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Gut Check: The Jim Gaffigan Show — A Puffy James Dean

Since, like most people these days, I only watch a show in one multi-hour clump of multiple episodes, head resting on a folded pillow, eating dark chocolate almonds under the false assumption they’re healthier (the almonds fill up space where the chocolate is, I tell my wife), I finally caught up with the entire season of the Jim Gaffigan Show.

I realize praising it on this site will only hurt him in other arenas, so I will keep my compliments limited. Suffice to say, the show is probably like Mr. Gaffigan himself: a light touch, but always smart – and underneath it all lurks disturbing, profound judgments on contemporary life. That Gaffigan focuses on the value and strength one gets from traditional sources – while on television, mind you – he comes off as subversive as a Satanist at the Vatican.

As I watched, I made these observations:

*The relationship between Jim and his fellow comic Dave presents a stark comparison between the modern self-involved male, and Jim, the non-introspective producer of both work and children. Jim has five kids (as he does in real life), which, to Dave (well-played by Adam Goldberg) is akin to having five heads sprouting out of your back. Dave is a stunted creature living on shallow need, mistaking it for real desire. He’s a detestable character, but necessary as a mirror to reveal our own flaws.

Dave – a selfish, annoying and some-times successful lothario – lives at home with his mother.  He is a mascot for the arrested and undeveloped. In his mid-thirties or nearing 40, his habit of the “second look” is a tell that reveals the unsatisfied male who’s always looking, but never finding, anything. When an attractive (or any) woman passes he doesn’t just look once, but twice – a thing many of us are guilty of for reasons ingrained in our genes. We look twice to download memories, fearing we may never see it again.  It’s a theme that comes up with…

*The relationship between Jim and his food. A trademark of his comedy, his obsession with food acts as a literal symbol, if that’s possible: he’s trying to fill up a hole (his stomach). Perhaps he worries that if he doesn’t eat that particular food, it will be taken away from him, and he will miss that chance, forever. He looks twice at food. And moans. I find much in common here – especially in scenes where he attempts to steer his own wife away from his favorite food by creating detour meals (offering to make her a tuna fish sandwich so he won’t have to share his pizza). His hostility at his sister-in-law after he finds that she’s eaten his deep-dish is petty – but real. I’ve sometimes sat, during my ride home from work, thinking about the cold roast chicken waiting for me in the box. And when it’s gone, I feel as though I’ve been robbed. I’m glad I’m not alone.

*Then there’s the whole question of procreation – not the “let’s have one child” kind, but the “lets create a brood” kind. There’s a fantastic scene when Jim’s wife, Jeanne, finds out she’s not pregnant, (it was a false positive) and glumly tells Jim. She’s sad, because, well, it would have been their sixth child. It’s a revelation to me, anyway – to realize where the sadness comes from. There she was hoping for another miracle, another new person on the planet, an entirely new dimension to their world. The idea of added responsibility never enters the picture. To her, it’s one less person at the party. And parties become less burdensome – person by person, the more you invite. But – it wasn’t to be. And she felt like she let her husband down. Jesus, how subversive can a show get? It serves to place motherhood above all vocations; that making and taking care of children is not just a full-time job, but a supernatural position – like a wizard – in which you create things out of thin air. You’ll never make VP of Time Warner, but that fan club of five will do just fine.

*The show refuses to marginalize religion – it features a recurring character who happens to be a Catholic priest, and Jeannie mentions prayer consistently throughout the show. One particular episode focus on an incident in which Jim is photographed holding Jeannie’s large bible – and because it’s so rare to see an entertainer holding one – the photo turns him into a religious celebrity – a mainstream oddity. He starts getting 7-figure offers to do commercials from pro-family businesses, while also alienating non-religious types. He finds himself (spoiler coming) barreling through a 20 minute nightmare fantasy where he plays out how his career will be destroyed by this damning photo. It turns out, however, it is but a fantasy: a daydream sequence of what could happen, if he were caught with a bible. It’s a great way to end a show about religion: caught holding a bible, but then – like that – he rewound the show , and got himself out of this mess. He cops out. And admits it. 

*The finale salutes the superior influence of all such matters, but especially his life-changing spouse. In a rework of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jim lives an episode without wife or kids, after wishing he were free of such burdens. The consequences are pathetic: he becomes a lesser version of himself. A druggie who sleeps with crude groupies, he becomes known as a foul-mouthed comic – an end result had he remained single all those years. This horrifying end leads him frantically screaming for a return to his previously hectic, overwhelming life as a dedicated father of five and docile, clean-joke-comedian/husband.

 The show ends up as an anecdote to the feminist, post-modern nightmare, simply by exposing the positive results of a domestic life by comparing it to its grim alternative. It cements Jim Gaffigan as the James Dean of comedy. A rebel, but with a cause, one that salutes those who choose the life less exciting, but every bit as dangerous. And a far more rewarding one, too.

Greg Gutfeld is a mainstay on Fox News as co-host of The Five and host of The Greg Gutfeld Show. He’s also the NY Times best-selling author of Not Cool and The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage. For more from Greg check out hisofficial site or follow him on Twitter.

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