Browsing through Fox’s current lineup, you might come across titles like “American Idol” and “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” Next to those sterling examples of “alternative programming,” there are dramas like “24” and “House” and animated series like “The Simpsons,” but, notably, not many sitcoms.
Then again, what would Fox – a network that suffocated the greatest sitcom of this decade (“Arrested Development”) – know about good sitcoms anyway?
“The Winner,” the wayward network’s latest addition to its Sunday comedy lineup, comes from the writing team behind the abrasively funny “Family Guy.” In its first few episodes (already streaming on Fox.com), the show proves sharp enough. Situated among the banal growlings of Michael Rapaport (“The War at Home”) and Brad Garrett (” ‘Til Death”), it’s easily the funniest sitcom Fox has on the air. On any other network, however, “The Winner” would be just another half-hour chunk of procrastination.
Rob Corddry (“The Daily Show”) plays Glen Abbott, a middle-aged man looking back on his boring pre-success life. But Glen, now the richest man in Buffalo, doesn’t have to look back too far – 1994’s not so long ago. In that blissful year of “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” “Wings” and Jodie Foster’s “Nell,” Glen is 32 years old. And his best friend is a 13-year-old named Josh.
As if that wasn’t creepy enough, there’s also Glen himself, who still lives with his parents, works at the local video store with a bunch of teenagers and has never, as he would put it, “fornicated a woman.” But Glen and Josh really are best buds (and that’s really all they are), and from their unlikely friendship the show’s rather routine themes take on an eccentric character and some true originality. What charm “The Winner” has (and, despite its subversive nature, it does have charm) comes from its outlandishness.
Propelled by the slick-yet-na’ve demeanor that left Corddry among the most beloved of all “Daily Show” correspondents, Glen is a deeper comedic hero than those of most sitcoms. But the question remains what (if anything) the show gains by his character’s depth. So far, the show has left Corddry forced to carry every situation, with no plots or supporting characters capable of feeding off of his energy. As likable as Corddry is, that schtick will get old really quickly.
Much like “Happy Hour,” a Fox sitcom which debuted and was quickly cancelled earlier this season, “The Winner” has enough kick to make for a memorable sitcom. Though the network will never have another “Arrested Development” on its hands (and doesn’t deserve to), a few shows like this one will be enough to rebuild a commendable comedic lineup.
After all, Fox won’t be able to play its “Simpsons” card forever.