"According to Jim" / Dustin Rowles
TV Reviews | December 5, 2008 | Comments ()
We’ve given an incredible amount of crap to “According to Jim,” over the years, holding it up as an example of network stupidity, of what’s wrong with TV, and of the epitomic illustration of the moronic masses hijacking our airwaves. When “Pushing Daisies” was cancelled, we blamed “According to Jim.” When “Arrested Development” was cancelled, we blamed “According to Jim.” In fact, “According to Jim” has inexplicably been around long enough that when “Firefly” was cancelled we could’ve blamed “According to Jim” for that, too. But there are two truths I’ve conveniently ignored: 1) Beyond the occasional commercial I was too slow to zap through, I’ve never seen a second of “According to Jim,” and 2) for better or worse, “According to Jim,” is really just one of the last holdovers from a time when sitcoms just like it dominated the airwaves. “Home Improvement,” after all, used to be the top rated show on TV. “According to Jim” doesn’t really represent a dumbing down of our culture; it represents a smaller and smaller pocket of resistants who have refused to progress beyond lame zingers and gendered humor it and other traditional sitcoms (“Two and a Half Men”) deliver. We haven’t really moved backwards; we’ve moved sideways. We’ve exchanged empty family sitcoms for empty procedurals and reality shows. Actually, lately, we’ve exchanged it for something almost as bad: Fickle network executives who won’t give us anything beyond 13 episodes of any show, so the result is an audience who waits to watch TV on DVD, which kills network ratings, which results in early cancellations, which perpetuates the endless cycle of network television shows that never get beyond their infancy.
The real shame is that, while other, more deserving shows get the early axe, it’s “According to Jim” that lives on, like a television cockroach. You throw it into the toilet and it just crawls back out, more shit encrusted and emboldened than before. It’s not as though it does particularly well in the ratings, it’s just that it’s fairly inexpensive and it doesn’t rely on the audience’s need to tune in week after week. Serial dramas don’t last anymore because it’s so difficult to commit 22 hours of your life to one show every year while also maneuvering summer hiatuses, reruns, and time changes. That’s why the only shows worth watching anymore are on cable: 12 episodes, ran consecutively, and repeated multiples times over the course of a week. Likewise, “According to Jim,” neither relies on a viewer’s patience or intelligence. It’s a cheap, disposable placeholder with fairly familiar faces and plotlines that have been recycled since the 70s. I’d never seen a single episode, but tuning into the back-to-back (oh dear God) episodes on Tuesday night, I knew every single nuance and character of the show by the third minute.
“According to Jim” opened, magically, with Jim Belushi standing in his bedroom, trapped in his football jersey and screaming for his wife, Cheryl (Courtney Thorne Smith), to help him remove it from his head. “My shirt got me. My shirt got me.”
God, why did you take the other brother?
As expected, in the first 45 seconds of the show, “According to Jim,” reinforces every single gender stereotype known to man. He pays the bills. She squats out the kids. He’s dumb. She has breasts. Jim makes Archie Bunker look positively progressive, and he makes Al Bundy look like a goddamn astrophysicist. Also, it makes Courtney Thorne-Smith look like she either had a bad facelift or needs one. Her lips have disappeared inside of her face, y’all.
Having never seen “According to Jim,” I can still say with some certainty that — after seven seasons — they’re re-using this same plotline for the 169th time (assuming there are 24 episodes per season). Basically, it is this: Mom is tired because being a Mom is exhausting, so instead of letting Dad watch the Bears game in solitude, she’s leaving for the day and leaving their three grown children and twin infants with Dad. Once Mom leaves, Dad starts exploiting the children’s as slave labor, while the dumb neighbor tries to blackmail Jim into allowing him to exploit the kids.
How does the dumb neighbor fit into a show where everyone is already shit-balls retarded?
Anyway, Mom finds out about the exploitation and, instead of turning on Jim, finds the whole thing genius, and she and Jim join forces to exploit their children’s services by convincing the older children that they lost the infant’s blankie, thereby guilting them into washing dishes, making dinner, doing the windows, and repairing Dad’s SUV. That is, until the dumb neighbor — savvy motherfucker that he is — reveals to the children that the blankie was in Dad’s pocket all along. Then the kids steal the blankie and turn on the parents. Oh, madcappery! Glorious, glorious madcappery! I’ve had better times getting kicked in the shin.
They tie it all up, of course, with a quick moral lesson, as if to justify the last half-hour of our lives: “We’re a family of seven; we all have to pitch in now … it felt good to help out … we are a family and we stick together.” Oh shit, do I have a hairball? Nope. That’s my gag reflex. Woah — those molasses cookies were a lot better on the way down.
Moral lessons work when you give a shit about the characters, when they’re someone you want to emulate. They don’t work when every character on a show is loathsome, vile, tubs of gooey retardation. I want to throw feral cats at all of them.
But how lucky am I that they’re running … wait for it …. Wait for it … back to back episodes! And guess what baby Gordon pooped today? In the second episode, the writers manage to center the entire episode around two overarching female stereotypes: That women love to shop, and that women love to talk. Here, Jim — who is tired of hearing his wife natter about shopping because he’d prefer to spend his hours reading Walt Whitman. Or sniffing his balls — tries to find her a best friend, so that he’s saved from the banal conversations. Enter dumb neighbor and his way-too-good-for-him girlfriend. Way-too-good-for-him girlfriend, however, already has a best friend of her own, so in an effort to split apart that friendship, Jim and Dumb Neighbor concoct a plan where they convinced too-good-for-him-girlfriend that her best friend made a pass at, and inappropriately touched dumb neighbor, which is about as likely as the Detroit Lions winning a Super Bowl this decade. The plan backfires, and what is the grand, moral lesson in this episode? It’s not cool to frame someone for molesting you?
How is it that the most entertained I felt during the hour was watching Gwyneth Paltrow cuddle with a puppy while lying in a meadow for an Estee Lauder ad for its perfume, “Pleasures”? “Take pleasure in the small things.” Seriously? A puppy and a meadow?!
You know who would fall for that shit? “According to Jim” viewers.