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Television & Radio | ON TV / PAUL BROWNFIELD

There's something endearing about this man-boy

February 27, 2007|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

I have good news: Fox has finally found a companion to "Married ... With Children."

It's called "The Winner," and it stars the bald, goofy-looking Rob Corddry of "The Daily Show" as Glen Abbott, a 32-year-old virgin and arrested adolescent living at home with his parents in Buffalo, N.Y. Glen has no job, but he can quote pickup lines from "Party of Five" ("The Winner" is set in 1994), and if he doesn't believe everything that comes out of the TV, he absorbs it all, credulously, like Steve Martin in "The Jerk."

Martin's character in "The Jerk" was a sweet, functional moron who hit it rich, and so is Corddry's here; the opening sequence of "The Winner," which starts at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, reminds us that Glen will go on to become "the richest man in Buffalo," and at the end of the pilot we learn that he's also a husband and father of three.

This last serves as a sort of disclaimer, for what gives "The Winner" its queasy raunch is the premise: Glen spends most of his time with a 13-year-old boy, Josh (the surprisingly good Keir Gilchrist), who is the son of divorcee Alison (Erinn Hayes).

They've just moved back to the neighborhood, and though Alison hasn't seen Glen in years she assumes the quality time he's spending with her son is innocent. Viewers, though, might be given to wonder: Is this "About a Boy" meets "The Wonder Years" or a too-close-for-comfort echo of the recent case of the missing boys in Missouri?

I give you the ethos of a Fox sitcom in its purest form, not seen since "Married" or, perhaps, Chris Elliott in "Get a Life." No other network would do "The Winner" right now, not because Fox is necessarily more courageous but because the whole genre has become duly balkanized and branded. You don't need the network logo at the bottom of the screen; I can tell "The Winner" is a Fox show just as surely as the snazzy and single-camera "30 Rock" belongs to NBC and "Ugly Betty" (a half-hour sitcom in the form of a single-cam drama for women) is all that ABC seems currently interested in doing.

On CBS' "Two and a Half Men," the adult-children relationships are family ties, making the setup more socially sanctioned. For Alison is the love of Glen's life, the only girl he's ever kissed and whom he's been "pleasuring myself to for nearly two decades."

"But, not in a sexual way," Glen tells us in that voice-over dripping with "Daily Show" sarcasm. "A poignant way, a spiritual way."

"The Winner" straddles the same line that HBO's unjustly maligned sitcom "Lucky Louie" did, dressing up the multi-camera world with post-politically correct, informed scatology. The show's controlling pop culture reference is the O.J. slow-speed chase -- that day of innocence lost -- but maybe that's really why the show's set in 1994. Pedophilia had yet to become shorthand for scandals in the Roman Catholic Church and the Michael Jackson trial.

It certainly explains why Fox kept "The Winner" off the fall schedule and went with a far inferior but safer choice, the Brad Garrett sitcom " 'Til Death." Indeed, the fate of "The Winner" seems to rest on one line in the pilot. It's when Alison notes how Glen has gotten Josh to come out of his shell.

"Josh never takes to adults, especially since the divorce," she says. "It was ... it was real hard on him."

"Yeah, but you did the right thing, Alison," Glen says. "Your husband prah-bably molested him."

The laugh track sounds and Alison guffaws, to reassure us even she thinks Glen's made a funny. Corddry nails the line like it's a "Daily Show" bit, and if you come out of this moment still liking Glen, "The Winner" will reward you into the future.

The show's creator, Ricky Blitt, and the executive producer, Seth MacFarlane, come from the animated "Family Guy," and in Corddry they have another cartoon: A pinched smile, beady eyes and a bald head with a little tuft of hair in front that looks like it's managed to survive a wildfire.

Every episode of "The Winner" revolves around Glen creeping to the edge of having sex under false pretenses before revealing himself to be a fraud; in this way, "The Winner" has much more in common with "Three's Company" than, say, "Two and a Half Men."

Corddry is in a role similar not only to Martin's star turn in "The Jerk" but also to Steve Carell in "The 40 Year-Old Virgin." NBC's "The Office" seemed to take off around the time "Virgin" surprised movie audiences with its heart, Carell proving that he could be something more than a grotesque. Corddry, on "The Winner," is just as winning; he gains instant entry into the canon of men-children comics we love. What is it about being a fake newsman that prepares you so for playing a 13-year-old boy in a man's body?


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