Impastor just might be the squarest show ever to include a melon-fucking joke in its pilot. The newest original series from TV Land (paired with lead-in The Jim Gaffigan Show), Impastor stars erstwhile Lex Luthor Michael Rosenbaum as Buddy Dobbs, rascally gambler and self-described “lowlife” who, fleeing a vicious loan shark and dumped by his long-suffering girlfriend Leanne (Amy Garcia), winds up clutching a bottle of stolen booze and preparing to jump off a bridge. When fate intervenes in the form of a passing pastor (Michael Bean) with some very bad luck and a car packed for his new gig as the Lutheran clergyman of the small town of Ladner, Buddy seizes the opportunity to take the guy’s place.
Meeting his new assistant, Dora, played as a bottomlessly chipper and trusting factotum by Sara Rue, Buddy soon finds out a few things about his new life as Pastor Jonathan Barlow (although he insists everyone call him Buddy): No one in Ladner ever met Barlow; Barlow has $12,000 in an inadequately password-protected bank account; and the gig comes complete with a nice house, ideal for hiding out from thugs with a penchant for testicle-related threats of violence. Sure, there are a few downsides, including David Rasche’s suspicious church elder Alden, and fellow board members Alexa (Mircea Monroe) and Russell (Mike Kosinski), both of whom immediately take romantic aim at their new clergyman. There’s also the fact that atheist Buddy has never opened a Bible before.
Rosenbaum, also an executive producer, places himself at the center of the resulting high-concept shenanigans with his signature smirky charisma, but Impastor’s comedy strands him in a tonal mess. Boasting an abysmal title (which sounds like something Troy McClure might have starred in one unfruitful pilot season) and a reliance on unnecessary narration and cozy, affordable classic rock songs, the show attempts a doomed (and bland) marriage of basic cable innocuousness and off-color humor. In the first three episodes alone, there are three deaths played for black comedy, the aforementioned melon-fucking, prostitute blowjobs, bondage gear, fart jokes, pube jokes, and plenty of weed and booze. It all plays on lifeless, ABC Family-style sets like, well, an ABC Family sitcom with the naughty bits gigglingly left in. TV Land, clearly trying to attract a younger crowd here and making use of the show’s 10:30 time slot, allows a sprinkling of “shits,” “Goddammits,” bleeped F-bombs, and instances of Buddy trying to play gay by saying things like “I like cock.” But the show just isn’t built for shock value. Like its supposed bad-boy protagonist, Impastor doesn’t have the heart for true meanness.
Sticking around at first for purely mercenary reasons (and leaving Garcia’s Leanne thanklessly mourning Buddy while fending of a pair of dopey cops—one amorous, one incompetent), Buddy starts softening up almost immediately, mooning over how the good, very gullible people of his flock help out after a bad storm, and using his streetwise inappropriateness to get a punk kid (the melon-fucker) to be nicer to his mom. Meanwhile, his sticky, Three’s Company-esque deception sees him constantly hopping fences and climbing out of windows, usually to keep the scowling Rasche (a dull variation on Mr. Furley) from finding him out. But there’s no snap to the physical comedy, and the farce limps along in deadening predictability. Big set pieces, like Buddy’s first sermon or a visit from a snooping bishop (character actor John Aylward, giving the series’ only canny supporting performance so far), play out in excruciating unoriginality, with any hopes that Rosenbaum’s Buddy will pull out a big Winger speech (either Community or Stripes vintage) fizzling under the leaden heft of flat writing. Creator Christopher Vane’s credits stretch from The Bill Engvall Show to Wings all the way back to The Love Boat, with a recent stopover on Brickleberry perhaps explaining the inept crudity.
As to the show’s “gay pastor” element, at least Impastor doesn’t overdo Buddy’s discomfort. Having to maintain his gay identity is no more cumbersome to him than having to make use of a religious children’s trivia game to convince everyone that he knows how many lepers Jesus cured in the Bible. (Eleven, apparently.) Russell’s a stereotype (and his friends in Ladner’s gay community are no better), but they, like the show, are too dull to be offensive. Dora’s revelation that the real Barlow lost his last position after being spotted wearing a dog collar at a leather bar leads to groaners such as Alden’s assertion that Ladner needs “a spiritual shepherd, not a German shepherd,” which are only truly objectionable because of how unfunny they are. The same goes for Impastor.