When Daily Show correspondents go solo, you expect big things: Steve Carell with The Office, Stephen Colbert with The Colbert Report. Now it's Rob Corddry's turn with The Winner (Sunday, 7:30 p.m., Fox), a sitcom about a 32-year-old schlub climbing out of arrested adolescence.
Corddry's Glen is a neurotic who still lives at home as a way of hiding out from life. When his high school crush (Erinn Hayes) moves back to town, he has to grow up quick to have a shot at winning her love. The show's title and opening credits suggest that, somewhere down the road, he succeeds, becoming a multimillionaire to boot.
So does Corddry have the comic genius of Carell and Colbert? In a word, yes. Right out of the gate, he proves himself a sitcom master, with perfect timing and a gift for physical comedy. Corddry's character always puts his foot in his mouth, and his desperate recoveries, with darting eye and twitching lip, are a thing of beauty. Corddry puts his stamp on the TV-loser tradition, following in the footsteps of Jason Alexander, Don Knotts and their ilk.
Unfortunately, he's working with a handicap: The material isn't great. The pilot is set in 1994, and the writers try (and fail) to get easy laughs from topical events like O.J. Simpson's Bronco chase and Herve Villechaize's suicide. Corddry makes you laugh in spite of the uneven writing, but he shouldn't have to work so hard.
Give this man a decent script and he'll conquer the world.
Saturday, 8 pm (BBC America)
This series restores the thrills and chills to a tale that pop culture had all but worn out. It subtly updates Robin Hood for the 21st century while still delivering the popcorn pleasure we've come to expect since about, oh, 1452.
Robin of Locksley returns from the Crusades to find Nottinghamshire in a sorry state, thanks to the power-mad sheriff. This is a post-Iraq War Robin, skeptical of foreign adventures and the king's motives. Newcomer Jonas Armstrong gives him a strong moral center (his indignant stare could drop Guy of Gisborne at 30 paces) as well as a roguish sense of humor that makes you mutter, 'Errol who?'
Robin finds Maid Marian (Lucy Griffiths) as pretty as ever, but not as passive as we remember her. She's a feisty heroine who's as handy with sharp objects as Robin. And speaking of sharp objects, the archery and swordplay are simply breathtaking. The first episode's climax ' with Robin saving his friends from the hangman's noose ' thrilled me to the core. When Robin asks an assembled throng, 'Will you tolerate this injustice?' I shouted 'No!' and jumped onto the coffee table. I knocked over a lamp and started a small fire in the living room.
As my wife suggests, I'll have to tolerate a certain amount of injustice in future episodes.
The Dark Ages
Sunday, 8 pm (History Channel)
This evocative documentary covers the blip in human history between two high points of civilization: the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. It was a blip that, unfortunately, lasted about seven centuries. The barbarians sacked Rome in 410, ushering in the dreaded Dark Ages ' a time of ignorance, chaos and cruelty. It was also a time of fervent Christian faith, but the religion didn't prove to be much of a civilizing influence. The barbarian chieftain Clovis, for example, converted to Christianity in the sixth century, but only so he could recast his raping and pillaging as a 'holy war.'
And did I mention the Black Plague? It wiped out half the world's population, not to mention a devastating number of actors in the History Channel's dramatic reenactments.
Two hours of famine, sickness, war, torture and persecution have left me with a strong craving for the Renaissance. Can someone please get me an image of Michelangelo's 'David,' and fast?
Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll
Tuesday, 8 pm (CW)
The Pussycat Dolls are one of those synthetic pop creations that, like the Spice Girls, use interchangeable sexpots to put over interchangeable songs. In this new reality series, contestants compete to become the seventh member of the Dolls, each hoping that her bare midriff is the one with star potential. Dolls svengali Robin Antin will road-test their vocal cords and dance moves and ultimately choose the one with just the right kind of picturesque blandness.
But wait ' The Search for the Next Doll isn't really a tawdry bit of exploitation meant to boost the group's sales figures (and the CW's ratings) by parading T&A on prime-time TV. It's really about helping women. 'At its core, this show goes beyond just finding a new Pussycat Doll,' says a CW spokesperson. 'It's about female empowerment and personal transformation.'
In other words, don't expect the series to be about breasts and butts ' not unless those breasts and butts are an agent of self-discovery.