Fox sent out five episodes of this new sitcom, which proved instructive, because the more you see of it, the less there is to like. A semi-riff on “The Wonder Years” with elements of “Big” — told in flashback by “the richest man in Buffalo,” who until age 32 was a virgin living with his parents — the show plucks every familiar man-child chord, then begins plucking them all over again. “Daily Show” alum Rob Corddry can be flat-out funny, but this series from “Family Guy’s” Ricky Blitt and Seth MacFarlane ultimately proves too cartoonish to live up to its title.
Fox’s fascination with slacker chic has deep roots (remember “Get a Life?”), and there’s a potential sweetness here in the central relationship between Glen (Corddry) and Josh (Keir Gilchrist), the 13-year-old son of Alison (Erinn Hayes), the just-returned neighborhood girl — now a single mom — Glen pined for during his real wonder years.
The implication is that Glen’s awkward, unspoken love of Alison prompts him to shake up his life, getting a job (albeit in a video-rental store) and forcing himself to miss an episode of his beloved “Wings” now and then to bravely engage humanity. Yet that story takes a back seat to Glen’s friendship with Josh, who’s equally neurotic and nearly as compulsive as he is.
Series creator Blitt makes only sparing use of the 1994 setting beyond the opening shot, where Glen and his parents (a sparsely used Linda Hart and Lenny Clarke) watch coverage of that nice O.J. Simpson being hounded by police. The main thrust of the story keeps returning to Josh and Glen jointly navigating the confusing seas of dating, which isn’t as creepy as it sounds but does prove every bit as juvenile.
Indeed, after the premiere, a plot point in every subsequent half-hour is that Glen thinks he is going to have sex — or someone wants to have sex with him — causing frantic hand-wringing and panic. Even for dweebs, this amounts to a rather strange fantasy, as Glen worries about bedding down Alison, a mom at a spelling bee, a gay guy he meets in the videostore, and finally his former teacher (played by the ever lust-worthy Katey Sagal).
The tone, too, stays below the belt, with Glen firing off lines like “I am not looking forward to doing your mom” and falsely boasting “I know how to plow a dame.” Corddry plays the part as such an exposed nerve that he can get away with a lot, but it’s still hard to make scenes about buying condoms and visiting Asian massage parlors seem fresh or clever, and more elevated references to movies like “The Graduate” will likely fly over most of the target audience’s pointy little heads.
Fox is double-pumping “The Winner” by sandwiching episodes around “Family Guy” after a concerted online push, which should deliver a pretty quick verdict as to whether this latest attempt to plant live-action Sundays has taken. In its corner is the fact that the show broadly plays like a cartoon, but as comedy goes, it’s simply too arrested in its development.