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Norm Henderson is an ex-hockey player who was banned from hockey for life for gambling and tax evasion. Now he must do 5 years of community service as a social worker or go to prison. His coworkers are collection of burn-outs and basically inept losers, with one exception - Laurie, who ends up spending a lot of time trying to bail out Norm. Written by
Network: ABC; Genre: Sitcom; Content Rating: TV-14 (for language and crude & sexual humor); Classification: contemporary (Star range: 1 - 4)
Season Reviewed: Complete Series (3 seasons)
After a high profile bouncing from the Weekend Update desk on 'Saturday Nigh Live' the irrepressible Norm MacDonald was able to land softly in this, his own self-titled series for ABC. From creators Deborah Oppenheimer and Bruce Helford ('The Drew Carey Show'), 'The Norm Show' is a sitcom that is very much in touch with the specific sense of humor of its lead and knows how to best convey it. This show is what 'Drew Carey' could have been had it not evolved into a self-indulgent star vehicle in the final seasons.
MacDonald plays Norm Henderson, a former hockey player sent into community service after being busted on gambling charges. The plot is just thin enough for any number of possible gags. He is kept in line by dedicated public servant (Laurie Metcalf) and constantly making a fool of his incredulous supervisor Denby (Max Wright, 'Alf'). Ian Gomez ('The Drew Carey Show') and joining later Nikki Cox ('Unhappily Ever After') and Faith Ford ('Murphy Brown') do a fine job keeping up with the shows bounding energy, but it's character-named leads MacDonald, Metcalf and Wright that are run the show.
'Norm' feels like it was poured out of MacDonald's head. Too often funny comedians come into a sitcom and flounder around, muffled by its trappings. But MacDonald finds himself right at home here. Through the years the episodes have some bizarre and creative plots that push the boundaries of reality. The crude humor is piled high and thick, but McDonald is able to turn the oldest gags into an honest laugh with his trademark deadpan comic delivery. His touch is everywhere. MacDonald has never been funnier and sitcom veterans Metcalf (criminally underrated in everything she does) and Wright fall into his twisted groove perfectly.
'Norm' is a relationship series through and through with all the usual trappings. It has a preoccupation with dating, sex and bed-hopping amongst its ensemble that would turn the head of even the biggest 'Friends' fan. As a relationship show it is peerlessly funny. But while the show's crude humor and office comedy elements work well, it never convinced me that it needs to be a relationship comedy. Do we really need Norm and co. going through some contrived love-lorn drama? And do we really believe MacDonald when proclaims to be 'in love' with someone he met that week? Particularly when he does it in the exact same dry, monotonous voice that serves the jokes so well, but is impossible to take seriously. This is a regrettable kink in the armor for me. And it doesn't help that ABC shuttled this show out the door with nary a whisper in its final season.
Most of the time, however, 'Norm' does it right and rises above the usual banality of this material. It lacks any pretension about itself and is refreshingly free of the melodrama that bogs down most shows of this ilk. Its purpose, first and foremost, is a giddy laugh. It is the crude, sex comedy in near top form where so many other shows fall flat. It aims low but it gets the job done.
'Norm' doesn't break the mold of the sitcom and try anything revolutionary, but within this mold (the one-liners, the put-upon boss, the cute wiener dog stealing the show, and the typical office & apartment setting) 'Norm' fills out the genre, stretching it to the limits and, best of all, getting genuine laugh-out-loud belly laughs. On a side note, the original "wrecking ball" opening sequence is, I think, a modest classic among intros.
Here's one of the highest compliments you can give. 'Norm' makes me wonder why so many traditional sitcoms flail about in such embarrassing desperation to get the slightest laugh. McDonald makes it all look effortless. It just shows what great casting, performers willing to dive head-first into the material, and exceptional comic delivery can do for you. A silly, mindless and truly hysterically funny series. Its hard to ask for anything more in this type of show.
* * * / 4
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