THE SERIES "Chad"
WHEN | WHERE Premieres 10:30 p.m. Tuesday on TBS
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Chad (Nasim Pedrad) is about to enter high school and has the pre-freshman-year jitters. Will girls like him? Will guys, like the super-cool Reid (Thomas Barbusca)? Pedrad, 39, is a woman who plays this boy. Persian-born, all Chad wants to do is assimilate. Chad's home life is comfortable but complicated: His mother, Naz (Saba Homayoon) is estranged from his father, who is back in Iran. Along with kid sister Niki (Ella Mika) they live with her kindly, befuddled uncle Hamid (Paul Chahidi). Chad badly wants cool creds, and finally gets those when his mom starts dating Ikrimah (Phillip Mullings Jr.)
Pedrad, a "Saturday Night Live" repertory player back in the early '10s, also created the show. Like Chad, she was born in Iran before emigrating to Orange County, California, when she was 3.
MY SAY The vast, peopled stage of popular culture is so crowded that it's easy — no, it's inevitable for some of those people to get lost in that crowd. Nasim Pedrad is of whom we speak. Nasim who? "SNL" fans certainly remember her but only vaguely. Your handy reminder: A gifted impressionist, she did a killer Arianna Huffington and Kim Kardashian (among many others.) She lasted five or so years, seemed to get along with Lorne Michaels and left in 2014 to join John Mulaney's new eponymous sitcom for Fox. Smart creative move, less so of a career one. "Mulaney'' died fast, and she ended up on "New Girl'' for a couple seasons.
But around that time, she pitched her own show, about the sort of boy any pubescent boy just entering the high school jungle might recognize: Pitchy voice, insecure, desperate for social status or at least for someone (anyone) to follow him on Instagram. Fox passed but good well-conceived ideas sometimes have a way of finding homes, and "Chad" finally has.
If there's any mark against "Chad," it's the mark of familiarity: Hulu's "PEN15" is basically the same show and boasts not one but two remarkable performances by adults passing as 14-year-olds (Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle.) Nevertheless, "Chad" has something no other show possibly could, and that's Pedrad's unique comic style.
How best to describe that? Like her longtime friend and colleague Mulaney, she knows the world is mad crazy, but it can be funny, too. Chad is precocious enough to know this as well, but lonely and bereft enough not to care. His absentee father has assumed mythic stature in his mind, and he looks to any other adult male — at least cool, fun ones like Ikrimah — to fill the role. That's ultimately futile, and Chad (pardon the pun) is left hanging.
To be a fatherless, Persian-born American boy comes with its own unique set of complications. But to be Chad — smart, bratty, pampered (in fact, babied) — even more so. Pedrad has located a sadness at the heart of her character, too. It's the sadness of knowing this mad-crazy-funny world will ultimately disappoint you. That's a hard lesson for any 14-year-old. At least she — he — finds some whimsy in it.
BOTTOM LINE Easy winner.