The Jim Gaffigan Show and Impastor Review: Rebrand Land for TV Land

The Jim Gaffigan Show S01E01: "Pilot" and Impastor S01E01: "Genesis"

You guys know that I love a lot of things—always bringing the positivity, me—but I have a confession. There is absolutely nothing else in the world I love more than a television network trying to shift course, or in industry parlance, "rebrand™." Hey, it's the simple pleasures, you know? Sure, a rebrand is a public admission from a corporate entity that something isn't working. Maybe the results are often just a series of shiny new logos and commercials signaling a new direction, but sometimes, we can see the fruits of a network's attempted makeover in its scripted programming. And that? That's so fascinating to watch develop. 

The latest network to take the deep plunge into rebranded waters is TV Land, the longtime home to syndicated airings of popular multicam sitcoms of yesteryear, and more recently the home to a series of original multicams that tried to piggyback on viewer nostalgia by recycling both the casts and plotlines of those old shows. Hot in Cleveland  is the most notable of the projects in this vein, but you might be surprised to know that there are roughly a half dozen more just like it—The Soul ManRetired at 35Happily DivorcedThe Exes, and Kirstie

Though some of these projects have failed, others have succeeded in a basic cable sense, so TV Land decided to push the stars of the Must-See-TV era to the side, move its syndicated programming to a siloed branded-content zone earlier in the day (with the old logo!), and commit to a new, single-camera comedy approach (and a new logo!) aimed at slightly younger audiences in primetime. Darren Star's fun and appropriately titled Younger was the opening salvo in the rebranding effort, but tonight's two premieres—The Jim Gaffigan Show and Impastor—kick the new era into high gear. Unsurprisingly, as with most programming early in a rebranding process, these two single-camera comedies show moderate amounts of potential amid the bumpy spots. 

The Jim Gaffigan Show, a semi-autobiographical look at the popular comedian's life in New York City with his "Shiite Catholic" wife Jeannie (Ashley Williams) and five kids, is the centerpiece of this block, and with obvious reasons. I don't know the demographic particulars of his crowds, but if you were looking to appeal to moderately upscale Generation X'ers, Gaffigan is a pretty good place to start. The project was in development at CBS for a bit and it's not hard to imagine a broader, worse multicam version, just as it's not hard to see that the show is heavily inspired by LouieMaron, or any number of contemporary comedies about comedians. That's not necessarily an indictment of The Jim Gaffigan Show—there are things to like—but it does represent one of the key ways networks try to rebrand: by taking an idea, format, or whatever that worked elsewhere.

What's interesting about Gaffigan's variation on the now-familiar format of a contemporary comedian working gigs, trying to function as a human, and generally running into weird circumstances, is that he combines it with conventions of the family sitcom, something likely a little more recognizable to the current TV Land viewer. The results are, perhaps unsurprisingly, mixed. I've seen three episodes including tonight's pilot and the first was clearly the weakest, bogged down by an unnecessary voiceover that seemed to believe we needed a family with five kids or a bum of a friend explained to us in a non-diegetic framework. A later episode (it's unclear exactly what order they'll be airing in) offered a typical family sitcom framework—bumbling dad Jim bungles a number of important tasks for his disapproving but understanding wife—but filled it with fun jokes and payoffs that allowed it to rise above cliché. 

Yet, it's the last episode I watched, wherein Jim is given another task from his wife, to pick up her massive bible and trek it around NYC, where the show found pay dirt. In obliging his wife's request, Jim set off a chain of events that led him to embarrass himself on The Daily Show and subsequently become the source of the latest cycle of cable news outrage. The plot eventually divulged into a kind of heightened madness that, frankly, wouldn't be that out of place on Louie, and temporarily dropped the pretense of the family sitcom. That episode wasn't particularly novel—really, I'm just imagining the dark and depressing places Louis C.K. would have taken things—but it's still sharp and amusing, and you can imagine a world where people who found C.K. off-putting might really like this show instead.

Your enjoyment of Gaffigan's show likely depends on your interest in him as a comedic force, but I'm not especially fond of him and enjoyed this well enough. Williams is joined in the supporting cast by Michael Ian Black and Adam Goldberg, who are very good as Jeannie's gay ex-boyfriend and Jim's scummy buddy, and all three help elevate the star's work. 

The Jim Gaffigan Show is a solid if inessential remix of a couple familiar genres, which means it's not necessarily a show positioned to kickstart a rebranded revolution. Meanwhile, its timeslot partner, Impastor, feels much more like a holdover from the previous multicam era of TV Land with its big concept and broad comedic hijinks. It's even less inessential than Gaffigan, but star Michael Rosenbaum might be the kind of dude bro who helps TV Land reach a different kind of audience. 

About that concept, which was laid out in the pilot: Impastor featured Buddy Dobbs (Rosenbaum), an all-around bum with a load of gambling debt who tried to commit suicide to escape the certain death (and castration) awaiting him. But as Buddy tried to leap from a bridge, he's stopped by a good samaritan—who subsequently fell off the bridge to his death. In a moment of panic Buddy assumed the man's identity, his new job, and his home, only to discover that he's now impersonating a gay reverend in a small idyllic community.  

A little harder to explain than the Gaffigan Show, huh? Though we haven't seen it before to my knowledge, Impastor is one of those quintessential TV premises built on fundamental ground: the lead character twisting himself into lies and ironic situations, only to discover that he actually finds meaning in the falsities he's living. Of course, it's also built on the rest of the characters acting relatively stupid in most situations, a process that can quickly grow tiresome. 

In the two episodes of Impastor that I watched, including tonight's pilot, those stereotypical elements were heavily featured, to the point where both episodes followed an almost identical structure that involved Buddy trying to escape his new life only to return because he realized the "good" he's doing in the community (and because he has few other options). Other characters—including a do-gooding assistant played by Sara Rue and an eager member of the flock played by Mircea Monroe—were too often charmed by Buddy to poke real holes in his persona or his unusual methods. Toss in a number of jokes involving weed, sexual congress with warm produce, and the church's relationship with homosexuality, and you can find a number of very, very familiar elements within this show. 

However, while The Jim Gaffigan Show was a sturdier enterprise with good performers all around its star, Impastor skated by almost exclusively on the charm of its leading man. Rosenbaum might seem like an interesting choice for a role like this given that his most famous role was playing the increasingly evil (and stupid) Lex Luthor on Smallville, but he's been trying to find footing in comedy ever since (remember Breaking In?) and now that enough time has passed, he even looks fairly normal with hair. 

Though there's a level of slimy douchebro that you have to get past to even begin to find Buddy bearable, the show smartly baked that into the story well enough that there's never much of a sense that we're expected to like this guy. Rosenbaum wasn't afraid to employ some physical comedy in the role, which worked well enough, but I appreciated that the show didn't rely on broad generalizations and comedic shorthand of homosexual men. Buddy didn't change his performance to seem "more gay," even as Monroe's blonde-hottie Alexa or gay congregation member Russell (Mike Kosinski) tried to flirt their way into his good graces. The show certainly isn't progressive, but with an already goofy premise, my expectations for its treatment of gay men or gay people in church were very low. 

As a package deal, these two comedies don't exactly point the way to a brand new version of TV Land.  It's hard to imagine TV Land becoming the Next Great Cable Network, particularly in an insanely competitive marketplace, but that tough competition means that all networks really need to do is find a loyal sliver of viewers. I'll be curious to see how alienating these shows are to fans of the previous TV Land brand and programming, but together with YoungerThe Jim Gaffigan Show and Impastor suggest that there's a beginning of something interesting here—even if it's not yet good or essential.

What did you think of the shows? Which did you like more? Did you eat a Hot Pocket while watching The Jim Gaffigan Show?

Comments (24)
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Jul 18, 2015
I know he considers himself to be a comedic actor but Rosenbaum should try to throw some dramatic acting skills in every now and then. That's what made him a household name as Lex. He'd be great as a bad guy in a few projects here and there. TV Land seems below him.
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Jul 17, 2015
Holy cow! I don't know who you are, but WOW did you miss the mark on Jim Gaffigan's show. The kids going in to the doctor's office for the vasectomy consult and the little one asking if the diagram was a map of Florida? Too many laughs to mention. WE LOVED IT! Are you sure you were watching the same show? The one w/ the comedian and his wife and 5 kids living in a NY apt.? I'm not one for cute little formula sitcoms either. In fact, I can't find many sitcoms I like other than Modern Family. Gaffigan's show had us both laughing til it hurt. Anyone missing this show is missing some of the best laughs in life, and we sure do need that. Maybe you were reviewing another show. It couldn't have been Jim Gaffigan's. Sorry, maybe that's just me. I sure hope not, cause we love it. Gotta go watch it again. I need a laugh. Your review brought me down.
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Jul 17, 2015
I used to watch Hot in Cleveland and The Exes, both were okay but not great. I'm glad for the switch to single camera comedies since there won't be studio audience laughter anymore.
The Jim Gaffigan show has Michael Ian Black, which is more than enough reason to watch a show. Impastor looks like a PG version of Banshee, I'll try a few episodes and see how it is.
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Jul 16, 2015
I don't watch much comedy and the Impastor premise sounded terrible but I would watch pretty much anything with Rosenbaum on it (he doesn't get cast enough IMO). And he is good in comedy (his character Dutch was the only good thing in Breaking In which otherwise sucked) so I will keep watching Impastor and hope that the writing somehow elevates itself above the usual tropes and cliches...
No idea who Gaffigan is and definitely won't watch that...
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Jul 16, 2015
Impastor didn't interest me at all so I skipped it, I watched the Jim Gaffigan Show preview they did a few weeks back but I wasn't impressed with it or the 2nd episode, which I only half watched, at all.. so I'm fine never watching either of these shows again.
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Jul 16, 2015
I guess the author forgot about Sorority Boys...lol. I've always thought Rosenbaum is much better in comedies than dramas. He played Lex well, but I think his zanny style is more suited for comedy.
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Jul 17, 2015
Sorority Boys is one of my favorite comedies. I've watched it so often I'm amazed I still laugh every time.
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Jul 17, 2015
Me too. At a fundamental level I know the movie is incredibly dumb. But that doesn't stop me from laughing my a@# off everytime I see it.
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Jul 16, 2015
I've seen 2 of The Jim Gaffigan Show, and the dynamic between his character and his wife and kids was just too cut-n-paste and it's unfortunately the centerpiece of the show. It wasn't a bad show exactly, but it felt rote for this day and age, so I'm not sticking with it.
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Jul 16, 2015
I recorded Gaffigan's show and expect to enjoy it, since I like him a lot.

A few years ago I was pretty angry with TVLand for deviating from the tried and true syndicated shows they began with. And I'm not talking about bringing in their original programming. I'm talking about when they tried to pass off fairly recent shows as "golden oldies." OK, I'm just an old fogey. For me, anything from 1990 on is new. Anyway, some other cable channels have popped up that fill that void, so I'm fine with TVLand moving on, I guess.
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Jul 17, 2015
You'll love it, trust me.
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Jul 17, 2015
Watched it last night, and I did love it. I recognized a couple of jokes from his stand up in the opening, but otherwise I think it was new material. I love a program that shows a loving, supportive married couple. This is one. And there wasn't too much of the kids, which could also be a danger. Thumbs up from me!
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Jul 27, 2015
You ate a hall cake? HaaaHaaa.
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Jul 28, 2015
"I want you to be at our daughter's wedding."
"Will there be cake?" Ha ha!
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Jul 16, 2015
Thanks for this article. I remember reading a blurb or so about both shows a while back, but had no recollection of either and when they were premiering.

So after seeing this article and watching the premieres, I kind of surprisingly enjoyed both! Both Gaffigan and Ashley Williams are easy to like, and the show as a whole is quite affable. Gaffable? It's cute.

Impastor has a similar kind of tone, in that it's kinda affable and cute. Rosenbaum is good in the role.

I'll be sticking around for both.
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Jul 17, 2015
We loved it.
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Jul 16, 2015
Well it comes down to this? Are either of these shows worth watching right now?

I've heard of the Gaffigan show for a while, but I wouldn't really ever consider myself a Gaffigan fan, I like MIB and Adam Goldberg quite a lot though, so I was trying to decide whether to watch it or not.

I never even heard of the other show, but the plot sounds awesome.
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Jul 16, 2015
It only took two minutes in for the Gaffigan Show to make me laugh. And continued to do so throughout the episode. Looking to make this my new comedy since Park and Sirens are done.
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Jul 17, 2015
WE LAUGHED SO HARD. IT WAS GREAT!
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Jul 16, 2015
I caught the first episode of Impastor the other night, and I'm already telling a few friends to check it out. It's not the best show on television, but I found myself laughing quite a bit. So, I figure I'll give it a few more episodes.

That being said though, I think being a fan of Rosenbaum in general might have increased the enjoyment I got out of watching the show. So, if you're a fan, I'd definitely say check it out.
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