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Comedy Dynamics

Jim Gaffigan
Comedy Dynamics


Noble Ape

Jim Gaffigan is funny, but Noble Ape meanders

Jim Gaffigan has been married 15 years and has five kids: not the typical profile for a popular comedian. His wife, Jeannie, recently survived a brain tumor. Gaffigan drew on their medical experiences for his new special, Noble Ape, available on cable and streaming services.

Brain surgery is an unlikely topic for comedy, but Gaffigan has a gift for finding humor in tough circumstances: “Why are doctors so obsessed at comparing the size of tumors with fruit? Do they think we can’t understand centimeters?” Gaffigan also wonders why anyone would be content with less than the intensive care unit. Who wants to be in the pretty good care unit?

He jokes that, at the sight of his large family walking into a restaurant, a waitress once threw down her apron and quit. His 5-year-old’s greatest memory after traveling around China, seeing the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, and other famous sights? “I liked when we saw that truck full of pigs!”

Gaffigan is a Catholic, but claims that he’s not a very good one: “If there were a test, I’d probably fail. Then again, most Catholics would!” He’s known as a “family-friendly” comedian, and much of his material is inoffensive and quite funny.

Several jokes suggest he does not take the Bible seriously, though. He ridicules hospitals named after Biblical places of healing, comparing miracles to astrology or UFOs. Viewers could fast-forward through a lame joke about St. Boniface being the patron saint of bowel issues, and the accompanying casual blasphemy.

Overall, is it funny? Some of Gaffigan’s stories were a little too meandering and long-winded, and the punch lines weren’t worth the journey. The teens and adults in my small family test audience didn’t laugh a lot during the hourlong viewing. If you’re a fan of Gaffigan’s past work, you’ll probably enjoy Noble Ape. Otherwise, you won’t miss much if you give it a pass.

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The Staircase

Netflix series addresses the trial and life of Michael Peterson

A woman with seven deep lacerations to her head dies in a pool of blood in her home, with only her husband nearby. As murder cases go, it seems pretty cut and dried, right?

Hold on—there’s no clear motive for a murder, no signs of struggle, and no blood spatters or brain injuries consistent with a beating. The victim, who had a blood alcohol level of .07 and had just taken Valium, was found wearing flip-flops at the bottom of a dark, narrow staircase in the middle of the night.

First responders found Kathleen Peterson dead at the bottom of a staircase in 2001, and a jury convicted her husband for the killing in 2003. The Staircase, a Netflix docuseries, addresses Michael Peterson’s trial, his life and legal choices after his conviction, and his eight years in prison (including too much screen time with his adoring family members).

Peterson is not an altogether sympathetic character. He seems to be a loving dad, but he’s also pretty awkward—the kind of guy who hires a French filmmaker to document everything he does in the aftermath of his wife’s death. He’s also bisexual, kept gay pornography on his computer, and solicited men for sex. The series contains strong language, flashes of pornography, and some gruesome details.

But most of us would like to think that, if we were in Michael Peterson’s position, certain processes would be in place. That evidence would be handled properly, that testing would be replicable—that we would be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

In this case, the state of North Carolina withheld, lied about, and possibly even wiped away evidence that might have exculpated Michael Peterson.

One intriguing theory the docuseries doesn’t address but has been swirling around the internet: Kathleen’s lacerations may have been inflicted by an owl attack.

“I don’t know the meaning of life,” Michael says in the series, reflecting on the last time he saw Kathleen alive. “I wouldn’t call it nonsense. … I just don’t get it. What happens seems to be … random. It just happens.”

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Corruption dominates in Paramount's Yellowstone

Violence and death follow rancher John Dutton (Kevin Costner) everywhere he goes in Paramount’s new TV series, Yellowstone. From episode 1’s opening scene, in which Dutton shoots a horse injured by a bullying land developer’s truck, to his order to get rid of a witness whose testimony could harm his son, killing and mayhem abound. 

Dutton’s Yellowstone Ranch is the largest in Montana, and it is under siege by a builder who nibbles at its edges and hungers for more. The new chief of the neighboring Indian tribe, while less a warrior than a politician, is also no friend of the ranch, and relishes a conflict with Dutton.

Developers, Indians, and ranchers: Each demand unquestioning loyalty from their subordinates. Ranch hands are more mafia members than cowboys. Dutton’s son Kayce, who lives on the reservation with his Native American wife and son, is caught in the middle. Kayce shows more sorrow for the death of a wolf run down by a semi-truck than for his own cold-blooded execution of his wife’s brother. Just before firing the last and fatal bullet, he taunts, “In case you didn’t know, there’s no such thing as heaven.”

While greedy to get back what he considers his tribe’s land, the Indian chief shows compassion and mercy at times, and offers wise advice to Kayce. John Dutton does not seek or receive discerning counsel. The local priest hasn’t seen him inside the church for decades, yet considers him a fellow shepherd of the flock because he employs so many. Worse, the priest owes Dutton a favor and follows his orders. From the pulpit and in person, he pressures congregants to suppress what they know about the murders committed.

Viewers of Yellowstone will see violence, selfishness, blasphemy, coarse language, adultery, and general lawlessness. In short, they will find lots of spiritual death, without any hope of forgiveness and certainly not new life in Christ.

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