The funniest moment in the pilot episode of Jon Glaser Loves Gear, which premieres with the second episode tonight on truTV, has nothing to do with gear. It’s a long, rambling joke about a man seeking advice from three rabbis of three denominations, the kind of story no one laughs at but its teller. And Glaser’s laugh, at the end, is a thing of beauty, a breathy self-satisfied snicker oblivious to the sullen stares of his audience. The scene’s a bit of a throwaway—it was improvised and has little bearing on the episode’s plot—yet it encapsulates what is so pleasurable about this show, whether or not you care about gear. It shines because Glaser truly loves the stuff, and he uses the show to translate his passion into a joyous, celebratory, endlessly delightful character piece.
It helps that he’s a talented improviser. Billed as a “docu-series,” Jon Glaser Loves Gear is a pastiche of scripted and improvised scenes, and the looser material is usually the most enjoyable. We’re ostensibly witnessing the behind-the-scenes making of the show as well as the show itself: in the very first scene, Glaser and his sidekick, macho man Steve Cirbus, pitch the series to truTV executives. They get an immediate greenlight and set off to film the first episode, comprising a couple’s camping trip in the wilderness. One hitch: Glaser’s wife wants nothing to do with the show, so he has to cast an actress, Eva Solveig, to play her. Glaser writes himself as an asshole, too preoccupied with gear to care about anyone else, and the show’s conflict generally stems from this dissonance. A rift quickly forms between him and Solveig over how much he expects her to commit to the spousal role, and in the middle of the night she steals away to the other couple’s tent for a threesome; he awakens and peers outside to see the other tent a-rockin. On a deer hunt with Steve the next morning, Glaser threatens to put an arrow through his sidekick for cuckolding him. Unable to finish the job, he fires Steve instead.
In broad strokes, this is a pretty pablum story: man alienates the people around him, gets jealous and lashes out. The second episode is a similar comedy of miscommunication. To make amends with his wife, Glaser commissions a pair of matching “his and hers” bicycles. After his bike is finished, he learns he needs to get his wife’s measurements, and loads up on spy equipment to measure her while she sleeps. Naturally, this does not turn out well. Jon Glaser Loves Gear could easily become every other show about an asshole who sabotages himself and his relationships, but it is thankfully self-aware enough to stay fresh. What makes it such a pleasure to watch is, in a word, Glaser. He’s a peculiar actor known for playing peculiar characters—Councilman Jamm on Parks and Recreation, Laird on Girls, Neon Joe on Adult Swim’s Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter—and his fictionalized self is more adorably idiosyncratic than probably any other character on truTV. In that sequence where he nearly shoots Steve, he pauses to call Andy Richter and fact-check some invective: “McMahon didn’t fuck Carson’s wife! Shaffer didn’t fuck Letterman’s wife! Andy Richter didn’t fuck Conan’s w—hold on a second.” On the call with Richter, he waits until they’ve made sufficient small talk about chile relleno to pop the question, and hangs up as soon as he gets his answer. He may be an asshole, but he’s an asshole with integrity.
The show is peppered with beats like these, where a half-completed joke transforms into something much less predictable. This is true also of entire episodes: the second, ostensibly about bicycle gear, pivots into Glaser’s quest to make “the next great bike messenger film,” penned by his Siri-like virtual assistant, “Gear-i,” voiced by John Hodgman. That plotline also gives way to another astonishing improved sequence, in which Glaser, over a series of phone calls, secures and loses his first serious film role. At a recent premiere screening in New York City, it was moments like these that yielded the most raucous laughter. This is not a mark against the scripted story, which is plenty entertaining. Rather, it speaks to the show’s intelligence and flexibility. Like its peers on truTV, Jon Glaser Loves Gear is a broadly accessible comedy. Still, it frequently contorts itself into a nerdy comic’s comedy, the kind of oddball niche humor you’d expect to see on IFC or FX. This is an impressive feat; it’s rare for sketch and improv to coalesce so neatly alongside scripted work, and a true delight when they do.
Jon Glaser Loves Gear premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on truTV.