Gaffigan Show Episode Review: An Arc de Triumph

"The Jim Gaffigan Show" (Airs 7/24, 10pm ET/PT)



How incredibly fitting that we wrap up the Jim and Dave story arc this week with the most revealing look at the hilariously dark and disturbing underbelly that is the character of Dave Marks. The last half hour of this three parter concludes with us watching the results of what happened when he went “Hollywood,” an epically bad script that only a madman could love. And despite all that, Jim and Dave ultimately came back together in a kind of circular beauty. And if you ever needed to know how deep Dave’s problems really are, well, that montage said a lot about why he might not be destined for greatness. But more on that later.

Jim starts out eating solo at what used to be “their” place, Katz’s Deli, only to get a call from Dave at his must unpleasant. Clearly loving the opportunity these three episodes have offered, Adam Goldberg’s nailing every scene he’s in as egomaniacal Dave. My love for watching Adam Goldberg play Dave has only increased as he becomes a less and less likable character. By the end of this episode, he’s like a PG rated character from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Jim “apparently” missed a meeting (a meeting Dave didn’t invite him to) for the writers and now they’re behind. Not exactly rushing to Dave’s side, Jim eats a sandwich and fries in an act of self-loathing due to Dave’s behavior.

Well, it wouldn’t be so shameful if we didn’t then see him eat a steak and fries at the bar as he and John Mulaney sit waiting for Diva Dave to get to work…and then eats Mulaney’s fries, who gives Jim a look of disbelief and shock. It took me about a month to realize who Mulaney’s character of himself reminds me of. And when we see his version of rebellion, quitting this terrible job and just moving to LA to enjoy the Hollywood lifestyle, I realized Mulaney reminds me a lot of Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller. I don’t remember that from his short-lived TV show, but it is a persona that works really well for him on screen.

As John quits, Jim has to return to Dave’s side who is both groveling, and insulting Jim simultaneously to get him to work with him again. Dave has reached that apex where jerk becomes a sad, pathetic loser and even Jim seems to realize that Dave’s gotten in over his head, and his ego is too far gone for anything to bring him down except failure. Dave begs Jim to come back, promising he’ll get to do the weatherman show, and even “lets him” audition to play himself.

If Gaffigan excels at self-deprecating humor, the audition scene might be physical embodiment of why that is so funny. Sitting among a multitude of pale, blonde and red-headed guys ready to play Jim Gaffigan…and Jim can’t get into the role for the audition. Adding to the discomfort of the scene, the real Jeannie Gaffigan plays the casting director berating him for not being able to play the part of Jim. I’m not sure if the character didn’t put two and two together when he said his name was Jim Gaffigan to play Jim Gaffigan or just didn’t think it was impressive, but not going for the “who, what?” take was the right choice. It’s been done, and it allowed them to go even farther with the cringy joke.

But nothing is better than Dave Marks living his Tony Manero life. And not underdog Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever; Dave connects to that self-important jerk he became in the sequel, Staying Alive. They’ve been a pop-culture heavy with these three episodes of No Good Deed (Birdman in the first and Game of Thrones in the second). But referencing something as absurd as the sequel to Saturday Night Fever with the Frank Stallone theme song is a piece of absurd comic beauty. And the way Goldberg threw himself into that fantasy sequence was just brilliant.

And after all that, that The Jim Gaffigan Show became as uncomfortable to watch as Curb Your Enthusiasm. Dave finishes the script so late at night, that he’s late getting to the TV Land read through. Will Ferrell tells “co-creator Jim” to fill time (not understanding how video conferencing works) and he pitches the weatherman idea (which goes over well). About to get that commitment for the dream show, Jim’s interrupted when Dave walks in and once again, kills the room. Kelly Ripa’s there to play Jeannie as a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, while every other female part (including his 3 landladies and grandmother) are played by 20-something model types, and that little twerp Macaulay Culkin returns to play Jim Gaffigan. And the script is TERRIBLE. Proving that not every comic can create and star in their own show, he’s no Louie C.K. (or Jim Gaffigan) and the script is nothing but ego-stroking rambling. By the end, Kelly looks like she’s about to be sick because of the number of times her character has to kiss Dave and the TV Land executives want out. And when Dave announces this epic reading of trash is just PART 1, this house of cards just collapses.

Turns out, Will Ferrell is in fact suffering from mental problems after going off medications which made him think Dave’s stand-up is funny. But it was all a mistake. Dave’s appearance at Caroline’s wasn’t a sensation, the show was a bad idea, and Jim didn’t ruin his reputation by working on a show that bad. Jim and Jeannie didn’t even get their little piece of the suburbs so he has no new apartment he has to worry about affording. And now, everything’s back to normal, and their friendship back to what it once was; an insecure guy with success and a loser with a massive ego. What an odd couple.

It’s interesting that the show used three episodes to tell this story, which amounted to a kind of Emperor’s New Clothing story about La La Land. In the first episode, we weren’t supposed to think Dave succeeded, but I never suspected Ferrell’s impression of him to be built on a clinical misperception. I just assumed Hollywood saw something funny in Dave I didn’t see…the same way Jim was in disbelief. Jim doesn’t need Hollywood, and only thought he did because his best friend made him feel inferior. Dave acted like a star simply because that’s the way he always acts, he just rarely has the resources to go this overboard; and he does it because, as we saw in part one, his ego’s so damn fragile to begin with.

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Lesley Coffin is a feature editor for FF2media and has also written the books Lew Ayres: Hollywood Conscientious Objector (2012) and Hitchcock's Stars (2014), and currently writing a third book. Follow on twitter @filmbiographer for thoughts on movies and cat pictures.
Lesley Coffin
Lesley Coffin
Lesley Coffin is a feature editor for FF2media and has also written the books Lew Ayres: Hollywood Conscientious Objector (2012) and Hitchcock's Stars (2014), and currently writing a third book. Follow on twitter @filmbiographer for thoughts on movies and cat pictures.