A stand-up whose best-known routines include riffs on bacon, donuts and Hot Pockets, Jim Gaffigan is a likeable onstage presence whose strongest asset is his harmless affability — the fact that he’s an unassuming regular guy, except funnier. However, those qualities only take Gaffigan so far with “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” his semiautobiographical TV Land laugher that’s amusing in stretches but too often succumbs to benign blandness and sitcom conventionality.
Judged on five episodes made available by the network — which recently unveiled a new logo as part of a concerted rebranding effort to court Gen-Xers through edgier fare — “The Jim Gaffigan Show” starts off auspiciously thanks to its appealingly modest tone. Soon enough, though, the characters start behaving dumbly in the name of laughs, and Gaffigan (playing a lightly fictionalized version of himself) bogs down in the one-joke conceit that he really, really loves eating. This single-camera Sony Pictures Television comedy twice unsuccessfully tried landing on CBS in the last two years, but a reshuffled cast and whatever other behind-the-scenes tinkering haven’t helped a sitcom still searching for a distinctive personality.
That’s surprising considering that Gaffigan’s personal story has potential for a small-screen adaptation. Working in New York as an established stand-up, the 49-year-old comic lives in a cramped two-bedroom apartment with his wife and five children, their home simply too small for their growing brood. But as executed, “The Jim Gaffigan Show” feels like just another variation on the traditional “Everybody Loves Raymond” family sitcom spiced with a little of “Louie’s” life-of-a-comic vérité. (Real-life funnymen Chris Rock, Hannibal Buress and Jon Stewart provide brief cameos.)
Most of the action revolves around Jim’s banter with his long-suffering wife Jeannie (Ashley Williams), his caustic, womanizing stand-up buddy Dave (Adam Goldberg), and Daniel (Michael Ian Black), Jeannie’s ex-boyfriend, a snippy gay realtor who loves coldly mocking Jim for his overeating and lack of sophistication. Williams has a warmth and sting that help her transcend the hot-wife tropes, and Goldberg grumbles entertainingly as this bitter, misanthropic hypochondriac. But so far they’re only sitcom types tagging along on Jim’s latest misadventure.
Co-created by Peter Tolan and Gaffigan, “The Jim Gaffigan Show” struggles to hit upon a consistent comedic tone. The pilot finds Jim considering getting a vasectomy after strict Catholic Jeannie (who doesn’t believe in birth control) mistakenly believes she’s pregnant again. The episode is a charming but cutesy slice-of-life look at how infuriating it can be to learn that your wife knows you better than you realize. But then the show switches gears for a convoluted “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-like cringe-comedy episode in which Jim’s desire to prove to Jeannie that he can handle several important errands devolves into his son’s drawing of Jim’s penis falling into the wrong hands.
Thus far, the sitcom’s most promising episode — involving Jim’s nervousness about his (lapsed) Catholic faith affecting his stand-up cachet — hints at the comedic potential of marrying Gaffigan’s blue-collar, small-c conservative outlook to the high-pressure, high-profile world of Manhattan stand-up. (On the show, it’s both Gaffigan’s calling card and a point of ridicule that he has a reputation for being a clean comic who doesn’t use profanities.) The episode’s twist ending intriguingly suggests that Gaffigan hasn’t fully reconciled his faith and his profession, but it’s as close as “The Jim Gaffigan Show” gets to daring laughs, content instead to offer up wan setups about, for instance, creepy Dave dating Jeannie’s good-girl younger sister.
As the star of his own show, Gaffigan exudes a relaxed, unpretentious air, no doubt helped by the dozens of TV shows and films on which he’s appeared — everything from “Portlandia” to “Hot Pursuit.” But the dopey-guy persona he’s crafted in his stand-up doesn’t completely translate to a sitcom, where his idiocy and endless empty stomach risk reducing him to being the live-action equivalent of Homer Simpson with a few more IQ points and hairs on his head. Onstage, Gaffigan can be winning as a regular guy. But “The Jim Gaffigan Show” is merely ordinary.