For the past two seasons of The Jim Gaffigan Show, the Gaffigans have been asking the question “Is Jim a good father?” The dumb, lazy, and incompetent sitcom dad is a trope that hits plenty of 90s-2000s sitcoms which The Jim Gaffigan Show is so closely linked to. Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, The Simpsons …even the cartoon character of Randy Marsh on South Park seems to be the extreme version of this type of sitcom character. They’re less common on TV now, arguably since seeing more stay at home fathers, same sex couples raising families, and increasing equality of the workforce. But the trope still exists, and for a show like The Jim Gaffigan Show, which is as much an homage to traditional family sitcoms as it is a comment on the shows TV Land reruns, commenting on his dumb dad status makes perfect sense.
In Sunday’s episode Jim opens the show with what is essentially the episode’s prime question…”is he a good dad?” when he declares he is one to Dave. How that conversation started we don’t know, but Jim’s statement about how good a father he is feels like the definition of a humblebrag. He announces to Dave (who probably doesn’t care what kind of family man he is anyway) “I am a good father. I’m taking all five of my kids to the natural history museum. I’m giving up my Saturday…would a bad father do that?” First of all, describing spending the day with your five children as “giving up your Saturday” doesn’t win Jim any bonus points really. And second, Dave immediately knows this humblebrag isn’t as noble as it seems when he asks if Jeannie’s going too and predicts Jim going will feel like having a 6th kid to take care for Jeannie anyway. Jim’s immediately put in his place by Dave, an apathetic, but arguably aware person who tells the truth about Jim (always the worst side of Jim) that Jim himself won’t always acknowledge.
And as soon as they cut to Saturday, Jim seems to be proving Dave right. Jeannie’s still taking charge of the kids while Jim sleeps, but she has to go to the dentist last minute and leaves Jim with the kids. Jim assumes the museum’s off and wants to go back to bed, but Jeannie insist they go because they have tickets to a show (thanks to Jim’s nemesis, Daniel). Understandably, Jim seems pretty tired (probably a late night at a comedy club) but with just an hour to get to the museum, Jim’s cutting things short to get ready himself, let alone help with the kids, proving Dave right first thing in the morning. Having Jim is like having a teenage boy in the house whose mom has to wake him up to get to school. This morning however, mom can’t be around and Jim has to step up and be the parent…again, the fact that this is the exception to the rule calls further attention to the question of just how good a dad Jim really is.
Clearly he can do it…he has the basic skills to feed, clean, and dress his children. He can even change diapers. But he also usually lets Jeannie take it all by herself (as seen in previous episodes), pleading incompetence. True, feeding his daughter raw cookie dough in a taxi isn’t the smartest idea and arriving in his PJs might make it more evident that he’s out of his element, but otherwise, he proved he can get the job done. And once Jim gets out of the museum food court (feeding his children ice cream at 10am) and pulls his head away from the phone, he’s pretty good at this quality time stuff. He’s watchful and entertains his kids, tells them fun stories and clearly has fun with his kids (although they probably aren’t learning much). It isn’t until he gets to that terrible moment in every parent’s life that he makes a really big mistake that things become unmanageable.
Desperate to go to the bathroom, he gives into the kids whining and lets them stand outside the bathroom, rather than go in with him. It’s a completely understandable error…one a lot of parents would make. But it also isn’t negligence, just a bad decision. But the interesting thing about this moment is, he doesn’t lose the kids until he takes a moment for a little vanity and checks his bald spot in the mirror. Signifying something very important about the way the episode comments on his good dad/bad dad status. Jim isn’t a bad dad because he’s stupid or neglectful or selfish. It’s consistently his vanity which hurts him as a parent.
Jim could have had help at the museum if Jeannie had called the babysitter to come along. But instead Jim, although refusing to get out of bed at the time, insisted he could handle it and thought calling for help would hurt his ego by admitting he probably can’t do the massive Museum of Natural History trip with five kids by himself. Even Jeannie would struggle to do that, but Jim feels admitting he needs a babysitter would hurt his self-image as a good dad and make him look incompetent. Yet that babysitter could have been really helpful in that moment outside the restroom. He then refuses to ask the museum for help finding the kids, asking Daniel to ask for him because he’s too embarrassed. And when he’s desperate to find them, he calls on Daniel and Dave to help find them because they won’t judge him as poorly, while lying to Jeannie when she calls to check on her children.
I have to say, the use of Daniel and Dave in this episode proved to be a near perfect use of Michael Ian Black and Adam Goldberg’s strengths as comedic actors. Their mutual dislike for each other adds a nice bit to their dislike of their opposite Gaffigan. Daniel’s calling Dave a “low-rent Charlie Sheen” felt especially biting for his character. But it’s also interesting to realize that all three of these guys are really bad with Jim’s children. Dave’s general disinterest in Jim’s kids is evident when he claims he sees them in the whale room and the five random kids he’s actually found clearly aren’t Jim’s. Rather than show concern or embarrassment at such an obvious mistake Dave just responds, as if Jim should already know this, “I don’t know what your kids look like man.” Daniel sort of knows what Jim’s kids look like, but can’t keep their names straight. Considering how much time Daniel spends with Jeannie, who always has the kids with her, it’s interesting to realize how awkward he is with those kids. Part of me wishes we could see what Jeannie’s female friends and family would be like around their kids…would they show slightly more interest in the kids’ lives?
After a rather creative montage of Jim and Daniel going through the museum in search of those five kids Pac-Man style, Jim finally has to hurt his pride in order to finally find his kids. Again, the fact that Jim is so concerned about how people will perceive him almost 20 minutes after losing his kids in New York City, further calls into question the good father title he gave himself earlier in the episode. And of course, a lost child in a museum is nothing new, as the woman at the help desk immediately asks what his kids’ names are. Actually, she assumes he’s lost one kid, and the realization that he managed to lose all five raises even her eyebrows. But nothing is as bad as realizing that the tour guide who chastised Jim for making up stories in the museum to entertain his kids (one of the sweetest moments of the show this season) found and took the kids to the lobby from the bathroom…and saw Jim wondering around looking for them, letting him blow in the wind, waiting for Jim to ask for help. Jim might have been amused by his ironically suited Dick name tag, but Jim really doesn’t have a leg to stand on, having to admit he not only lost the kids, but let his ego get in the way of finding them as soon as possible.
It’s interesting that in an episode like this, Jim Gaffigan’s self-deprecating humor actually goes a step further and becomes truly critical. Gaffigan is a real-life father of five, and if you watch his social media, you’ll see he isn’t the dumb dad fictional Jim is. This episode feels very much like a callback to the first episode of the season, The Calling, which ultimately called Jim on thinking comedy was his God-given calling…when it should have been to be a good parent. This episode isn’t really about fictional Jim being a bad dad…it’s about letting his ego about being perceived as a good father turn him into a bad dad.