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TBS' Chad is painfully funny, but not just because Nasim Pedrad is playing a 14-year-old Persian boy

  • SNL alum Pedrad's plan to play a teenage boy (initially for Fox) was revealed more than 5 years ago, in Feburary 2016, a full three years before PEN15 with a similar concept premiered on Hulu. Yet Pedrad has managed to create a teen comedy with acute pathos and unbearable awkwardness. "Camouflaged beneath a choppy wig and oversize polo shirts, her voice pitched a half-octave lower than normal, Pedrad captures the many contradictions of early adolescence," says Kristen Baldwin. "Chad moves stiffly through the world, swinging from bouts of loud hyperactivity to a muttery, almost physical self-effacement. The actress is so natural in the role that it's not long before the device is overshadowed by the character, a kid coming to terms with his identity. In a perfectly executed bit of irony, Chad's efforts to fit in culminate in a finale prank that draws the whole school's attention to his ethnicity. Chad is undoubtedly weird, and decidedly less heartfelt than that other adults-playing-teens comedy, PEN15. It seems a bit out of place in TBS' current line-up of hidden-camera high jinks, variety shows, and Friends reruns. But conformity is overrated — even if Chad himself doesn't know it yet."


    • Chad is hurt by the existence of PEN15 and a slew of shows about teen awkwardness: "Even in the post-antihero, post-relatable TV world, it’s hard to spend time with a protagonist who fails miserably at everything and resents the people who want to help," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "Even when it’s a joke, it’s hard to spend time with a protagonist who lashes out at their family and cannot see the hurt they cause. It’s hard to spend time with a protagonist who hates almost everything and everyone, and can only see the world through the lens of their self-interest. It’s tough spending time with the new TBS comedy Chad, and it’s entirely because hanging out with Chad is a real chore. Created by and starring Nasim Pedrad, Chad will inevitably draw comparisons to the Hulu series PEN15. Like that series, Chad stars an adult (Pedrad) playing the role of a teenager, surrounded by a cast of much younger actors as Chad’s friends and classmates. And also like PEN15, it is keyed into the intense awkwardness of being a teenager. Chad perpetually misreads his classmates, and he longs to fit in while constantly saying exactly the wrong thing. The shows share the same rough conceit and approach to who plays the main character: the adults portraying these teens are giving totally sincere performances. They don’t wink at the age gap or draw attention to distance between the actor and the role, even though Chad has an additional gender twist with a female actor playing a teenage boy. Maybe there’s a world where having one show with adults playing young teenagers is helpful for the next show with the same idea — it creates a category, turning it into a little genre that can be populated by more than one show. In the case of Chad, though, the fact that PEN15 already exists does the new series no favors. It’s too easy to look at the Hulu show as a benchmark, to use it as a diagnostic test for where exactly Chad has gone wrong." VanArendonk adds: "For all its missteps, there are some opportunities where Chad could redeem itself. A character with Chad’s degree of boorishness is just begging for an arc of some kind, which the eight episodes of the first season suggest is possible but do not deliver."
    • Chad is a portrait of messy, complicated boyhood told from a female perspective, and a rather loving one at that: "Chad has been compared to PEN15 (in which adults also play teens) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (the Citizen Kane of cringe-comedy), and although Pedrad can’t fully escape those shows’ shadow, what differentiates this series is its deep compassion for this boy," says Tim Grierson. "Chad understands that he’s really a sweetheart so wrapped up in distorted ideas about popularity and masculinity that he keeps making a fool of himself. The show can be funny, but I don’t find its shame-centric humor especially hilarious. It is, however, pretty effective at suggesting how nice boys can get permanently warped if they don’t grow out of those childhood hangups."
    • The character Chad is like a teen version of Michael Scott: "Watching 14-year-old Chad try so hard to be cool that he devolves into a sputtering mess can be, to say the least, awkward," says Caroline Framke. "Anyone who’s lived through puberty knows the pain of wanting to be “normal” at the same time everything feels anything but. Chad picks up with its title character — who changed his name to something more American friendly from his Persian birth name of Fereydoon — on his first fraught day of high school. As played by Saturday Night Live alum Pedrad, Chad is the living embodiment of that adolescent desperation. And yet, for all the teen shows we’ve had over the years, Chad’s closest onscreen analogue is probably The Office’s Michael Scott: a live wire of angst, hormones and try-hard intensity who has no idea how to stay still or be chill despite his very best efforts."
    • Chad is the cringey sitcom The Office fans have been waiting for: "Viewers may be tempted to compare Chad to the title character in Ramy because of their shared Muslim background, or the leads in PEN15 because Pedrad is playing an awkward teen," says Neal Justin. "But Chad has the most in common with Michael Scott from The Office, sharing a hunger to be loved, or at least be acknowledged in the hallway. He’s also just as hilarious. It’s far too early to be handing out Emmy awards, but I’d be surprised if any actor gives a stronger comedic performance this year."
    • Chad can be just as ungainly as its central character, but given some time to grow, it becomes an earnest charmer: "After some unsteady initial episodes, the series manages to explore some heartfelt narratives through its extremely uncomfortable humor," says Saloni Gajjar. "Chad recalls Hulu’s PEN15—which sees series creators Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play teens as well—in the way it induces full-body shudders with its cringe comedy and reflections of the awkwardness of school life. The character of Chad is actually more akin to The Office’s Michael Scott. In a sincere effort to be endearing, Chad ends up cracking inappropriate jokes, disregards—either unintentionally or willfully—other people’s feelings, and inserts himself into other people’s conversations. Chad also lies about everything from losing his virginity to obtaining a pair of Jordans. Pedrad’s vulnerable performance softens the blow of Chad’s narcissism, but despite the show’s creative ideas, it struggles to offset Chad’s vain personality with moments of resolution or growth."
    • Nasim Pedrad created Chad because of the death of positive Middle Eastern family representation on TV: “I felt so stagnant at the thought of just being an actor waiting on auditions and having little to no authority over my career,” she says. “On top of that—when I was growing up, certainly, but even when I graduated from college—I had never seen a half hour comedy centered around a Middle Eastern family. And so much of the representation of Middle Easterners on TV that I did see was predominantly negative. I quickly realized the parts I’d want to play weren’t available to me because they weren't being written, and that if I wanted them, I would have to write them myself.” Framke adds that "it’s downright exhausting to watch Chad trip over himself over and over again. Should Chad get a second season, it would be more interesting to see what he does with even an ounce more confidence, even if it doesn’t make for as many obvious punchlines."
    • Pedrad says it's miracle that Chad was even made after working on it since 2015: "People passionately tried to talk me out of it," she says with a laugh. "I wrote the first draft of this five years ago. It's really been a labor of love; it was initially at a different network and thankfully found its home at TBS, which I feel like is such a great tonal fit for the show. But yeah, certainly five years ago and for network television, it confused a lot of people and didn't feel like the safest bet for a TV show. I obviously believed in it and stuck with it, but I'd be lying to you if I didn't say it feels like nothing short of a miracle that I'm here talking to you today with the first season under my belt. It was something that enough people believed in, and it wasn't even in development hell or anything, it just sometimes takes one place to say yes, and I was lucky enough that I found that one place in TBS and they finally gave it a shot."
    • Why Pedrad felt she had to play Chad: "I just thought you could push the comedy a lot further if Chad were played by an adult and funny moments can be funnier and less sad because you're not sitting there laughing at an actual Iranian child, you're laughing at an adult who has some distance from it," she says. "So funny moments can be funnier and less painful with that lens. That was our intent, anyway. Then I really just thought I could disappear into looking like a little dude with the help of the wig and the eyebrows and the posture and dropping my voice slightly. All of that, I felt like I could get further away from myself, the actor."
    • Pedrad says her Chad charcter feels "more like me than not me": "I know this might sound disarming to hear because I was not ever a 14-year-old boy but Chad does feel more like me than not me," she says. "I don’t know why at the core of my spirit I feel like a 14-year-old boy — (maybe) because I grew up with a lot of guy cousins; I was such a tomboy; I played sports; I was a bit of a late-bloomer when it comes to finding my femininity. So even though he is a boy, every corner of this character reminds me of myself at that age — certainly the desire to fit in and the paralyzing fear of being different. I was caught between these two cultures: my parents were Persian, but I very much wanted to assimilate and feel like I belonged in America. And it’s already terrifying enough to be a teenager when you’re just wanting to not feel different than your peers, but when you’re an immigrant kid there’s almost this extra layer to get through to fit in. And I wanted to create something that felt authentic and honest to my experience in America."

    TOPICS: Chad, The Office (US), PEN15, Nasim Pedrad, Muslim Americans and TV, Teen TV

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