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'Daily Show' alum Rob Corddry shines in new Fox series

Maureen Ryan
Chicago Tribune (MCT)

It has been nerve-wracking to watch a steady stream of "Daily Show" correspondents leave Comedy Central's signature fake newscast. You had to wonder if Steve Carell, Ed Helms, Stephen Colbert and Rob Corddry would ever find projects that would make their comic talents shine as much as Jon Stewart's show did.

Well, Colbert's festival of faux outrage, "The Colbert Report," is a consistently enjoyable pleasure, and clearly Helms and Carell have safely landed on "The Office," among other projects. In fact, Helms did such fine work as the rage-filled yet obsequious Andy on his initial batch of "Office" episodes that he has been made a series regular on that NBC comedy.

Corddry, thank goodness, has also had a safe landing. If his new sitcom, "The Winner" (8:30 p.m. EST Sunday, Fox) has a few grating elements, they're not Corddry's fault. Overall, the new Fox sitcom is surprisingly winning, and the skilled Corddry is the main reason for that.

Corddry plays Glen Abbott, who still lives at home at the ripe old age of 32. He knows the TV schedule by heart, is a bit of a hypochondriac and is quite possibly too enamored of the sitcom "Wings." The show is set in 1994, you see, and a voice-over at the start of each show tells us that Glen eventually made a success of himself - but before that came a whole lot of delayed adolescence.

Glen's jolted out of his jobless, aimless life by the arrival of Alison (Erinn Hayes), the girl next door - the only girl he had ever kissed, way back when they were both barely into their teens. Alison soon moved away, but when she comes back home to take care of her ailing mom, Glen's love for her is reignited.

The only trouble is, the divorced Alison is now a doctor with a son of her own, but Glen's spent so much time obsessively checking his pulse and memorizing lines from "Party of Five" that he has no idea how to act like a normal adult. A road trip to Albany makes him ecstatic about the room service menu: "This says we can get Frosted Flakes any time - that must be a typo!" he crows.

And when he visits a massage parlor - he's self-conscious about the fact that he's never "fornicated a woman" - he brings his own linens. ("Hollywood was right," Glen solemnly tells the prostitute after pouring out his troubles to her. "You do have a heart of gold.")

The show's central conceit - that Glen becomes best friends with Alison's nerdy 13-year old son, Josh (Keir Gilchrist) - could have been truly creepy, but thanks to Corddry's subtlety and skill, it's not. Corddry can easily put his trademark jerky spin on just about any line, as when he lies to Alison and says he's also caring for his sick mom. The waspish fake sincerity he gives to the line "On her good days, I just feel like singing" is quite funny.

But it's the innocence that he mixes in to Glen's boasting and bumbling that makes the show work. If Glen were only a jobless creep ogling the neighbor lady and becoming too friendly with her son, the show would have been a little too weird to enjoy. But Glen's truly flummoxed by the adult world, as is Josh. And Corddry makes Glen's mixture of wonder and uncomfortableness discomfort enjoyable to watch.

My only quibbles are that the comedy is sometimes pitched too broadly (and parents should know that the humor's on the smutty side sometimes). The show also looks fairly cheap and has a gratingly loud laugh track, and some of the supporting actors aren't really in Corddry's league (though "Rescue Me's" Lenny Clarke as his rage-filled dad is excellent).

Still, what are the odds that a fine comic actor would end up on a pretty good sitcom, one that actually puts many of his ample skills to use, instead of throwing them away on groan-inducing lines and tired situations? Perhaps that's an investigative story "The Daily Show" could tackle.

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