"Freddie," the ostensibly new ABC sitcom starring Freddie Prinze Jr., comes across like something archaeologists found buried in a cave full of discarded videotape. Blowing away the sands of time, they uncovered this relic from some other era -- a sitcom that never aired yet seems as familiar as your favorite pillow or baby blanket.
Like those items, it prompts thoughts of sleep -- peaceful, pleasant snoozing uninterrupted by a loud noise or, say, an original idea. It's so uneventful that some wag is bound to refer to its star as Freddie Prinzzzzzz.
Fashioned to exploit his talents -- not exactly awesome or imposing -- the show is built around Prinze's slack affability and muted eagerness to please. He plays Freddie Moreno, 28, a bachelor with a mating urge and one of the most spacious apartments in Chicago in which to act upon it. It's common for lead characters in sitcoms to have apartments that are impossibly vast and impeccably decorated, but Freddie's place is practically cavernous.
Who's his next-door neighbor -- Oprah?
Freddie's like-minded pal Chris (Brian Austin Green, once of "Beverly Hills 90210") also has mighty handsome digs, suggesting that most of the creative thinking on the program went into set design (and wishful thinking).
The premise, though, has nothing to do with furniture. It seems that young Freddie's heart is as soft as his apartment is huge; thus he agrees to take in his sister Sofia (Jacqueline Obradors), his widowed and boozy sister-in-law Allison (the exotic Madchen Amick -- exotically named, anyway), her sassy teenage daughter Zoey (Chloe Suazo) and Freddie's Puerto Rican-born grandma (Jenny Gago), who speaks only Spanish, subtitled in English.
Having so many women in residence makes it difficult for Freddie to bring home his latest romantic conquests, and naturally the situation leads to all kinds of mirthful complications. Okay, not all kinds, exactly, but a few kinds. A few kinds that aren't all that mirthful, come to think of it -- much less funny.
The pilot episode that introduces all the characters and tries to sort out the relationships apparently struck ABC executives as not particularly hilarious, either, so it has been delayed until Oct. 19. Instead, the episode airing tonight involves a babe-hunting brainstorm that occurs to Chris: Let's go hang out in the laundromat and hunt "poor chicks in their natural habitat," he tells Freddie, since the pals' experience with rich women hasn't worked out very well.
Freddie brings home the cute, spunky and attractively impoverished Gina (Ana Ortiz), who inspires Grandma to pay Freddie a rare compliment: "She doesn't look like the tramps you usually date." And so it goes with each of the women getting the chance to step forward, lob a zinger at Freddie and then fade back into the wallpaper.
The characters aren't dimensional, or very involving, and Freddie has a drab sort of haplessness that makes him seem at best a chump, at worst a chimp. We're told he's a whiz at running the upscale restaurant where a scene or two is set -- the enterprise that makes the huge apartment possible -- but he never actually does any work. Apparently just having his presence on the premises is enough to make the place a shattering success.
Prinze is essentially likable, and there's no reason not to wish him well with the series even if his comedic gifts are sparse; he'd hardly be the first comedically challenged actor to star in a hit sitcom. But nobody in the cast really stands out strikingly against the weary blandness -- not even saucy Grandma with her translated put-downs and wisecracks -- and so it eventually consumes them all, like fog in a monster movie.
The best policy with regard to "Freddie" is probably to wait for the director's cut on DVD in two or three hundred years.
Freddie (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 7.