The former SNL star plays a 14-year-old Persian boy in the painfully funny TBS comedy Chad.

The new TBS series Chad stars Nasim Pedrad, a 39-year-old woman, as Ferydoon "Chad" Amani, a 14-year-old boy. Oddly enough, that's not the most interesting thing about the show. Blending extreme cringe comedy with relatable tales of teenage despair, Chad (April 6 at 10:30 p.m. on TBS) explores the painful limbo between childhood and adolescence through the eyes of a late-blooming Persian narcissist.

It's the first day of high school, and Chad is determined to be popular. For him, that means downplaying, if not completely ignoring, his Persian heritage. "I'm embarrassed by it, and I want to fit in," he informs his single mom Naz (Saba Homayoon). With his loyal and level-headed best friend Peter (Eighth Grade's Jake Ryan) by his side, Chad struts into Westpark High — only to be met with almost instant humiliation. Viewers with a low tolerance for secondhand embarrassment may not make it past the eight-minute mark in the premiere, when Chad begins his excruciating attempt to ingratiate himself with some classmates by boasting about his sexual exploits. Like most of his lies, this one leads to disaster and an emotional meltdown. "I just want to play video games with Peter," Chad wails to his mom between sobs.

Each of Chad's eight episodes is built around a similar juxtaposition of acute pathos and unbearable awkwardness. Chad is so desperate for a father figure — his absentee dad lives in Iran — that he becomes inordinately attached to Naz's cool new boyfriend Ikrimah (Phillip Mullings Jr.). He orders baseball gloves online so he and Ikrimah can "have a catch," and it's a little heartbreaking. But when he crashes movie night at Ikrimah's house and tries to bond with his buddies, all of whom are Black, by blurting out things like, "I hate white privilege!"—well, it's full-body wince time.

Alexa Loo, Nasim Pedrad, and Jake Ryan in 'Chad'
| Credit: Liane Hentscher/TBS

It helps that Pedrad, who also created the show, surrounds her blundering protagonist with likable, well-adjusted peers. Peter is preternaturally wise and quietly confident, so uninterested in being popular that the cool kids — like Chad's idol Reid (The Mick's Thomas Barbusca) — are happy to hang with him. Reid is a charismatic and occasionally obnoxious big man on campus, but he pushes back on Chad's aggressive overtures with gentle therapyspeak ("I need to set a healthy boundary") rather than bullying. The series' sweetest moments come courtesy of Chad's very loving, very Persian Uncle Hamid (the wonderfully ebullient Paul Chahidi), whose intense devotion to his nephew never wavers.

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. 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. Grade: B+

Chad premieres April 6 at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.

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