The ads for “Inside Schwartz” bill it as a “comedy with imagination,” which seems a strange, almost defensive way for NBC to promote a sitcom, admitting as it does the thoroughly unimaginative state of the network’s bread-and-butter form. “Inside Schwartz” turns out to have not an imagination so much as a gimmick, wherein an aspiring sports announcer, played by Breckin Meyer (“Clueless,” “Rat Race”), imagines his life as a single man being commented on by various sports personages. Clever but not particularly funny, the format becomes repetitive even in its pilot and risks getting tired quickly without an injection of something more genuinely offbeat. A couple of pleasing supporting performances help it along, and its prime Thursday timeslot between “Friends” and “Will & Grace” assures sampling, although, as its many canceled predecessors have proven, that does not assure success. In this case, a spot geared toward an audience of older men may have made a smarter fit.
Creator Stephen Engel has clearly been inspired by the creativity of ESPN commercials, but at least in the first episode he doesn’t even come close to matching their irreverent wit. Dick Butkus, Mills Lane, Bill Walton and Bill Buckner make appearances in the first half-hour, all figments of our lead character’s imagination.
Fox Sports anchors Van Earl Wright and Kevin Frazier will be regulars, hosting the “Inside Sports”-like “Inside Schwartz,” which begins the episode filling us in on Adam Schwartz’s life — most important the fact that he’s recently been dumped by his longtime girlfriend Eve (Maggie Lawson) and still harbors irrational hope of a reunion, despite everyone in his life telling him to move on.
His most prominent boosters are his befuddled but caring father (Richard Kline, given the best lines), his sardonic best friend Julie (a very appealing Miriam Shor, unrecognizable from her “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” turn) and his married, and very horny, buddy David (Bryan Callen of “Mad TV”).
Meyer is charming in a self-deprecating way, but charming isn’t the same as funny. In this conception, he’s mostly used as a set-up man for his own imaginary friends, who deliver, or rather embody, the punchlines. The structure is reminiscent of HBO’s “Dream On,” but this mainstream effort replaces that series’ raunchiness with a wanting-to-be-liked blandness and a typically forced network laughtrack — it’s not HBO, it’s TV.
None of this is bad, exactly; it’s just uninspired. Engel has transparently laid out exactly where he’s going from here, and it’s a place we’ve been to many times before. Adam’s platonic friendship with Julie is showing signs of romantic tension, and one can already foresee the scene where Eve really does want Adam back, after, of course, he has moved on. The play-by-play and color commentary from cameo sports figures will be cute but unsurprising.
Dondre T. Whitfield (“All My Children”) will join the cast in a future episode, playing Adam’s agent as our title character pursues his dreams as the sportscaster of a minor league team, to the potential dismay of his father, who plans on leaving Adam his chain of sandwich shops.