It seems likely that Legit co-creator and star Jim Jefferies would have come up with a show in which he played an exaggerated, less successful version of himself even if Louis C.K. hadn’t had the same idea and managed to do something with it first. After all, fellow comedian Marc Maron recently debuted a similar vehicle, Maron, on IFC. But the success of Louie must have made both shows easier to sell to a network.
Jefferies isn’t the cultural hero that Maron has become, thanks to Maron’s WTF podcast. But in their first seasons, Legit, which stars Jefferies as the lead character, managed to outshine Maron. Jefferies seems much more relaxed as an actor than Maron, and more comfortable at playing himself as a schlubby underachiever. He’s a decade younger than both Louis C.K. and Maron, and he’s not defeated by life; compared to them, he’s practically hope personified. Legit, in its first season, became the funnier, better-defined counterpart to Louie. Compared to Louie, it can seem unambitious, but then, lack of ambition is partly what it’s about.
Jefferies, a well-traveled, Australian-born comedian who has his own HBO special, plays Jim Jefferies, a grubby lump of a stand-up who lives in a dumpy house with his roommate, Steve (played by the great Dan Bakkedahl, the Larry Fine of his generation) and Steve’s brother, Billy (DJ Qualls). The Jefferies of Legit largely seems attached to his shabby couch and bed, though he sometimes leaves the house to play to small crowds or audition for acting jobs. He sometimes proudly reminds people that he’s been on TV a whopping three times. Last season, he seemed to have landed a movie role, but he lost it after making a joke about raping one of his co-stars. (To be clear, he was actually joking about her having suggested that maybe she should be concerned that he might try to rape her. Insisting on this distinction gets him nothing.) As the new season opens, he’s back at his natural level of show business success, sitting in on a talk-radio panel with Dr. Drew. The movie he was bounced from has opened in theaters, and he has to keep changing the subject when other people want to talk to him about it; it is, of course, a runaway hit.
The title Legit comes from Jim’s feeling that he should step up his game and become a respectable, mature adult with a well-managed career. (In the meantime, he makes his entrance in the season premiere by dropping his phone in the toilet while using it to look at porn while masturbating in the shower. In the words of St. Augustine: Lord, give me chastity, but not yet.) Steve and Billy’s father (played by John Ratzenberger, doing the best non-Pixar work of his post-Cheers career) affably calls Jim “the black hole of humanity,” on account of his “never having [had] a grounded human existence.” (Dad is very proud of himself for having been married for 38 years, even though his wife is so sick of his crap that she prefers not to let him in the house. He keeps a tent pitched in the backyard.)
The joke of Jim’s desire to better himself is that, just in terms of being a good person, he’s already ahead of the curve. His work ethic could use an upgrade, but he’s basically a tolerant, all-accepting guy who’s always kind and patient with Steve and Billy. That’s not always easy; Steve wears his bitterness over his broken marriage on his sleeve and drinks too much, and Billy is wheelchair-bound and suffers from muscular dystrophy. (It’s roommate Steve, after a bad day, who loses it and complains about all the ways in which Billy’s illness has made his life hell: “We didn’t have a normal childhood. We never went camping or to an amusement park. We never went anywhere that didn’t have a ramp!”)
Jim can’t keep himself from making inappropriate jokes, but he’s not trying to piss anyone off. He’s not, for example, Dr. Drew’s old TV sidekick, Adam Carolla, who spews reactionary vitriol while giving themselves credit for being fearless truth-tellers who are too tough-minded to put up with “political correctness.” It’s more that Jefferies is a career comedian; funny things pop into his head, and it would be a violation of his nature to let them go to waste, even if a friend of Billy’s has just had a heart attack and died a few feet away from him. The show doesn’t exploit Billy’s physical condition, or the condition of some of his friends, for cheap tears. It just views a man whose body is failing him as one more kind of person who you might like if you took the time to get to know him, and whose joys and sorrows might even provide a springboard for some jokes.
The nature of Jim’s moral code, and the way it shapes his comedy, comes through loud and clear in an episode in which he meets a candidate for Ms. Right, who turns out to be a frothing racist. When he tells Steve that she let fly with the N-word, Steve, reluctant to see a reason to dump a willing, attractive woman, asks, how bad was it, really? What was it like? “Like Paula Deen and Kramer talking in a car,” says Jim, who for once has to give himself a little credit: “All my flaws together don’t equal racism.” In a later episode, he attends his high school reunion and reconnects with the girl who got away when they were 16. “I felt like I lost an arm,” he tells her, about their breakup. “You were the first girl I ever waited to sleep with. And you were the last girl I ever waited to sleep with.”
Jefferies’ simple, unfussy acting style, which sets the tone for the show, kills any potential for maudlin sentimentality in moments like this. The show doesn’t ask you to believe that these characters are better people than they are just because they have some sad moments—but the sad moments enrich their characters without ever slowing down the comedy. In its second season—which, if anything, looks to be more boisterously funny than its first one—Legit walks the tightrope between the dark and the heartfelt as well as anything on TV.