If you think the first season of Legit is funny, you should feel ashamed of yourself. I know I do.
Legit was co-created, written, and stars Australian stand-up comedian Jim Jefferies. “Foul-mouthed” doesn’t even begin to do justice to Jefferies’ brand of vicious and hysterical truth-telling, which I first encountered in an HBO special that left me breathless with laughter. He’s the funniest thing to come out of Australia since Mel Gibson, IMHO. In his stand-up act, Jefferies does a bit on why he wouldn’t want to go to heaven (even if he believed in it), since it involves not just eternal consciousness but also meeting his dead relatives. “Hi, Nana. Hi, Grandpa. Hi, uncle who used to touch me. Wonder how you got here. Oh yes, you’re in the church.”
I worried that the sitcom format would be too constricting for Jefferies’ passionate anger and blithe disregard for the feelings of others, but it turns out to be a funny, and even in some cases touching, showcase, albeit an uneven one.
As in other sitcoms starring stand-up comics, Jim essentially plays himself (there are lots of jokes about what a poor actor he is, including his pathetic attempts at American or any other non-Australian accents). He shares a house in Venice, California with his sad-sack buddy Steve (Dan Bakkedahl) and Steve’s wheelchair-bound brother Billy, who has muscular dystrophy (played by a remarkably good DJ Qualls). It’s like a West Coast Seinfeld, except that it’s actually funny instead of smarmily pleased with itself.
The series pilot involves Jim and a nervous Steve breaking Billy out of the nursing facility where he lives to help him, at long last, get rid of his virginity at age 32. Their entirely logical destination is a Las Vegas brothel. Not only does Billy get laid, but it’s revealed that while he’s been handicapped by MD, the gods have balanced the scales by rewarding him with a sizeable set of family jewels.
Throughout the 13-episode season, Jim, Billy, and Steve remain the core of a merrily dysfunctional group that also includes Janice, Billy and Steve’s tight-lipped, disapproving mother, played by Mindy Sterling (Frau Farbissina from the Austin Powers movies). A few precious episodes include the boys’ father Walter, played by the one and only John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin of Cheers).
The “Hoarders” episode is painfully funny, when it’s revealed that Janice has filled her house with so many stuffed animals, old newspapers, and other junk (carefully boxed and labeled) that Walter is exiled to a tent in the backyard. This episode humanizes Janice, who might have been just a cartoonish shrew, by showing the sad psychological roots of her hoarding behaviors. It also features Dan Bakkedahl’s finest hour; going through mail his mom has religiously saved but never delivered for 20-some years, he cries out “I got into college?!”
Like the edgiest animated series (South Park, Archer, American Dad), Legit doesn’t just step over the line of political correctness; it leaps over it and then turns around to piss on it. Jim blithely makes jokes about rape (it’s not a show that’s very nice to women), along with blacks, gays, handicapped people, smugly self-satisfied Americans, etc., etc.
Yet as vicious and over-the-top offensive as many of the jokes and situations are, they somehow don’t come across as crass. For one thing, the other characters repeatedly call Jim on his behavior (“Jim, stop being a dick” is probably the most frequently repeated line in the series.)
For another, it’s clear that Jim just can’t help telling the truth as he sees it. (The fact that hot-looking girls never know the price of drinks because they never pay for their own is one of his milder pronouncements.) It’s also clear, particularly if you listen to the several commentary tracks that are included, that Jim’s constant joking is a survival mechanism. As he advises a black teenager ashamed of his crazy bag lady mother, “You can get angry about this. Or you can laugh at it. Those are your choices.”
Jefferies is also merciless about the stupidity and shallowness of his own profession. He turns a failed acting audition into a rant about how overrated acting is as a profession: “People are impressed when an actor can cry on cue. You know who else can cry on cue? Every woman in the world! Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar at 10; Anna Paquin was 11. Now think about your profession. Is there someone who’s 10 or 11 years old who’s the best at it? If so it’s not a real profession.”
It’s also refreshing that Billy, and a number of other handicapped characters featured in several episodes, are not objects of pity. In fact, Billy is much more of a bad-ass than his wimpy brother, or anyone else in his orbit. The hysterical episode “Justice,” about the trial of a pair of thugs that broke into the house in the mistaken but understandable belief that it’s a drug dealer’s den, shows Billy staring down and foiling the criminals during the break-in itself. During the trial, he again saves the day by winning the jury’s sympathy and making sure the crooks get sent away after his pussy of a brother nearly blows the case against them. DJ Qualls nails Billy’s frustration and his power without once asking for our sympathy.
Even for a Jim Jefferies fan like myself, Legit isn’t a show you can binge-watch; you start to feel kind of sour after the third or fourth assault on manners and good taste. But it’s been renewed for a second season, airing Wednesday nights at 10 on its new home on FXX, so you can watch just one episode at a time. I would advise watching Jim’s stand-up routine first (there are prime bits on YouTube). If you’re offended and don’t laugh, don’t watch the show. If you’re offended and do laugh, don’t miss it.