key sensibility are among the many pleasures of the series. Given time, it could rise to the height of a very tasty soufflĂ©."

"Everyone is so gosh darn likeable," noted The San Francisco Chronicle in calling the show "a blessing."

The Colorado Gazette, while suggesting that one episode won't give viewers the full weight of the delight,  was also impressed. "Gaffigan plays an endearing and playful everyman. When someone else teases him, Jim gives as good as he gets. Much of the humor consists of the behind-closed-doors verbal sparring I imagine professional comics have with each other, without the cursing. Jim happens to be the butt of most of the show's humor, but he takes it in stride and viewers laugh along with him, not at him."  

The raves keep coming. "Really really funny" says Nebraska's Journal Star. 

"Sharp-witted, funny,  unafraid,” said  the Salt Lake Tribune. "Absolutely hilarious." And July 15 all were joined by the Los Angeles Times calling the show "a humane, human comedy, fun and funny." 

Frankly, I’ve held off writing on how good this show is because of a family connection well known in Milwaukee where Jim packs the Pabst Theater in shows around New Year’s Eve, coming back to the city where he and Jeannie became engaged.  She is my daughter so their children are my grandkids and I visited them in New York and was on the set many times during filming.  I was smart enough to watch, laugh and say nothing.  They were filming with a large expert crew on the streets of  New York City, knew what they were doing down the millisecond  and clearly didn’t need some old-timer butting in.  

Now normally such family connections would keep me silent, following long-standing journalistic practice,  and I have been.  But now that  the nation’s reviewers  who don’t know me or my past as a journalist started shouting from the rooftops, I figured no one could blame me for joining the parade of positive reaction. I'm just a tagalong.  It is no longer family pride, unless Jeannie and Jim have a lot more relatives in journalism than I ever knew about.

Film and drama critic for The Milwaukee Journal for decades, Dominique Paul Noth began his journalism career in the 1960s, first as international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then an editor at the Green Sheet, then combining criticism with stints as arts editor and later senior features editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combined Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and to serve as the first online news producer. He left voluntarily to run online seminars and write about Internet journalism and online newspapers, then served from 2002 to 2013 as editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and its online portal, milwaukeelabor.org.  The culture-focused Doms Domain has a political counterpart, domsdomainpolitics, and he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.  And by the way, Jim gave him  that T-shirt.