Fox's 'The Winner' Doesn't Even Get to First Base

Rob Corddry, left, and Keir Gilchrist star in the sitcom that resorts often to cheap smut and toilet humor.
Rob Corddry, left, and Keir Gilchrist star in the sitcom that resorts often to cheap smut and toilet humor. (By Kelsey Mcneal -- Fox Via Associated Press)
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 3, 2007

Fox's show "The Winner" is probably the most mistitled sitcom of the decade. It never rises even to the level of worthlessness, occupying a territory beneath rock bottom, a sub-sub-subterranean realm where puerile bad taste is passed off as, of course, edginess.

So how's this for edge: Glen Abbott, a 32-year-old virgin (a character obviously stolen from the Steve Carell movie "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), has a promising date with a divorced woman on Saturday night, an evening that he thinks might result, finally, in an end to his virginity.

Abbott discusses that hope with the woman's 14-year-old son, Josh. "I'm going to have sex with your mom," he tells the boy, although later he confesses, again to the kid, "I am not looking forward to 'doing' your mom," because "I've never fornicated a woman."

The sitcom's attempts at shock and titillation come across as merely more cheap smut from Fox, one of television's chief cultural polluters. (The series debuts at 8:30 p.m. -- when many children still control TV sets -- with a second episode at 9:30.)

Rob Corddry -- best known as a contributor to "The Daily Show" and as a guest star on Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- stars as Abbott, a feebly conceived variation on every doofus and goof ever played in the movies by Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, although Corddry hardly belongs in their company. Abbott's character and situation are also vaguely reminiscent of the happily hapless man-child played by Chris Elliott in his quirkily hilarious '90s sitcom "Get a Life."

Josh is likably played by Keir Gilchrist. The character is only 13, according to a Fox news release; perhaps the producers thought 13 was a little young for a kid to be listening to an older man's sexual confessions (the relationship between the two is squirmingly discomforting), so they made him 14 instead.

Still, is it now commonly accepted in Middle America for a 14-year-old to know about "a Korean massage parlor that's not really a massage parlor"? And then accompany an older man there so the man can learn sexual fundamentals prior to his encounter with the boy's mom?

First, though, Josh goes with Abbott to a drugstore so that Corddry can bumble his way through a groaningly familiar scene from many a teenage comedy: the awkward business of buying condoms and being just oh-so-embarrassed by it. Writer and executive producer Ricky Blitt tries to finesse this hoary corn by setting the whole story in 1994, but that doesn't make much difference. Besides a reference to the TV show "Wings," very little about the show suggests mid-'90s America.

Each episode of "The Winner" opens with Corddry reciting expositional narration: "My name is Glen Abbott and I'm the richest man in Buffalo." Then we flash back to his great awakening, which occurred, he says, "at the tender age of 32," when he was still living with his parents in their suburban home.

It could be that "The Winner" is intended as a parody of a bad 1994 sitcom. But that's a very hard trick to bring off and something clearly beyond Blitt and fellow executive producer Seth MacFarlane (both are alumni of "Family Guy," a potty-mouthed Fox cartoon in the tired and self-congratulatory "South Park" mold).

Corddry's Glen Abbott does make it to the Enchanted Garden massage parlor, hoping to be instructed in the art of lovemaking by one of the professional women. There's one cute, even endearing touch to the scene: Abbott innocently brings a box of candy for the girl, as if this were a respectable Friday-night date. The humor degenerates rapidly, though, with Abbott cowering in fear while the prostitute issues such directives as, "Take out your hose and put out my fire."

It's all utterly and pathetically lame, as are "Winner's" allegedly comic references to "involuntary feces" and "lazy bowel" and such; when the show's not in the gutter, it's in the you-know-what.

We apologize for quoting toilet-humor examples from the sitcom's notion of knee-slapping stuff, but you should be alerted. "The Winner" is an insult to "The Simpsons," "American Idol," "House" and any other of the few quality shows that have managed to make it onto Fox over the years.

With "Winners," on the other hand, Fox stooped so low it got the bends.

The Winner (30 minutes) debuts tomorrow night at 8:30 on Channel 5; a second episode airs at 9:30.

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