Fourteen-year-old Ferydoon “Chad” Amani is a little jerk. He’s selfish, obsessive and impatient. He weeps at the drop of a hat. He’s desperate for popularity but can barely walk through a doorway without tripping over himself. He casually calls his little sister a “dick” and a “whore” in everyday conversation, and is so peevish that he demands presents on her birthday. Worst of all, he thinks he’s grown up.
He’s an utter delight.
Developed for Fox five years ago before moving to TBS, the daring and ribald single-cam sitcom Chad was created by its now 39-year-old star, comedian Nasim Pedrad. In 2016, the concept of a 30-something-year-old woman playing a pubescent teenage boy was both radical and a little bit alarming — personally, I had visions of Martin Short’s creepy Clifford dancing around in my mind that pilot season.
But that was before Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle revolutionized teen comedy with their brilliantly surreal Hulu series PEN15. That was also before PEN15, Big Mouth, Eighth Grade and Good Boys helped invent the gritty middle school comedy. Konkle and Erskine proved that the right performers could effortlessly melt from adult to tween before our eyes.
Pedrad’s precise and springy character work here, honed during her years on Saturday Night Live, calibrates the exact level of petulance you need to believe this vexing protagonist without ever hating him. Chad is often hilarious, bracing and sweet: everything this try-hard wishes he could be.
Chad is your average suburban freshman nerd who just wants to fit in with the cool crowd. Too bad his general incorrigibility and occasional monomania get in the way of his social progress. He’s the kind of daddy-less kid who takes up all the air in the room, so needy and attention-seeking and emotionally dysregulated that his exasperated single mom (Saba Homayoon) has all but given up on containing him. Instead, she, his ebullient immigrant uncle Hamid (Paul Chahidi) and his younger-but-hipper sister Niki (Ella Mika) tend to cater to his whims to keep the peace, even if that includes letting him whitewash his own Persian and Muslim heritage.
You probably knew a kid just like Chad: The immature dweeb with haughty pretensions. The one terrified of growing up, yet ravenous for the social capital of risk-taking. We watch him lie to his classmates about having sex, then almost immediately pass out the moment a forward girl sidles up to him. We see him wield an antique Persian sword to impress a group of popular boys, then accidentally injure himself when his plans go awry.
In one of the most captivating episodes of the season, Chad discovers his 12-year-old sister has been enjoying private drinking parties with her girlfriends. “Enjoy all of this now,” he monologues to a kindergartner, “because sooner or later, you’re gonna have a damn household to take care of. And before you know it, your sister, who you raised to be a nice little lady, is going to turn out to be a giant vapelord who dances with the devil. A devil named alcohol.”
His moralism soon turns to intrigue. Tamping down their instinct to bully a dipshit who only wears oversized striped polo shirts, these budding mean girls instead take him under their collective wing, nurturing him through his first drinking session. “Great, now I’m tripping balls!” he belts after taking his first shot. Quite honestly, it warmed my heart.
Pedrad expertly embodies Chad’s gnawing liminality, particularly in her physical performance. She nails his underdeveloped teenage posture, his awkward, flailing gait. He runs; he hops. Sometimes he detonates into random aggression, with limbs akimbo and threats flying. Other times, he’s awash in whiny tears. He’s a boy still learning to perform toxic masculinity — “Obviously, I’m a huge feminist,” he declares to some unimpressed classmates, “but if you could redirect your evil female energy …?” Not one of Pedrad’s many grunts, curses, screeches or slang terms feels excessive. I frequently laughed out loud at her vocally fried deadpanning.
Unlike most stories of early adolescence, late-bloomer Chad refreshingly has no interest in sex, girls or romance (other than what his outlandish fabrications can afford him). Rather, he only has eyes for his jockish man-crush Reid (Thomas Barbusca), an auburn-haired hunk who signifies everything Chad wishes to possess. Chad has no compunction about ditching his geeky best friends whenever Reid halfheartedly invites him to hang with his crew; yet even dismissive Reid displays more emotional intelligence than our hero. “What up, playa pimps!” Chad greets these guys. “Is everyone ready to jizz??”
The first half of the eight-episode season focuses on Chad’s numerous fixations — his mother’s sexy-cool boyfriend Ikrimah (Phillip Mullings Jr.), his fetishization of Blackness, the world of K-pop. But Chad is much funnier when he’s searching for an identity than when he’s bulldozing everyone around him, so I welcomed the show’s eventual shift toward developing his relationships.
This includes a budding rivalry with Denise (pokerfaced Alexa Loo), a classic narc skeptical of Chad’s schemes, and a fractured best friendship with Peter (Jake Ryan, lovably authentic), a self-possessed intellectual who’s more appealing to the cool kids posse than unwieldy Chad ever could be. Chad also finds understanding with Hamid, the gentlest TV uncle since Rob Brydon’s Bryn on Gavin & Stacey. (Chahidi, who developed his avuncular charms as the town vicar on BBC sitcom This Country, is one of the cast highlights.)
Chad employs surprising depth and vulnerability, even if you sometimes want to wring this kid’s little neck. Damn.
Cast: Nasim Pedrad, Thomas Barbusca, Paul Chahidi, Jake Ryan, Ella Mika, Alexa Loo, Saba Homayoon, Phillip Mullings Jr.
Created by: Nasim Pedrad
Premieres: Tuesday, April 6, at 10:30 pm (TBS)