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New series review: The Winner (Fox)

Rob Corddry stars in Fox's mockup of The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Premiering: Sunday (March 4) at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. (central time) on Fox
Starring: Rob Corddry, Erinn Hayes, Keir Gilchrist, Lenny Clarke, Linda Hart
Produced by: Ricky Blitt, Seth MacFarlane

Empathy for pathetic Glen Abbott is the goal of this gamey new sitcom from Fox.

He's a 32-year-old virgin en route to becoming the richest man in Buffalo, we're told. His nebbish years, circa 1994, are documented in The Winner, which can be winning one minute and immensely crude the next. As when Glen (Rob Corrdry from The Daily Show) fantasizes the girl of his dreams telling him, "Let's get married so you can comb my hair and touch my vagina."

The show's co-producers are Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame and the seriously bent Ricky Blitt, whose savaging of Faye Dunaway at the January TV critics' "press tour" already has made him a near-mythical figure. Blitt's recent promotional letter to reviewers ("My Dearest Friends and Future Sexual Partners in the Media") includes an invitation to "share a Snapple or something at my pad. I look like a combination of Verne Troyer and Helen Mirren, if somehow that sweetens the deal."

Blitt's semi-autobiographical embodiment on The Winner looks longingly upon the only girl who ever kissed him as an adolescent. She's Alison Miller (Erinn Hayes), now the divorced mother of an introverted 13-year-old son named Josh (Keir Gilchrist). Amazingly she moves into a house right across the street from Glen, who still lives with his loud, belittling father, Ron (Lenny Clarke), and supportive but dense mother, Irene (Linda Hart).

Alison is "the girl I had been pleasuring myself to for nearly two decades," Glen narrates, albeit in a "spiritual way." He's soon bonding with her son in hopes of getting lucky with her. Except that Glen is almost deathly afraid of getting lucky or even halfway to first base.

Sunday's first of two episodes, airing after The Simpsons, lays the groundwork for these relationships. It's amusing at best, but marred with some really cheap shots at people with Down's Syndrome and, of all people, the late Herve Villechaize. His suicide was "so sad," says Glenn's mom. "He shot himself in his itty bitty little midget chest."

Episode 2, bridged by an episode of Family Guy, makes a far better case for itself, even if the overall crudity persists. Cordrry is laugh-out loud funny in scenes from a Korean "massage parlor," where he hopes to test his unused manhood in anticipation of a later sexual romp with Alison.

"What's the largest number of condoms a gentleman can put on his unit?" Glen first asks a pharmacist.

In tow with Josh, he then heads for spring training. The show at least has the good sense to keep the kid waiting outside while Glen gingerly tries to become a big leaguer. He's brought a box of chocolate and his own bed linen in hopes of impressing a prostitute who says mechanically, "Oh God, you're so sexy. You're making me horny."

The show's over-the-top laugh track goes nuts at times like these. But Cordrry's double-takes and overall hapless characterization are what make The Winner at least a contender. It can be very funny in spots but also lets itself down with too many, cringe-worthy, sub-juvenile jokes.

Both Glen Abbott and the scripts, as it turns out, have ample growing up to do.

Grade: C+