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The sketches in the first season of Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time generally divided into two groups. The best ones started with a simple premise, slowly ratcheted up more complicated layers on one joke, and then ended very quickly. The other large group was devoted to ever-escalating raunchy material, a lot of times without any semblance of jokes. The simple premises had a much higher rate of success, while the raunchy ones were hit or miss, either so off-putting that there were no laughs or just barely eliciting a few uncomfortable ones. Swardson himself doesn’t have an incredibly successful track record outside of his standup specials, and the monstrous failure of his Happy Madison film lead debut Bucky Larson only puts more of a strain on this Happy Madison-produced show to help resuscitate Swardson’s comedy standing.

Unfortunately, not much has changed in the second season premiere. It was the sketches with simple, focused premises that shined again. “Sixteen Months and Pregnant” was a hilariously sad twist on the youth pregnancy reality show, with the requisite “baby daddy with another girl” shot set in a sand box on a playground. This was the only long sketch of the night that really worked. The other ones that landed—“International Waters” and half of the zombie sketch—were of the minute-long variety. I want to say that those sketches are successful solely because of their ideas, but I’m worried that it’s more because there isn’t enough time for Swardson to lose the thread. With less time to have the wheels come off during the scene, which is what happened in the “Suck Your Dick Abs” sketch, the show reaches some high points when it invests in simplicity instead of throwing every offensive idea it can come up with at the screen.

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The worst sketch of the night had Swardson in drag as a teen who, while not realizing she was pregnant, gives birth to a baby while on the toilet. She presents a horrific music video to her high school class. I didn’t laugh once at this sketch.

Pretend Time now utilizes standup bumpers with Swardson in a bar setting with a scruffy guitarist that he makes fun of, but the audience didn’t laugh at many of his standup jokes. Most of his bits, from insulting Jack Daniels as a sub-par liquor to his disdain for charity work that requires physical effort, felt very tired and derivative. There are tiny diamonds in the rough during a sea of miserable single-camera sketches, and if Swardson masters the short sketches in such a way that it spills over into the longer ones, Pretend Time has a chance as rising to the level of Demetri Martin’s sketch show on Comedy Central. Nothing on the network is touching the success of Chappelle’s Show—that was a singular outliner that almost no comic can repeat—but there’s room for growth here that suggests a couple very good sketches could possibly lead to a better show.

Stray observations:

  • There’s a Tokyo Police Club song in the opening standup scene of this episode. There was another song by that band in the premiere episode of the first season. I don’t know how a good band like that ended up with their songs in this show.
  • Seriously, Swardson's standup in this episode fell flat every time. It was the only reliable element of the premiere. I appreciated some parts of his specials that are available on Netflix, but on that bar set, he just didn’t bring good material.
  • The best part of the entire show is the picture-in-picture scene transitions. I will not budge on this observation.

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