With the scenarios not entirely pushing too far into surprising wackiness, Pedrad starts to settle into “Chad” midway through, and her performance makes sense in its own way. But when the honest parody of her performance goes into the background, you’re left with a comedy about shrill teenage behavior, and one that doesn’t point out much that’s different about Chad as a kid. He’s tone-deaf (especially with other races), clueless, sometimes too smart for his own good, extremely dorky, etc. Chad’s also a screeching teen, who calls his for his daddy or throws types of hissy fits that everyone deflects like dealing with a kindergartener. The series wants to find a great deal of meaning in how a particularly childish teenage boy sees the world, and it’s a wholesome but hit-and-miss objective.
While sometimes punchy and sharp, the comedy writing in “Chad” sometimes falls into the traps of this preciousness, giving Pedrad’s character moments more fit for canned laughter than the type of edgy coming-of-age story it also wants to be. This usually appears in long-winded dialogue, like this overwrought zinger from a scene mid-season where Chad protests shoes his mom got at Costco: “Mom, how the heck am I supposed to become a professional social media influencer when I’m skipping around town in this crap? I mean, are you raising a young boy or a young Filipino male nurse?” The show wavers between that qualification of being either over-written with its jokes, or underwritten with some of its scenarios that it places Chad in. Some episodes, like one in which he babysits his younger sister Niki but learns about drinking culture from her friends, feel like shallow riffs on his trademark naïveté.
Part of the unusual experience of “Chad” is that it wants the viewers to stop seeing Pedrad in the character. And yet that’s when it becomes less special. Take Pedrad away from the show, replace him with an actual 14-year-old boy, and “Chad” wouldn’t have enough to say to stand out. But because Pedrad is playing this character, with such affection and physical dedication, the show works. She nails the antsy tugging of a backpack strap while talking to a new classmate, or the brittle posture walking through the halls, or the brief stolen moments in a bathroom, wiping away tears before throwing yourself back out there. The ample comedy here is not that Pedrad is in the title role, but that being a teenage boy is its own cruel and potentially very funny joke.
All of season one screened for review.
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