Remember back in junior high? That slightly superior, socially awkward guy hovering anxiously on the outskirts of the cool-kid circle in a series of plaid button-downs? Rob Corddry is playing him on Fox’s odd new comedy The Winner. The ex-Daily Show correspondent comes into his own as Glen Abbott, a 32-year-old video-store clerk who begins to late-late-late-bloom when his childhood crush (Erinn Hayes) returns to live next door. Glen’s sudden confidence has less to do with the girl, however, than her bright, neurotic 14-year-old son, Josh (Keir Gilchrist) — who turns out to be the best friend Glen’s always needed. The result is Pee-wee Herman meets Get a Life meets The Wonder Years: strange and sweet and, for no real good reason, set in 1994. Glen and Josh attempt first dates, bicker over new friends, and road-trip from Buffalo to Albany for Josh’s spelling bee. (”Allllbany?!!” Cordrry exclaims of their wondrous destination, with Paul Reubens-esque joyousness.)
The Winner’s remaining characters — Glen’s catty gay boss, his blustery dad and doting mom — aren’t nearly as charming. Perhaps these sitcom stereotypes are supposed to be ironic (the show is exec-produced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, after all). Mostly, they feel as dated as the show’s jarring laff track. These are small worries, however, as it’s doubtful The Winner could ever be just an average sitcom. Even at its yuk-yuk-kiest, the show is elevated by Cordrry, who quietly chips away at the constraints of the genre — like any slightly superior, anxious outsider should.