The Winner - an early look
If you were a fan of that show, you'll like The Winner. Think of it as a less-creepy version of Elliot's show, with just as many funny moments. And for those funny moments, you can thank Rob Corddry.
The former Daily Show correspondent stars as Glen Abbott, who is currently the richest man in Buffalo, but in this show, he looks back fondly at 1994, when he came of age... at 32. Yes, the voice over method is a bit of a takeoff of The Wonder Years, but the show isn't really a parody of that.
In fact, if The Winner satirizes anything, it's the whole coming-of-age genre itself. We see Glen, who lives with his doting mom Irene (Linda Hart... she replaced Julie Hagerty, who played the mom in the original pilot) and his annoyed father, Rob (Lenny Clarke), resolve to get his act together after a childhood crush, Alison McKellar (Erinn Hayes) moves in next door. Luckily, he's got an in: he completely relates to Alison's shy 14-year-old son Josh (Keir Gilchrist), who is as much an awkward hypochondriac as Glen is; in fact, they bond over their tendency to check their pulses all the time.
But Glen knows that he can't hook up with Alison right away; she's a doctor who just divorced her lazy-ass husband. So he spends the five episodes FOX sent for preview sowing his wild oats, on the same track as his friend Josh.
What sells this show for me is Corddry; even on TDS, he was quite good at playing someone who was a bit on the naive side. Here, the naievete is innocent and even a little sweet, and Corddry makes it look natural. So what if a bald 32-year-old man hangs out with a teenager and calls sex "intercourse" all the time? Corddry makes it look... well, not natural, but certainly not creepy.
Gilchrist is also good as the more-mature-than-his-years Josh. In the episodes sent for review, he gets away with saying words that kids his age don't usually say, and I don't mean swear words. He has the vocabulary of a smart teenager who knows he's not like the rest of the kids, and that comes through in his performance.
The Winner is created by Family Guy writer Ricky Blitt, who told critics in January that the show is very much based on his own late-bloomer existence. Indeed, for a guy who didn't get going in life until he was about 30, he's doing pretty well now; he not only is a successful TV writer, but he currently has a girlfriend that he'd probably consider "out of his league" if pressed about it. When I met the both of them at the FOX press tour party, my jaw dropped to the floor.
Blitt's old boss, Seth McFarlane, is also an executive producer, and you can see some of his influence; there are some forced 1994 references -- "O.J. couldn't hurt a fly!" -- that become more infrequent as the series goes on. And there's a bit of a "let's make fun of wacky sitcoms" vibe that's especially apparent in the pilot. But as the show continues, that falls away in favor of Corddry's sweetly comic characterization of Glen.
And, as sweet as it is, there's still enough sexual references to make people aware that this isn't exactly an episode of Full House. In one of the episodes, Glen becomes friends with a guy who he doesn't realize wants to be more than friends with him, and in another, he gets some important "lessons" from a sexy former teacher of his (Katey Sagal, proving that she deserved the top spot on my "sexy over 50" list).
FOX has decided to show The Winner at 8:30 and 9:30 PM on Sundays, running through all six produced episodes in three weeks. And, they have four episodes available online. Neither is a good sign that the show has much of a future. So my advice is to catch it while you can, even if you're not a fan of 32-year-old bald virgins.