February 28, 2007 | Comments ()

By Seth Freilich | TV | February 28, 2007 |


As the notorious recent “South Park” episode noted, most of the humor in “Family Guy” is easy and derivative (and, apparently, written by manatees). But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be funny. I personally thought the pre-cancellation episodes were hilarious and, in fact, I’m one of the many who purchased all of the original DVDs, the sales of which ultimately led to the show’s return. Post-return, however, I find the show pale in comparison to its former life. But it is still leaps and bounds better than MacFarlane’s follow-up effort, “American Dad,” a show that manages to not only be unfunny, but to be a derivative rip-off of MacFarlane’s own show. And MacFarlane’s apparent downward slide continues with his latest offering, the new Fox live-action comedy, “The Winner” (Fox, Sundays, 8:30 and 9:30 p.m.).

I think it may be time to put Seth MacFarlane down.

But before I get into the review proper, let me open a window for a quick behind-the-scenes glimpse into my process. I decided to do this review when I found out Fox had four episodes of “The Winner” up on its website (which is two-thirds of the whole show, as they’ve only done six episodes so far). I figured I’d watch the first two episodes, and that would be plenty to go on. However, I wasn’t able to watch the premiere episode because Fox inexplicably declined to post it, instead posting the second episode and the last three episodes. And this is particularly odd given the fact that the show has a “bizarre and wildly unique” premise which is supposedly laid out in more detail in the premiere. It wasn’t hard to “get it” anyway, mind you, but this just seemed like an odd decision.

Anyway, once I saw which episodes were posted, I decided I’d just watch episodes two and four instead, and that they would form the basis of my review. I had to change things up a second time, however, because after barely getting through the second episode, there was absolutely no way in hell I could possibly watch another twenty-two minutes of my life trickle away. So this review is based entirely on “The Single Dates,” the series’ second episode, which will be on this Sunday night, an hour after the premiere airs (Fox is planning to air all six episodes of the show over the next three Sundays).

And if you haven’t quite figured it out yet, let me just make it absolutely clear in no uncertain terms — this show buh-loooooooooooows. It blows harder than anything’s blown in quite some time, and that’s saying something since I panned a Haggis show only three days ago (in fact, I’d gladly watch two seasons’ worth of “The Black Donnellys” before watching another episode of “The Winner” — I would take almost 2,000 straight minutes of Haggis over another 22 minutes of “The Winner”).

OK, you’re asking, where does all this angst and animosity come from? Well, here’s the premise of the show — Rob Corddry plays a guy who apparently, in modern times, is the richest man in Buffalo. But this show is a flashback to 1994, when the 32-year-old character is still living at home with his parents. Oh, and he’s a virgin (which he declares by telling a 14-year-old, “I’ve never fornicated a woman,” to the wonderfully forced laughter of the laugh track live studio audience). After watching the whole episode, I realized that I had absolutely no idea what Corddry’s character’s name actually was, and only when I went back to the very beginning of my notes did I see that I had written down “Glen Abbott.” But I’m going to stick with what I had been calling the character in my notes — ManChild. I had taken to calling him this because the character is essentially a pubescent boy stuck in a man’s body. Now I don’t know if the premiere episode really gives an explanation for ManChild’s stunted intellectual and emotional growth, but I doubt it (and any such explanation will certainly lack anything remotely substantive anyway).

Shit — can you excuse me a second? There’s someone knocking at my door.

[TV Whore steps away from his computer and opens his office door.]

TV Whore: Hello?

Man at Door: Hi. Just wanted to let you know that they made this show back in 1990 and it was called “Get a Life.”

TV Whore: They sure did.

Man at Door: It was quite hilarious and ahead of its time.

TV Whore: It sure was.

Man at Door: And this show?

[Man at Door and TV Whore turn to face the audience and speak in unison]

TV Whore and Man at Door: Not so much.

[Exeunt]

OK, sorry about that. So as I was saying, Corddry’s ManChild is a bit devolved. And it seems that his best friend is 14-year-old Josh, a kid in the neighborhood. Now why Josh’s mother allows a 32-year-old man to spend far too much time with a boy less than half his age is a bit beyond me. I actually kept imagining that Chris Hansen from “To Catch a Predator” would come walking into the house and start asking ManChild why he was really at Josh’s house, and then proceed to tell ManChild that he’s got a copy of the IM transcript between ManChild and Josh and he just wants ManChild to admit it. That imagined skit, which is basically akin to a bad “SNL” bit, was far more entertaining than any of what was actually taking place on “The Winner.”

At least ManChild’s friendship with Josh allows for wacky setups. Like when Josh is at school and hears a “psssst,” turning around to find ManChild cowering around the corner by some lockers. ManChild has come to the school to seek some advice from Josh, you see, on how best to bang the lady he’s supposed to be going out on a date with. And the lady is Josh’s mom, so you see, he’s asking the boy how best to bed his mom. That, sir, is comedy.

Aside from ManChild’s house, Josh’s house, and the school, the one other main set appears to be ManChild’s place of employment, although it was barely seen this episode. ManChild is a clerk at a video store, and this aspect of the show is particularly grueling. First, the video store looks to be about the size of my living room, yet it’s staffed with three employees. You know, it’s weird — sets for TV shows usually seem much bigger onscreen than they turn out to actually be, yet this video store set is so poorly designed that it feels absolutely as small as it surely is in real life and just winds up leaving the viewer with a claustrophobic get-me-the-hell-out-of-here feeling. A feeling that isn’t helped one lick by the actual employees. Aside from ManChild, there’s the fey guy and the guy with the worst fake accent you’re ever likely to witness on network television (I think he’s supposed to be Middle Eastern, but I wouldn’t place a bet behind that). They’re both the worst kind of clich├ęd stereotypes, which you usually expect in a Haggis production — the queer gossip and the foreign lothario.

If I still had my old pet lizard, Rufus, I bet that he could just walk back and forth on my keyboard for an hour or two and type up better characters.

But to be fair, while the setups are all completely derivative and hackneyed, the show does at least offer entirely obvious and rote sitcom jokes. For example, ManChild is talking to Josh about how he might end up humiliating himself while getting on on with Josh’s mom, which leads to this exchange:

Josh: You just need a little practice.

ManChild: Oh yeah? Believe me buddy — I’ve been practicing my whole life.

Josh: I meant with another person.

I was simply speechless when I witnessed this. After filming this scene, how Corddry didn’t simply stand up and walk off the set is beyond me.

And as is typical when every other element of a sitcom bites, the acting here is atrocious. Corddry is barely passable, at best, and clearly much better suited to being a fake news correspondent (and it’s now clear that his younger brother Nate, who was on “Studio 60,” is the Sir Lawrence Olivier of the Corddry family). The only other “name” actor on the show is Lenny Clarke, who plays ManChild’s father. He was barely in this episode, but he was in it more than enough. I loved Clarke on “The Job,” and continue to love him on “Rescue Me,” but here he is, umm, not good. The only question is whether this is due more to the source material or to the fact that he’s significantly thinner. I suspect it’s a little of both, and while it’s probably healthier for him to be in this shape, I hope he packs it back on and returns to “Rescue Me” where he can continue to entertain me the way he used to.

The other actors are all entirely forgettable, except for ManChild’s kiddie friend Josh. The similarly 14-year-old Keir Gilchrist, who plays Josh, is abominable. And in this case, it’s not just simply a matter of the material. He’s just awful. In the crappier sitcoms, one can usually be forgiving of a bad child actor. But that’s harder to do in a case like this, where his character is such a major part of the show. I mean, I just don’t get who saw this kid’s readings and screen tests and said, “Comic gold — sign him!” But then, that’s just one of many things I’m clearly failing to understand about this show’s genesis.

For example, I also don’t understand why the hell they set it in 1994. First, the mid-’90s isn’t really a time period rife for comedic mining because (a) we’re not far enough removed yet for it to have any retro kitsch and (b) there just wasn’t the same kind of ridiculousness around it like there was in much of the 70’s and 80’s. Maybe 20 years from now, I won’t still be making that second claim, but that’s just the point — it’s too soon for the time period to offer any inherent comedy, as is emphasized by the show itself — the time period of the show, at least in this second episode, is entirely inconsequential. There was only one moment at all where the show played with it, and the best they could up with was ManChild saying to his parents: “Please don’t forget to tape ‘Wings.’”

Sigh.

OK, I’m having ‘Nam flashbacks about this show and just can’t go on. But to end on a positive note, there is one good thing to come out of “The Winner.” Its complete suckitude means we’re that much closer to having Corddry back on “The Daily Show” where he clearly belongs. So at least there’s that.


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Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television columnist. If it wasn’t clear, he hated this show more than anything he’s watched in quite some time — probably since “Four Kings.”

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The Only Winner Here is ... Umm ... Erm ... Eh ... I Got Nothin'

"The Winner" / The TV Whore
Feb. 28, 2007

TV | February 28, 2007 | Comments ()



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