Honestly, this is the last thing I expected to like.
An unscripted show about people eating dinner? Shot on a cell phone?
But it’s now become a quarantine ritual for me and my wife. We finish dinner and clear the table and she says, “Let’s see with the Gaffigans had for dinner.”
And so we plop down in front of the TV and I flick on YouTube and we spend the next 40 minutes or so entranced by the dining habits of a standup comedian, his wife and their five children. It begins with the singing of an achingly awful theme song and concludes (sometimes) with dessert, and in between they say grace — how often do you see people doing that on TV? — answer questions from Instagram (“What’s your favorite movie? How come Jack looks bored? How old is everybody?”) and talk about the meal. (Jim’s “Happy Chili” looks like something I’d like to try.)
The production quality ranges from poor to a little-better-than-poor; it’s shot on an iPhone with just the mic on the phone, so the sound is poor and the cinematography so-so, though occasionally they press into service a Gorillapod to stabilize the shots. And that’s it. That’s “Dinner with the Gaffigans,” a quirky quarantine phenom that is by turns tedious, funny, unpredictable and, in the end, surprisingly endearing. If “Seinfeld” was a show about “nothing,” “Dinner with the Gaffigans” is a show about nothing, with a salad and a side dish.
The high concept seems to borrow from the opening line from TV’s “The Odd Couple”: can a big Irish Catholic family spend lockdown in New York City without driving each other crazy?
Turns out, so far, yeah. They’re spending these days like the rest of us, being bored or reading or watching old movies and snapping at each other over minor aggravations (with occasional interjections from viewers, who send in questions). And we get to watch it happening. It’s “An American Family” without the melodrama; or “Modern Family” without sharp elbows and a cutting edge.
It’s voyeurism with a little heart, too. Everyone walks around barefoot in frumpy clothes — but Jim’s plucky wife, Jeannie, in between preparing the meals and cajoling the kids, insists on putting on lipstick; she and a girlfriend promised each other, no matter what, they were going to spend the corona apocalypse wearing lipstick! We get ample glimpses of the Gaffigans’ fabulously huge Manhattan apartment — brick walls, stainless steel appliances, high ceilings, unpretentious but functional furniture, and a statue of the Virgin Mary on the fireplace mantle. (Chez Gaffigan is big enough to host a hockey game. Real NYC apartments, I swear, don’t look like that.)
So what do the Gaffigans eat during the lockdown? Shake Shack takeout, pizza, hot dogs, chili (served, Cincinnati-style, over pasta), salad, Perrier and cheesecake, among other things. More often than not, I sit there and watch and nod and think, “That looks pretty good.” I’d love to join them some night for real.
It remains to be seen how long Jim Gaffigan and his family can remain good sports about all this; eventually, I imagine, they’ll either run out of ideas, or things to talk about, or patience. But these folks seem to be so normal, so authentic, so unpretentious and unbothered by being cooped up with each other for weeks on end, you sort of want this to go on indefinitely. Hey, let’s watch the kids grow up and the parents grow old, and then see the grandkids drop by for a visit!
It’s a whacky idea, but it just might catch on.
Meantime: check out one of their first episodes, below, and hop over to YouTube to see more. Or tune in at 6 pm. ET to see it streamed live.