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TELEVISION REVIEW

Corddry is on the losing end in 'The Winner'

Glen Abbott (Rob Corddry, left) forms a tight bond with his love interest's teenaged son, Josh (Keir Gilchrist), in "The Winner." (Kelsey McNeal/Fox via Associated Press)

Like "Saturday Night Live" in days gone by, "The Daily Show" has evolved into a kind of institutional clearing house for comics. Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Ed Helms, Craig Kilborn, and John Hodgman have all been ushered into view by the Comedy Central series. Tomorrow night, former "Daily Show" correspondent Rob Corddry, too, tries to catch a big break with a midseason Fox sitcom called "The Winner."

Oh me, oh my. "The Winner" isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, and it's sad to see Corddry pour his likable comic style -- a form of ironic cluelessness -- into such a feeble and misguided project. The sitcom, which premieres with two episodes tomorrow at 8:30 and 9:30 on Channel 25, is a one-joke-stretching, creepier-than-it-realizes series that turns Corddry into a sort of Gomer Pyle for the new millennium. Because, you know, we need a Gomer who knows how to use a computer . . .?

Corddry plays a 32-year-old man-child named Glen Abbott, who still lives with his adoring mom (Linda Hart) and cranky dad (Lenny Clarke). Glen spends his days doing TV Guide crossword puzzles and, because the show is set in 1994, obsessing over "Wings" and "Party of Five." But while Glen's development seems to have been arrested at age 9, he does have sexual urges. And so when an attractive former classmate (Erinn Hayes) moves in next door, Glen starts hanging out with her 13-year-old son, Josh (Keir Gilchrist), and plotting a way to win her over. Most of the sitcom is about Glen's tight bond with Josh. They're extremely compatible, particularly when it comes to social anxiety and germ phobia. And Corddry and Gilchrist work well together, so you believe their connection and its innocence. When they make jokes about Jodie Foster's secret language in "Nell," it's sweet enough.

Still, it's strange to see a 32-year-old man buddying up to a 13-year-old boy and then spending an inordinate amount of time talking about sex with him. Indeed, each of the five episodes of "The Winner" sent to critics finds the pair talking about and acting on some kind of sexually tinged adventure. And the uncomfortable subtext isn't helped by the fact that, at 32, Glen is a virgin who is openly terrified of having sex with a woman. In one episode, Glen decides to lose his virginity with a hooker, while Josh waits outside, but he freaks out and flees, still pure.

In a voiceover that opens every episode, Glen tells us that he is now a wealthy father of three. I'm guessing this "How I Met Your Mother"-like format is only there to remind us that Glen is, ultimately, "normal," and that he's neither a child molester nor Karl from "Sling Blade."

Even if you can ignore the lurking ickiness, by the way, "The Winner" doesn't amount to much more than just another unimaginative multicamera sitcom fueled by repetitive one-liners. It's from Ricky Blitt and Seth MacFarlane of the more original "Family Guy," but even with that pedigree, and Corddry, it's a loser.

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