There’s nothing particularly inspiring about gathering in a subterranean conference room with plain walls and fluorescent lights, but According to Jim star Jim Belushi is determined to make the moment uplifting. Today, he and the cast will read the show’s 100th episode (airing May 10 at 9 p.m.), and several network executives are in attendance at the Los Angeles backlot to celebrate the milestone. After entertaining guests with a backward somersault and invoking lyrics from a Wilson Pickett song (”I’m trying to make it a hundred because 99 and a half just won’t do”), Belushi pats his belly and smiles at the crowd.
”If we make it past 103 episodes,” Belushi says, ”we’ll have one more than ALF!”
Ahh, the stuff dreams are made of.
Then again, expectations were never that high for According to Jim, now the most watched comedy on ABC. A follow-up to Belushi’s memorable big-screen turn as a blue-collar hubby in the 2000 romantic comedy Return to Me, Jim is about as low-concept as you can get for a family sitcom: It centers on a beer-gutted contractor from Chicago (Belushi), his stay-at-home wife, Cheryl (Courtney Thorne-Smith), three small kids, and the now-requisite wacky relatives (Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Larry Joe Campbell play Dana and Andy, Cheryl’s siblings). Plots largely focus on the couple’s opposing views on marriage and Jim’s tendency to fib his way through child rearing. The writers haven’t even bothered to give Jim a last name.
Debuting in September 2001 with little fanfare (ABC put its marketing muscle behind Jason Alexander’s post-Seinfeld flop, Bob Patterson), Jim was almost universally panned by TV critics, who picked apart the lowbrow humor and tired male stereotypes. ”According to Jim is the kind of sitcom that makes people hate sitcoms,” said USA Today. The Washington Post was even harsher: ”Jim, an inexorably execrable new ABC sitcom, might benefit from being viewed at a distance. Like, say, through the Hubble telescope from 10 billion miles out in space.” And yes, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY wasn’t very kind either: ”Another worthy addition to the Belushi canon, right next to K-911 and Curly Sue.”
To this day, the 50-year-old Belushi claims he’s never read Jim’s reviews — but that makes about as much sense as the reason he gives for the critics’ unfriendly fire. ”In the ’80s I was a bit of a movie star, so I tried to make it a game to bang every critic’s wife or sister,” says Belushi, paraphrasing a joke he made a few weeks earlier on Jimmy Kimmel Live. When pressed, Belushi admits his staff has shared bad reviews with him. ”They were cheap shots. I thought you guys were better writers,” says Belushi of EW’s reviews in particular. ”But I forgive people.” Adds Thorne-Smith: ”His feelings get hurt. A lot of the reviews got really personal. People would call and say, ‘What did Jim do to such-and-such critic?’ I think it is painful, but on the other hand, it’s like we have the last laugh.”