Nick Swardson sticks to his guns. In the opening sketch of his new Comedy Central half-hour Pretend Time With Nick Swardson, he and girlfriend Susie (played by Natasha Leggero) are at a hockey game. Nick suddenly turns to Susie and starts in on a prepared speech; he's about to propose marriage. He reaches into his pocket to pull out a ring, and just as he's about to pop the question, a hockey puck flies into his face. Susie is concerned for Nick's now-bleeding face, but he wants to get through his proposal. And just as he tries again, another puck smacks him in the face, much worse this time. Bruised, he barely manages to pop the question, and Susie, just as she's responding in the not-so-affirmative, she's popped in the face. Then, as their relationship and face-meat sit in shambles, the kiss-cam turns on.
Taken one at a time, the elements in the sketch aren't revolutionary. A guy tries to pop the question but discovers his girlfriend doesn't feel the same way, and his shame's compounded by being in a public place. And, obviously, there's the joke of a guy getting hit in the face every time he tries to talk. But Swardson determined what he wanted the scene to be, and kept escalating its very simple elements until the joke had been made, and he moved on.
This level of commitment, followed by restraint, serves Pretend Time With Nick Swardson well. The show is a series of sketches, loosely fitting together (though only aesthetically, in that there's a visual fluidity between them). And within the first few seconds, there's absolutely no question as to what the sketches are about. One is called "Wheelchair Cat, Trust Fund Kitty," in which a cat inherits $10 million from a woman, leaving nothing to the son. In another, Nick's kid is diagnosed with a terminal disease, so he helps the son compile a bucket list—mostly things Nick himself wants to do, like have a stranger stick his dick into a bowl of piranhas. The sketches all escalate nicely, and never shy away from making Swardson look like the most despicable person on earth.
The show certainly tests people's tolerance for raunch. At one point, Nick delivers an HR seminar at a donkey show; in the background, semen flies with wild abandon from a show-in-progress. Sometimes there doesn't seem to be much of a purpose behind the raunch, but for the most part I don't mind that. Swardson provokes reactions from the audience, and sometimes the reactions are simply disgust at how far he's willing to take the scenes. If a few fall short, so what. At least Swardson went for it in this promising, funny show.
- Comedy stars galore in this debut episode, including Rob Huebel and the hilarious Ryan Phillippe (seriously, he does well).
- "I want eagle soup."
- "She looks like ET with HIV."
- It'll be interesting to see how long Comedy Central gives this show. They've lately been trying hard to give individual performers a strong base—I went to the taping of a Reggie Watts-centered show a few weeks ago in New York. But CC is also quick to cancel things for sometimes odd reasons. I can see this show becoming a fitting showcase for Swardson's quirks if given some time.