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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:
THE WINNER (FOX)
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "A 43-and-a-half-year-old narrator, who is incredibly rich and successful, looks way back to 1994, when he lost his innocence and started to become a man - at the tender age of 32. In 1994, GLEN ABBOTT (Rob Corddry, "The Daily Show"), still living with his parents, finally steps out into the world and tries to make something of himself when the only girl he'd ever kissed, the radiant ALISON MILLER (Erinn Hayes, "Everwood," "Kitchen Confidential"), returns to town. Driven by the desire to become a success and win Alison's heart, Glen goes through his "wonder years" a mere 20 years older than, well, most everyone. But it's not in vain, as this unlikely underdog will eventually transform from fear-riddled underachiever to the richest man in Buffalo in a mere five years. Luckily, Glen doesn't have to go though this awkward period alone. He becomes best friends with the only person he can truly relate to: Alison's 13-year-old son JOSH (Keir Gilchrist, "A Lobster Tale"). Josh is a fellow hypochondriac, and they help each other survive "puberty." Glen also receives parental guidance from his absurdly enabling mother IRENE (Julie Hagerty, "Girlfriends," "Malcolm in the Middle") and his supportive but quasi-rage-aholic dad RON (Lenny Clarke, "Rescue Me," "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events")."
What did they leave out: Producers are currently recasting Julie Hagerty's character.
The plot in a nutshell: 32-year-old manchild Glen Abbott (Rob Corddry, great to see getting his own show) still lives at home with his parents - overprotective mom Irene (Julie Hagerty) and underprotective dad Ron (Lenny Clarke), still doesn't have a job and still is basically living like he's 14, laying around the house all day, watching TV and being in general afraid of the world. But his future narrator self tells us things are about the change, enough that he'll eventually become rich and successful (and presumably not still living at home). Said path kicks off when his former next door neighbor/high-school crush Alison (Erinn Hayes) moves back home to take care of her sick mother, her 14-year-old son Josh (Keir Gilchrist) in tow. This forces Glen to leave the house for once where he starts to build an elaborate web of lies about his life in order to impress Alison. As luck would have it though, Glen hits it off with the equally as socially challenged Josh - whom he bonds with over their mutual hypochondriac tendencies ("do you test your own urine?") - and Alison begins to see Glen as a surrogate father. From there Glen decides to make a real push to find a job but hits a few walls, him being 32 and having no experience doing anything and all. He does however land a gig at a video store and thanks to Josh, gets to spend time with Alison, not to mention get an actual friend.
What works: Fans of Ricky Blitt and Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" and its non-sequitur/anachronistic-based humor will be right at home here. Jokes about "Wings," "Growing Pains," O.J. Simpson (the show is set in Buffalo) and anything else 1994 are aplenty. Corddry himself also proves to be a capable lead and his banter with Josh is the best part of the show.
What doesn't: Conversely, people not fans of Ricky Blitt and Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" and its non-sequitur/anachronistic-based humor will be in for a long night here. Overall though it's probably the most uneven pilot I've seen this year. The opening act is borderline cringe-inducing as the loudest laugh track I've heard in a long time hammers home lame jokes about O.J. Simpson of all people (hell, even Leno has stopped making O.J. jokes). Things however get better as the show progresses, with Corddry's mix of a bundle of nerves and unabashed enthusiasm starts to win you over. And the idea that a 32-year old "gets" a 14-year-old and vice versa is chock full of amusing tendencies, such as when Glen coaches Josh on how to talk to girls only to have it work because he thinks like a 14-year-old, not because of his experience as a thirtysomething. Overall it's a show full of promise that's also equally filled with potholes.
The challenges ahead: Will "Family Guy" fans embrace what's essentially a live-action version of its brand of humor?