Michael Ian Black’s character Daniel on The Jim Gaffigan Show has always been a strange member of the cast. He and Jim aren’t friends, they don’t even really tolerate each other that well. But because of their mutual love of Jeannie (Ashley Williams) each is willing to put up with the other…so long as they can throw verbal jabs once in a while. And for the most part, they have lived in that tense Manhattan microcosm without their relationship feeling mean spirited or aggressive. But what hasn’t been as clear until Sunday’s episode is the fact that Jim’s feelings for Daniel are similar to Jeannie’s feelings toward Jim’s friend Dave Marks (Adam Goldberg). The first of a three episodes arc called No Good Deed puts the focus on Jim’s relationship with Dave, appearing to be slowly building to something, and the show manages to do so brilliantly.
Jim and Dave have evolved into something of the Jerry and George of the show (if we’re comparing it to Seinfeld). Jim is successful compared to sad sack Dave who we realize this week doesn’t just live at home in Queens with his mother, but also doesn’t pay rent or have a full time job (how very George Costanza of him). Like the episode The List, in which Dave is both complaining and bragging to Jim that he made the list of the best comedians in New York (something Jim didn’t), but isn’t high enough on it, Dave and Jim’s friendship clearly comes with a tension uniquely different from Jeannie and Daniel’s.
In the season two episodes Ugly and The List, Jeannie and Daniel fuel one another’s plans (often resulting in some embarrassment) but are always encouraging towards one another. Sometimes Jeannie’s plans to take on the world with her “us against the world” approach and along with Daniel as her second-in-command uses her brood of five as her mini army (any time they use that visual of her managing the kids on the show is a good time).
But Jim and Dave’s relationship is different. They are essentially friends through work…but they never work together. They bounce ideas off of each other, but rarely work together to resolve an issue. Jim posting the tweet which got him into trouble in The Trail is a perfect example. He barely offers support, he passively aggressively insults his “joke” when Jim asks for his thoughts. And when he does offer help, it’s often somewhat self-serving. We find out early in this episode that Dave has even proactively refused to open for big name Jim…and makes it uncomfortably obvious that he thinks very little of his friend’s style of comedy.
But Dave needs the work (his mom’s been asking for him to contribute) and he then claims his being the opening act at Jim’s new monthly gig at Carolines is “owed to him” because he’s Jim’s writing partner. Obviously Jim reacts in amazement at such a suggestion (if anything that title belongs to Jeannie) and Dave counters that because Jim talks about food a lot and they always go to lunch, that constitutes work (never mind that Jim pays for him every time…something they return to later in the episode).
Jim’s reasons for not having Dave on board are obvious and should be understandable to a better friend than Dave. They are different styles of comics and the audiences aren’t the same. Jeannie hates Dave, and she is essentially his partner, she gets a say in who he works with. And most importantly, he offered this gig to comic Christian Finnegan already, a comic with a similar temperament to Jim’s; and someone who already did him a favor by getting him a gig the previous week (The List) at QED’s in Astoria Queens. By the way, it should be mentioned that Finnegan is doing a great job in his new recurring role playing this version of himself as a smiley nerd comic as if he’s the anti-Dave.
But a combination of guilt and peer pressure (mostly put on Jim by Opie and Jim) leads to him agreeing to have Dave as his opener. It is a bit disappointing that we didn’t see more of this interaction play out (what did he tell Finnegan?). But instead they went full inside baseball and did an extended sequence at Carolines Comedy Club, going so far as to film the sequence with an homage to Birdman. I like when the show uses weird cinematic flourishes like they did in The Trial and The Calling. The show can be so rooted in reality using those devises can sometimes remind you everything Gaffigan has on screen ultimately is intentional. With the Birdman drumbeat and camera following behind him, we and he finds Dave as the worst version of himself.
He has neglected to tell Jim that he’s been banned from Caroline’s for ruining one of their microphones. He insults Jeannie (and others in the audience) with her friends, the nuns, sitting at her table. He steals comp tickets without permission from Jim, resulting in him losing the monthly gig, so he can invite TV Land executives (in a nice additional bit of Meta-comedy). And goes on so long he “ruins the room” for Jim’s set. All in all, Dave is a bad friend, and worse colleague.
And to make things even worse, when all Dave’s bad behavior results in him getting a pilot deal from TV Land, he doesn’t repay the debt he now owes. Jim threw away his friendship with a now angry Finnegan (looking completely dejected at the end) for Dave. But Dave now wants to work with John Mulaney on the pilot (who already stole a job from Jim in the episode Ugly). If Mulaney is taking the place of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Jim’s one-sided rival, I’m totally onboard. And I’d also be okay with Dave and Jim’s riff being the focus of the next two episodes because I find their dynamic to be far more interesting than I initially expected it would be.
As for Dave getting a show, it did remind me a lot of the NBC show about nothing season long arc from Seinfeld. Jerry getting a meeting at NBC and George simply saddling up and taking over was one of Seinfeld’s funniest arcs…so seeing how that could play out differently and result in the relationship being damaged is all the better. Few shows really show male friendships that go down a bad path that don’t result in physical fighting (something far more common on sitcoms than real-life). One of the best episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond “The Contractor” when Ray’s friendship with Gianni (Jon Manfrellotti) seemed to go down the drain after hiring him to work on his house and he does a bad job…although that resulted in the friendship being repaired before the episode was over. The fact that The Jim Gaffigan Show wants to focus on this fracture in their friendship for three episodes makes me think there’s promise that the show will be exploring more than most sitcoms with a male lead ordinarily do.