In the US: Wednesdays, 10.30/9.30c, TV Land
In the UK: Not yet acquired
There’s a long tradition of comedy shows about men and women of the cloth. Think All Gas and Gaiters, Oh, Brother!, Oh, Father!, Troubles and Strife, Rev, Father Ted, The Vicar of Dibley. Ironic, isn’t it, though – all those shows are from this side of the Atlantic, rather than the very much more religious US. You could probably have a long think and come up with some US comedy shows about reverends, but you’d be hard pushed.
Maybe it’s too serious a subject for the US to tackle – at least, head on. But when they can come at it at an angle, maybe not.
TV Land – the comedy network for people who like things the way they used to be when they were young – is currently trying to bring a relatively younger audience, and given it was probably the last US network to have a go at a religious sitcom with The Soul Man, it seems fitting that they’re giving it another go with Impastor. The Soul Man was, of course, about an R&B singer who becomes a preacher. Whether it was ’too black’ for TV Land’s audience, only TV Land can say, but Impastor is certainly a whole lot whiter. But that doesn’t mean TV Land is forsaking diversity. Oh no.
Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville, Breaking In) is gambling addict and small-time criminal Buddy. When all seems lost and even his girlfriend Aimee Garcia (Dexter) has deserted him, he decides to take his own life by jumping off a bridge. Fortunately, at the last moment, a vicar on the way to his new job intercedes. Unfortunately for the vicar, he plummets to his own doom instead and Buddy seizes the opportunity to take his place… and perhaps his possessions, money, etc. Except Buddy turns out to have an accidental talent for ‘pastoring’.
If only he didn’t have to pretend to be gay, too.
Here’s a trailer and if you’re quick, below it is the entire episode:
Buddy Dobbs (Michael Rosenbaum), a slacker on the run from a loan shark, steals a man’s identity and ends up posing as a small town’s new gay pastor. With Sara Rue, Mircea Monroe, Mike Kosinski and David Rasche.
Is it any good?
It’s a miracle! For once, I think we have a TV Land comedy that’s actually both palatable and funny.
The first thing you have to do is put aside the issue that anyone recruiting someone over the Internet should at least be able to do a Google Image search to find out what that person looks like, particularly if said person is even slightly famous (eg a pastor who came out as gay in Florida). This would naturally kill the whole premise of the story stone dead (at least Banshee has a McGuffin hacker who can fix that kind of thing).
But leaving that one big logistical issue to one side, the show’s actually quite fun. Michael Rosenbaum is, of course, best known as the very unfunny Lex Luthor in Smallville but he’s always had a gift for comedy, particularly in his voice work. Here he’s likeable and funny as a small-time crook who, while not meaning especially well, doesn’t mean any real harm. He also avoids camping up, too, which would have been an easy route for a US comedy, where the camp gay man is the ubiquitous stereotype.
But he’s able assisted by a script with some actual jokes in it – novel for TV Land, I know. As with Banshee and indeed Tootsie, much of the comedy and the drama come from the disconnect between who Rosenbaum is and who he pretends to be and how he uses his former life to almost be a better gay pastor than the real one would have been. However, there’s also a couple of inappropriate policemen investigating his disappearance and their combined inappropriateness and insensitiveness with Garcia are good for a few yucks.
There’s a good supporting cast, too. David Rasche – Sledgehammer himself – actually plays it straight as the patrician church head who doesn’t quite believe Rosenbaum is who he claims to be. Sara Rue, Mircea Monroe and others all provide additional laughs.
The show’s biggest challenge will be preserving the delicate tonal balance between Buddy’s dark background and his new employment, since the final few seconds of the episode move the show into potentially dangerous territory. But I’ll be sticking around for that, at least, which is a step up from practically every previous TV Land show I’ve watched.