Second acts. Sometimes we beg for them, sometimes the first act was so satisfying we don't need them. Norm MacDonald struck something close to sitcom gold with his ABC cult classic "The Norm Show". That simple, but fitfully funny series perfectly translated MacDonald's dry, raunchy voice to TV for 3 creatively successful years. When it ended, all be it pre-syndication eligible, I had my satisfying fill of a Norm MacDonald sitcom. "Norm Show" was all him and any other attempt would feel false. Some comedians realize when they have conquered a particular genre or medium with a success and move to take on something new. Then there are some who just can't stay out of the spotlight. In "A Minute with Stan Hooper" Norm MacDonald makes an unceremonious and uninvited return to the sitcom.
Remember, MacDonald plays the exact same character (no "pretty much" about it) in anything he does - if he's not simply playing himself. And you know what? That act almost never fails to make me laugh. But that's when Norm is being Norm. MacDonald makes a head-slapping fatal decision with "Minute" casting himself as the straight man and giving everyone else the one-liners and eccentricities. Everything feels backwards here and numerous muted jokes that come from the muffled Norm keep "Minute" from ever hitting "escape velocity".
MacDonald plays Stan Hooper, who does something of an Andy Rooney commentary for a national news show. The "Minute", within the show, must pay well and be pretty damn important because that is all he appears to do. He has recently moved to a small Wisconsin town and he and his wife (Penelope Ann Miller, barely registering) must adjust to the town's strange customs and backward characters. There is a strong "Newheart" vibe to it all.
This is one of those middle-American towns that only exist in Hollywood. Where they have a Running of the Sheep and have no clue that a Running of the Bulls exists. Where they leave their doors unlocked and believe in ghosts and can speak wolf. Where the penalty for a crime is to be hung in a net in the middle of a local diner. We can make up whatever we want about life between New York and LA. It isn't like anyone actually lives in these places. And like in all of these shows, it gets by because the townspeople are just so gosh-darn likable. The city boy is the cynic and the butler is a good, hard-working guy. The show has covered all of its bases.
With Norm sidelining himself the show has pretty much given up wait a minute, there's Fred Willard! Speaking of guys who always play the same character and that character never failing to make me laugh. Willard strolls in, utters a paragraph of nonsensical dialog that sounds perfectly normal coming out of his mouth and threatens to single-handedly save the show. So the edge-less "Minute" is an odd choice for Norm MacDonald and the show feels horribly trite and dated but, yeah, there are some laughs here.
* * / 4
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