COMEDY SERIES "The Jim Gaffigan Show"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Wednesday night at 10 on TV Land

WHAT IT'S ABOUT You know you're a family man when your hot Manhattan "after-party" means heading home to the wife and five kids in your two-bedroom apartment.

But you know you're still your bad self when you can make a show about it as hilarious as this. "Just imagine you're drowning," Gaffigan says Wednesday, "and then someone hands you a baby."

He's to the point in this single-camera comedy, the point being that Gaffigan's well-meaning character, stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan, isn't always present at home and isn't necessarily "present" when actually there. He's busy eating his kids' fudge bars, watching cartoons, abetting the lies of his ever-adolescent friend (Adam Goldberg, "Fargo"), and screwing up whatever tasks he's assigned by his loving but wised-up wife (Ashley Williams, "How I Met Your Mother").

Wednesday's pilot episode has Jim trying to weasel out of a vasectomy consultation, while chatting with his pal about Hitler, strippers and manscaping, with a kid in tow. Better yet is the preview episode, "Super Great Daddy Day." (Hurry, it might still be available at tvland.com, Hulu or video-on-demand, after this past week's unhyped cable sneaks. TV Land's official run lists "Daddy Day" as airing on Aug. 12.)

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MY SAY I can't remember laughing out loud so consistently at a situation comedy maybe, um, ever. Wednesday's pilot moves at a steady pace introducing its slate of well-drawn players, but "Super Great Daddy Day" speeds up the funny with snowballing misunderstandings involving priests, teachers, club hecklers and cops. It's so hysterical, you may not even notice those in-passing bit players are Janeane Garofalo and Macaulay Culkin. (Wednesday has Fred Armisen.)

What you will certainly see is how finely tuned both the marital observations and comic timing are. The producers should know: They're Gaffigan and real-life wife Jeannie, both actors, writers and parents of five. Their viewpoint here recalls that other smart 21st-century "family"-com "Everybody Loves Raymond," which also knew: It's not about the kids, it's about the adults trying to survive them.

BOTTOM LINE This summer's must-see comedy smash.

GRADE A