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TELEVISION REVIEW

A watchable Prinze Charming

Wannabe playboy Freddie Prinze Jr. mixes family comedy and sex romp in a new series.

October 12, 2005|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

And so we come to the last of the season's new network sitcoms, "Freddie," premiering tonight on ABC. Co-created by star Freddie Prinze Jr., with "Drew Carey Show" and "George Lopez" producers laboring behind the scenes, it's an amiable show whose main purpose is to give Prinze a place to be amiable in, and it does that well enough, when it isn't straining for laughs or wandering too far from the path of probability. It's not a bad place to linger -- sweet-tempered, if a little half-baked at times, especially as concerns Prinze's professional life as a successful Chicago chef, the details of which seem all wrong.

What matters here anyway is the "successful": It allows him to live in a luxury apartment and pursue the life, or attempt to pursue the life -- there is your comedy, viewer, in the attempt -- of what used to be called "a playboy." (There are no poor playboys.) The chef part will be largely irrelevant -- I don't think he'll be demonstrating any recipes -- but it's a job that allows him plausibly to be both a rich and a regular guy, even a bit of a big lug. (See also: Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse). "Stupid works for me," he tells sister Jacqueline Obradors ("NYPD Blue"), who is older and smarter. That he cooks also tells us that he's creative, soulful and not entirely consumed by sexual stereotypes.

Ostensibly reflecting the family he grew up in, Prinze -- who has some of the beefcake charm of a Tony Danza, Matt LeBlanc or Max Baer Jr. -- is surrounded in his luxury apartment by women who keep him honest: sister Obradors; 14-year-old niece Chloe Suazo; grandmother Jenny Gago ("American Family"), who speaks only Spanish, apparently by choice rather than necessity; and funny alcoholic widowed sister-in-law Madchen Amick ("ER"). He has taken them in, for one reason and another, and they have taken over. When he says, "I am the king, and this is still my castle," it's to say that he isn't, and it isn't.

Across the hall, in the Ed Norton/Howard Borden/Kramer role of neighbor with eternal access, is best friend Brian A. Green (formerly Brian Austin Green, of "Beverly Hills, 90210" renown), who has a trust fund and is an idiot -- an amiable one, in keeping with the tone of the show, but forced occasionally to say something Neanderthal regarding women, as when he decides that what he and Freddie need to do is find some "poor girls ... a chick that'll do anything for a burger, or a ride in a car.... She wants to get in your bed just to get warm." This isn't quite as Neil LaBute as it sounds; Prinze and Green are supposed to be dumber than any of the women they meet, which is why we can take their Maxim fantasies for the sad absurdities they are. Green turns out to be an excellent comedian, and his low-key delivery makes a good counterweight to Prinze's sometimes overemphatic, golden-retriever acting style.

For the most part, the show's mix of family comedy and sex romp is fairly successful. While Prinze complains to Green that "I can't do all the fun stupid stuff because my big sister's all over me," he worries also to his sister that he might be "a shallow jerk," which is to say that he isn't. When it is not attempting to get jiggy, the show -- especially in Prinze's scenes with sister Obradors and niece Suazo -- has a quietness to it that's quite surprising and surprisingly real.

*

'Freddie'

Where: ABC

When: 8:30 to 9 tonight

Ratings: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for coarse language and suggestive dialogue)

Freddie Prinze Jr....Freddie Moreno

Brian A. Green...Chris

Jacqueline Obradors...Sofia

Madchen Amick...Allison

Jenny Gago...Grandma

Chloe Suazo...Zoey

Executive producers Bruce Helford, Deborah Oppenheimer, Bruce Rasmussen and Freddie Prinze Jr.

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