Rashomon isn’t just a movie, it’s become synonyms with a certain type of storytelling…telling the same story over and over from different perspectives. This week on The Jim Gaffigan Show, they took the comedic approach to that kind of storytelling…and the results were a very funny, and surprisingly moving version of that old saying “there’s
three sides to every story…yours, mine, and the truth.”
He Said, She Said is one of the show’s most self-contained episodes in terms of structure. Jim and Jeannie go to their priest Father Nicholas (the very funny Tongayi Chirisa) for what is basically couples counseling. It should be said upfront, particularly with this episode, that it actually is refreshing to have a show that presents a religious family without it becoming a joke about religion or about their religion. Catholicism is a big part of Jim and especially Jeannie’s lives as a couple and family, so having it be a part of their lives only makes sense for the characters. But in this episode, they don’t shy away from exploring how their relationship with God is dramatically different from one another’s. Jeannie’s relationship with God is clearly a comforting one for her…she wants to use her understanding and beliefs as a guide in every part of her everyday life.
Jim’s relationship with religion and God is far more complicated, but still very realistic. He’s religious, he’s a believer, but he seems suspicious and a little unwilling to fully commit like Jeannie. He calls himself a Catholic, but won’t go to Sunday mass, even when Jesus (literally, an actor playing Jesus) reaches out to him in the rectory. He knows the priest at their church personally, but feels uncomfortable sharing intimate details about his life with his priest. By the way, how have we not seen Jim in a confessional yet!? Jeannie telling Jim they’ve come to talk about their marriage because “he’s their priest” leads to Jim agreeing about his profession, but disagreeing that that’s a good reason to unburden themselves to him.
But the nuances of their questionable communication is the heart of this episode. Jeannie believes their marriage is in serious trouble because they had a fight…this is news to Jim who asks “it is?” with a high pitch shock to his voice. The fight was over their lack of space, and to Jim, the fight seemed pretty minor. The family didn’t get that dream apartment from the three-parter episodes the previous weeks, and the apartment’s starting to look a little to cluttered to live comfortable. But who’s at fault?
Jeannie tells the story of their fight first, claiming Jim is a food monster who keeps too many snacks around the house and won’t help with housework or taking care of the kids. He watches TV and eats all the time. And Jeannie’s “I don’t want to judge, but I don’t think he’s healthy” statement when Jim’s portrayed in her version of the story eating two sandwiches at once and putting Cheetos on his pizza, is cinematic passive aggression at the finest. It can be easy to claim Jeannie, who hasn’t been in as much of this season as last, is falling into the nagging housewife routine. But the show avoids that, first by showing her version relates very directly to Jim Gaffigan’s signature comedy routine…he eats too much and loves being lazy; nothing wrong with that until you have 5 kids and no room in his two-bedroom apartment.
Second, they wisely make the version of fantasy Jeannie (in Jim’s story) to be as broad and silly as Jim is in Jeannie’s. If he’s fat and lazy, she’s strict and baby crazy. While Jeannie’s fantasy had the entire set filled with his food, the apartment in Jim’s fantasy is filled with things for kids…specifically, the babies she keeps acquiring either by finding or having. But in both versions of the backstory they just don’t have enough room. Jeannie wants to get a storage unit, but Jim thinks they need to trash not save. That they can agree was the core of the fight.
But what needs to get out of the apartment and why are they saving things? In the third flashback (their story) Jeannie and Jim get to the real conflict at hand. Jim is “sort of” helping Jeannie with the housework (folding laundry WHILE watching TV), and Jeannie has found baby clothes their youngest of five has outgrown. She wants to save the clothing, just in case, but Jim thinks if it’s too small, getting rid of it would be best. The argument seems simple…should they store or should they save?
But really the question is, are they saving for another kid? Apparently, the number of kids in their family was a conversation they skipped past after their first meeting. Catholicism certainly has a tradition of families with a lot of kids (my mother was one of 10). But it’s less and less common and in terms of their lifestyles, space, and finances, having a 6th might not be the right idea. Even their priest thinks it’s more important to get on the same page about what they’re future holds as parents, not to simply have more kids because of their faith.
After one more Rashomon “flashback sequence” with Jim and Jeannie recounting how they met and their first “date” when they talked about how many kids they wanted, you see the problem they’re facing. Someone mentioned wanting 6 kids, but they never really confirmed anything before or during their marriage. Rather than coming to a conclusion about this major life decision (unlikely considering the show only runs a half hour), they make some compromises to show they’re working towards fixing this big problem in their marriage. Jim will get the storage unit (dictated by Jeannie), but Jeannie will give up some of the baby clothing. They are still talking about the possibility of having more kids, but they (specifically Jeannie) needs to realize that babies will never be a permanent part of their lives…eventually, their kids will grow up and move on.
This week’s episode was one of the simplest in narrative structure and lower key compared to the frantic energy of last week’s. The rectory was a simple set, beautifully designed in rich colors to enliven the simple cinematography. And they used the same two sets for their he said, she said flashbacks…just going to extremes with the production design of the apartment we’re already familiar with. It might not be the most ambitious episode they’re ever had, but the simplicity of this week’s allowed them to get into some of the show’s more dramatic elements and focus on their marriage without too many distractions, although the flashbacks have lots of visual inside jokes.
The second part of that quote, “there are three sides to every story; yours, mine, and the truth” has a line we rarely include which is as important…”and no one’s wrong.” The truth might be undeniable, but like the revelations made about Jim and Dave’s friendship in the previous weeks’ episodes, Jim and Jeannie’s versions say a lot about how they see their partner…and what they find frustrating. The fantasies, as silly as they were, reveal some slowly growing animosity that could become toxic if they don’t resolve some of their issues…even with a priest.