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There is sweet spot in all of the comedies on FX that, if it wasn’t there, likely would doom those shows to one-note crudeness, which would be funny but eventually repetitive and tiring. And so that sweet spot is absolutely essential. Do you want to know what it is?
Or, if you’d like to get cute about, sweetness.
See, that’s the thing that has made It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia great from the start. The gang does outrageous, politically incorrect things, but, as viewers glimpse, they’re actually nice people who do bad things.
It’s there in Louie. It’s there in Wilfred and The League. And it’s even there in Archer, the animated series. (Granted, you might have to look a tiny bit harder in that one, but only because it’s animated and thus any awfulness is more accepted. But the heart is still there).
And it’s there in FX’s newest comedy Legit, a 13-episode series that joyfully smashes against the boundaries of political correctness, taste and perhaps even human dignity, but there’s a big dose of heart to offset it. Legit is so ridiculously funny, so crass and wrong that having some compassion and empathy pump through it allows you to buy into and survive this world that Australian comic Jim Jefferies has created (and written and executive produced).
Jefferies — like Louis C.K. before him — is a massively popular stand-up comic who has found a home at FX, where they know how to guide talent; they know what wrap works best around someone like that (arguably because Louis C.K. showed them, and they learned from it).
There is no end to comedy that blows up convention; you can find a ton of it in the animated world of Adult Swim, etc. But to take that next step, where you want to be more than shocking or outrageous and to create something original and even artful, takes a broader vision.
In Legit, it sure looks like FX and Jefferies have come up with the right combination that allows the comic to be effortlessly edgy but also palatable and quite likable at the same time, without doing what a broadcast network would do, which is sand down all the coarse edges and unlikable traits, leaving some mass-appeal Ken doll in its place.
That won’t happen with Legit, which is, like all the great comedies on FX, an acquired taste. Jefferies plays a version of himself, as Louie C.K. does. The conceit of the show is that Jim’s mother is dying — at least this is the stunt she pulls with some regularity, it seems — and she wants him to be more than a stand-up comic who likes beer, bongs and women. She wants him to be more legitimate.
In the pilot, Jim makes progress in this direction by hanging out with his best friend Steve (Dan Bakkedahl), a recently divorced “cyber law library salesman” who is uptight and neurotic but willing to live life a bit louder by following Jim’s almost always bad advice and crackpot plans. Steve’s younger brother Billy (DJ Qualls) has an advanced stage of muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair, with only the use of two fingers on his right hand. In the world of Legit, he also has another thing that works pretty well: his massive penis.
But Billy’s parents have him in a long-term care facility, which is more like a super-depressing hospital. It’s there where he lays in bed with an oxygen mask, pissed off that his roommate Rodney (Nick Daley) is mentally handicapped but happy and funny and quite good at random things.
Billy asks Jim for the one thing no one else in his family would ever grant, for fear that it would kill him: to help him lose his virginity with a prostitute. Jim, of course, thinks this is a fantastic idea, and soon he, Billy and Steve are on a road trip to Nevada.
FX sent three episodes of Legit for review, and the series gets stronger with each one. The show is hilariously trying to find its footing in the pilot, which is mostly Jefferies being a lovable lout who will say anything — and almost always out loud. Like when he tells Steve that one way to make his mother proud is by going legit and getting married and having a kid. When Steve reminds Jim that he’d be an awful husband, he talks about finding a woman who is about to die to be his wife. She wouldn’t die in childbirth, of course, but live just long enough to have the kid potty-trained and walking so he could fetch a beer from the fridge. It’s a long-running, crudely funny joke that is told in the presence of a female immigration officer who (rightly) can’t believe what she’s hearing.
The success of Legit is how, in the second and third episodes, it really meshes Jefferies’ outrageous comments (spoken slowly, in that Australian accent) with — you guessed it — a pretty big heart. Jim is the one who really cares about Billy. And Billy loves Jim for his blunt honesty and willingness to do just about anything for him, including give him a hand job because a woman on a video dating site wants to have Skype sex and Billy doesn’t want to reveal that he has MD and can’t use his arms or legs.
It’s a fantastically funny scene and, though you wouldn’t guess it, is shot through with courageous sweetness. Legit moves onward with Jim conning Steve into busting Billy (and Rodney) out of the care facility for a wild night of video games, beer, bongs, mushrooms and a hooker. For the first time in his life, Billy is living (though his parents think Jim is, well, the worst influence in the world). Legit settles into its comic situation by having Billy come live with Jim and Steve.
FX is pairing Legit with Archer, but you have to wonder if they’ll eventually pair it with Wilfred and have a politically incorrect Australian-lead-actor comedy block.
In all seriousness, Legit proves in the first three episodes — hang in there for the evolution — that executive producers Peter O’Fallon, Jefferies, Rick Cleveland and Lisa Blum are aiming for a Louie-like show that is attempting to defy category. The pilot is raunchy, the second episode is uncommonly tender given the subject matter, and the third melds both worlds. But what bodes well for Legit is that, like Louie, the structure and pacing are unique, breaking conventional sitcom molds by lengthening scenes, allowing for quiet moment or awkward emotions without undercutting the impact.
Obviously Legit isn’t yet in the realm of Louie, one of the best comedies on television, but like Wilfred before it, the show is setting its tone early and hitting that aforementioned sweet spot impressively.
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