Every Wednesday night, a battle erupts on the DVR between critically-acclaimed “Mr. Robot” and nobody-has-heard-of-it “Impastor.” While the former is certainly worthwhile, it is “Impastor” that seem to be closing ground late in their debut seasons. Maybe — just maybe — “Impastor” is the best show on television that nobody is talking about.
Right around now, you’re probably asking yourself: What the heck is “Impastor”? Well, it’s on TV Land (Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m. ET/PT), created by a “Wings” producer and the only quasi-famous person on it is Sara Rue — and that’s probably still not selling you yet. If you need fewer reasons to continue reading: It’s about a gay Lutheran pastor who is actually neither of those things.
But this is what makes “Impastor” such a fascinating beast: It feels sitcom-y –not in a laugh track, filmed-before-a-live-studio-audience way, but in a heartwarming, real America way. It has all the trappings of a sweet, predictable sitcom — implausible misunderstandings, physical comedy, stuffy older people who are constantly flabbergasted — but every time you think you know where things are going, this comfort food throws in an unexpected jalapeno.
With that in mind, here are five reasons why this delightfully slippery show deserves a place of honor in your DVR:
1. The sitcom as a weapon
The show wields the constrictive trappings of the word “sitcom” like a weapon, a secret device that lures in viewers with a familiar embrace only to punch them in the head with an unexpected right cross. In a so-called “golden age of TV” where critical darling after critical darling wins awards by depicting yet another white man building an empire surrounded by frequently-naked women and grisly cliffhangers, “Impastor” is a breath of fresh air seemingly sent from Heaven above.
2. Edgier than you’d expect
Through the first six episodes of the show, four people have died. There have been sex scenes with hookers, a shoot-out in a seedy motel room and the “hero” of the show stole a ruby necklace off a dead woman in a casket. There has been a comedic-but-thoughtful exploration of one character’s life as a religiously-minded homosexual, tangible information on the inner workings of a small-town church and a resistance to “reset” like a traditional sitcom.
Instead, this show that bills itself as “shut off your brain and enjoy” on the surface seems to be building towards some grand statement on identity, self-delusion, our relationship with God or some other high-minded ideal. Consistently, the show draws you in with a sense of predictability you remember from the TGIF sitcoms of the ’90s, then keeps pulling the rug out from under your recliner.
3. It’s all ball bearings nowadays
The dialogue is as well-written as it is frequently hilarious. On a recent episode, Michael Rosenbaum’s smart-mouthed grafter Buddy (who is the titular “Imposter” running a long con on the Mayberry-like town of Ladner) was being grilled by a retired FBI agent threatening to expose his secret.
Agent: “So to be clear: The purpose of your 2003 trip to the former Soviet Union was tourism. Are you still a Russian sympathizer?”
Buddy: “I do like their salad dressing.”
Agent: “Would you care to elaborate?”
Buddy: “On salads. And the occasional reuben.”
Actor/producer Rosenbaum (known mainly as Lex Luthor in “Smallville”) spits out such lines with a “Fletch”-like twinkle in his eye that he runs laps around other smart-alecky actors. He leads a solid cast that was introduced in episode 1 as a bunch of tired-looking clichés — the church lady (Rue), the gay guy (Mike Kosinski), the uptight-but-secretly-slutty white lady (Mircea Monroe) and the suspicious authority figure (David Rasche) — but the series has dutifully chipped away at those stereotypes with each passing episode.
4. Sara Rue
The veteran sitcom star (“Less Than Perfect”) is one of those presences like Judy Greer, Molly Shannon or Vanessa Bayer that when she pops up in something, it always brings a smile to your face. With “Impastor,” she’s perfectly-cast as the sweet, by-the-book Dora. Rue is the heart and soul of the entire show — but as she displayed in a recent episode where her character overcame an inability (or unwillingness) to orgasm, she can do physical comedy quite well.
5. It’s different
In a TV landscape with endless viewing options, “Impastor” earns perhaps the highest praise you can give a show: There has never been anything quite like it. This tiny, twisted little show knows exactly what it wants to be — and it’s very good at being whatever that is.