8:30-9 p.m., Sunday, March 4
Publicity for "The Winner" celebrates the series as a coming-out party for Rob Corddry, the latest cast member from "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" to jump to his own series. It might be premature to start popping the cork, though.
The half-hour sitcom gives Corddry a chance to display his considerable comedy skills, but within an odd and somewhat icky framework. At the same time, stories from creator and writer Ricky Blitt are annoyingly similar from one week to the next. There's something ominous about running out of fresh ideas in the second or third episode.
The structure of the series is similar to "How I Met Your Mother." Corddry plays Glen Abbott, the richest man in Buffalo, N.Y., and the proud father of three children. The show, how-ever, returns viewers to 1994, when Glen, a 32-year-old unemployed and socially retarded slacker, begins his ascent to wealth and maturity.
It starts in the opening minutes when he sees Alison McKellar (Erinn Hayes) move back into the house next door to tend to her sick (and invisible) mother. Glen has carried a torch for her since he was 14, but of course, there have been developments since then. While he remained in a state of suspended emotional animation, she became a doctor, a wife and the mother of 14-year-old Josh (Keir Gilchrist), an awkward hypochondriac. She's also divorced, which gives Glen the motivation to turn his life around.
Now here's the uncomfortable part. Instead of being a surrogate father to Josh, Glen becomes a best friend. By the second episode, Glen is confessing his sexual anxieties to the boy. "I'm not looking forward to doing your mom," he says.
In the premiere, the two are in a video store when Glen asks for a job. "Are you a pedophile, sir?" the manager asks. "God, no," Glen replies. The exchange, intended to clear up any viewer misgivings, also is a tacit acknowledgment that this relationship is unusual and a tad unnatural.
There is a striking sameness to the three episodes after the premiere. In each, Glen finds himself over his head in a sexual misadventure with a strange woman. Same with the fifth show, except this time he knows the woman, his former teacher. As good as Corddry is at playing the sexually awkward Glen, the act becomes less convincing over time. Besides, shouldn't Alison and Glen's parents (Lenny Clarke and Linda Hart) be more than set decoration?
Terry Hughes directs the pilot, then seamlessly hands off helming duties to Marc Cendrowski.
Blitt, who wrote all five episodes previewed for critics, gets in a few clever pop culture jokes, though it's hard to tell from the overeager laughs whether the studio audience can tell the difference between what's funny and what isn't.