Sometimes movies can be so bad they're good. Sometimes TV shows can embrace formula so strongly that it winds up working in their favor. "According to Jim" is certainly a prime example of that. The series is really nothing beyond the ordinary family sitcom at its core - father is immature and frequently screws up or says something ridiculously insensitive, wife is smart and looks at husband like he's a lovable idiot (but more often just an idiot) every time he does something wrong. Somehow, some way, the kids actually get raised. The series has no real angle or additional level (such as "Home Improvement"'s frequent focus on "Tool Time"), it simply is...simple.
Yet, here is a series that - in an era where some shows don't last an episode - ran for 8 years (and was even brought back after looking as if it was going to be canceled completely.) The series succeeded in part because it offered the comfort of the familiar, but it's remarkable that, even as the ratings for the series started to slide, it somehow managed to continue under the radar like an ace "Survivor" player for a few more years after.
The series stars Jim Belushi as Jim, the head of a family living in the Chicago suburbs. He lives with his wife, Cheryl (Courtney Thorne-Smith, who seemed like the last person on Earth who would make a good pairing with Belushi) and children (initially a few, but 5 by the time the series was coming to a close.)
The two adults have their own sidekicks in the form of Cheryl's brother, Andy (Larry Joe Campbell) and sister Dana (Kimberly Williams-Paisley). If the series hit the same note again and again (see above: Jim does something wrong, Cheryl makes her - understandably - upset face), it at least hit those same notes well enough more often than not and layered Cheryl's two relatives in the mix - Campbell and Belushi make a reasonably good Laurel and Hardy-style (or, better yet, Hardy-and-Hardy-style) pairing.
Additionally, Williams and Belushi energetically throw one-liners at each other, and Williams seems to take a particular delight in riffing on her co-star. Thorne-Smith plays it straight, but while she frowns on her husband's actions, she's at least not a Debbie Downer. Campbell, while never really getting that many stories of his own on the series, often manages to get bigger laughs than his co-stars, with a loopy delivery that works well.
The writing is occasionally a (small) step above generic, feeling at times like sitcom 101 (Jim has to convince the son of the owner of the local pizza place to go to college instead of being a stand-up comic or his favorite pizza place will close; the characters go to Vegas.) That's not to say that the series doesn't have funny moments - it manages to get some laughs, and there are some good episodes in this season, such as "Moral Dilemma" (Jim uses a credit card error in his favor, taking Cheryl on a romantic weekend) and "The Bachelor" (Dana gets picked to be on "The Bachelor".) It's just still rather fascinating that a series that really doesn't have anything to distinguish it (on the surface, at least) from a million other sitcoms managed to run nearly a decade.
• Season 2
23 2-01 01/Oct/02 The Importance of Being Jim
24 2-02 08/Oct/02 Cars and Chicks
25 2-03 15/Oct/02 The Baby Monitor
26 2-04 22/Oct/02 The Pizza Boy
27 2-05 29/Oct/02 The Closet
28 2-06 05/Nov/02 Punch & Ruby
29 2-07 12/Nov/02 The Bachelor
30 2-08 19/Nov/02 Father Disfigure
31 2-09 26/Nov/02 Thanksgiving Confidential
32 2-10 10/Dec/02 The Christmas Party
33 2-11 17/Dec/02 The Brother-in-Law
34 2-12 07/Jan/03 Moral Dilemma
35 2-13 21/Jan/03 You Gotta Love Somebody (1)
36 2-14 21/Jan/03 You Gotta Love Somebody (2)
37 2-15 28/Jan/03 The Smell of Success
38 2-16 04/Feb/03 Slumber Party
39 2-17 11/Feb/03 The Ring
40 2-18 18/Feb/03 Wonder Woman
41 2-19 25/Feb/03 The Pass
42 2-20 11/Mar/03 Dana Gets Fired
43 2-21 01/Apr/03 Bo Diddley
44 2-22 01/Apr/03 Deal with the Devlins
45 2-23 08/Apr/03 The Helmet
46 2-24 29/Apr/03 No Harm No Fowl
47 2-25 06/May/03 About a Girl
48 2-26 13/May/03 Mom's Boyfriend
49 2-27 20/May/03 Vegas, Baby (1)
50 2-28 20/May/03 Vegas, Baby (2)
VIDEO: "According to Jim" is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen by Lionsgate. The presentation is a little better than broadcast quality; detail looked unexpectedly good (for a TV presentation) and the picture quality - while not without a few imperfections - was at least largely consistent. Flaws included a few traces of artifacting. Colors remained bright and lively throughout, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The series is given a Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. Not surprisingly, the show's audio is largely dialogue-driven, leading to little use of the surrounds beyond some reinforcement of the music and light ambience. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: Belushi and Campbell offer an audio commentary on "The Deal With the Devlins" and "The Brother-in-Law". The two seem to be having a great time getting back together again to discuss the show, cracking jokes about some of their scenes together, discussing working with the cast and offering some insights in into the production. There are definitely occasional moments of silence, but otherwise these are fine commentaries. There's also a season 2 featurette and another, general piece. These are short, but have interviews with Belushi that appear to be new. Love or hate the series, it's nice to see the star still so supportive of it.
Final Thoughts: "According to Jim" managed to - remarkably - last nearly a decade. The series certainly isn't a classic, but it does click at times and generate laughs, with members of the supporting cast (especially Campbell) outshining the leads at times. The DVD set for the second season provides fine audio/video quality, as well as a very nice set of extras. Rent it, although recommended for fans.