In 2007, Australian stand-up comic Jim Jefferies was attacked onstage in the UK by a guy who felt he’d been too hard on a female heckler. The man took offense when Jefferies said to her, “I’ll leave you alone now, just like your dad did. Shame your grandfather didn’t.”
If Jefferies’s joke, a bit of Freudian taunting with an incest zinger, makes you sympathize with the attacker for even an instant, you probably won’t like Jefferies’s new comedy, “Legit.” The FX series, which premieres Thursday night at 10:30, is full of material that relies on giddy vulgarity, political incorrectness, and sexual frankness. One of the central characters in “Legit” is a guy with muscular dystrophy who can’t move, and his predicament — he’s a virgin at 32 and wants to go to a hooker — is the foundation of the first few episodes. The show has a vibe that at moments recalls Howard Stern’s Wack Pack.
I like “Legit” a lot, because not only does it make me giggle like a 13-year-old but it can be remarkably tender, too. The show has a scruffy, adolescent sweetness with a seeming insensitivity to people with physical disabilities that ultimately feels quite sensitive. Like a number of FX comedies, it’s preoccupied with men looking for sex; FX is a channel with men in its sights, for sure, from “Sons of Anarchy” to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” But the FX men in question — particularly Louis C.K. on “Louie,” Ryan on “Wilfred,” and Jefferies — are also struggling with their passivity. Generally, they’re not unsympathetic creeps so much as overgrown boys who are stuck, as they want to hold onto their boyishness and yet become men, too.
Jefferies plays a version of himself, like C.K. on “Louie,” Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and Matt LeBlanc on “Episodes.” He is a schleppy struggling comic in Los Angeles who wants to be more “legitimate,” a word his critical mother has thrown at him. Still, he drinks and smokes pot a lot, and he always seems to be in a haze, although he’s lucid enough to come up with twisted ideas — for instance, when he fantasizes about getting a dying woman pregnant, so he can keep the baby but not have to deal with the mother. He reminds me of Jason Gann as the “dog” in “Wilfred”; he gets his friends into trouble, but, because he is so unedited and unconcerned about what others think, he also liberates them from their limitations.
Jim’s roommate is a loser at love named Steve, who is played by Dan Bakkedahl, a “Daily Show” correspondent from 2005-07 who was Murray on “Community.” He’s the more sensible member of the household, and Jim’s slacker life irritates him — but still, he knows that Jim is ultimately a good guy who can coach him to overcome his “divorce-induced erectile dysfunction” with women. He also likes the fact that Jim helps him with his brother, Billy (DJ Qualls), whose advanced muscular dystrophy has him in a wheelchair. Jim and Steve try to help Billy have a few thrills — next week, Billy not only drinks alcohol and smokes pot, he has a high time doing hallucinogenic mushrooms. Billy and Steve’s mother, Janice (Mindy Sterling), is appalled, which for Billy feels like a victory.
As Billy, Qualls just about steals the show from Jefferies. He is perfect as a guy who is paralyzed but has not stopped dreaming. His eyes and smile speak volumes. When he laughs at Jim’s bad jokes, it’s heart-melting, and when he “leaves the room” — which is what his family calls it when he turns his head away and scowls in silence — it’s hysterical. Known for his appearances in the movie “Road Trip” and on “My Name Is Earl” and “Memphis Blues,” Qualls is the heart of the show. While Jim pushes him into opportunities for pleasure, Billy pushes Jim into compassion.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Matthew