TV on DVD: “The Norm Show: The Complete Series”

Written by Television, TV on DVD

By its third season, “Norm” wound up in the Friday night death slot and was cancelled when ratings took a nose dive. ABC blew it. “Norm” was a durable workplace comedy that featured MacDonald at his likable best.

The Norm Show was a starring vehicle for former Saturday Night Live cast member, Norm MacDonald. You may recall that MacDonald was fired from SNL in the late 90’s for, among other things, his biting humor that mocked celebrities and for showing no remorse when he offended anyone. After a failed attempt to jump into movies, MacDonald developed this half hour sitcom for ABC. Co-creating the show with MacDonald was Bruce Helford, one of the men responsible for The Drew Carey Show, another sitcom built around the appeal of a successful stand up comedian.

Premiering in 1999, The Norm Show aired on ABC and went on to become one of that year’s top  comedies. The next season, the show’s titled was shortened to just Norm and began getting shifted all over ABC’s prime time schedule. By its third season, Norm wound up in the Friday night death slot and was cancelled when ratings took a nose dive. ABC blew it. Norm was a durable workplace comedy that featured MacDonald at his likable best.

In the series, he played Norm Henderson, a former NHL hockey player banished from the league for gambling and refusing to pay taxes. He learns that he can avoid jail time by serving five years of community service… as a social worker. Only in the world of television sitcoms could a sarcastic, lazy jerk with a pension for pulling pranks, insulting clients and avoiding usefulness find a job as a social worker. But on this series the set up succeeds. There’s a puppy dog charm about the MacDonald and,with his humor toned down for mainstream audiences, he actually excelled when working with the fine supporting cast that surrounded him.

Scene stealing Roseanne star, Laurie Metcalf, portrayed Norm’s by the book co-worker, Laurie, and Ian Gomez (currently on Cougar Town) co-starred as another co-worker, Danny. Rounding out the cast was Max Wright (ALF) as Norm’ boss, Mr. Denby. In the second season, Artie Lange came aboard as Norm’s brother, as did Murphy Brown star, Faith Ford, who joined the cast as Norm’s love interest, Shelly. There’s also a cute Dachshund, named “wiener dog,” who was Norm’s pet on the show. The dog was often smarter than his owner and he often sought advice from the cute little canine.

Norm wasn’t a truly original series, but its characters were relatable and fun to watch in half hour increments. Unlike Helford’s hit with Drew Carey, the strength of Norm came in the workplace environment, when the star was trading one liners with Metcalf, Gomez and especially Wright. The two men played great foils. Norm featured plenty of guest stars, including Cloris Leachman, Jack Warden, Mickey Rooney, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Tom Arnold, Garry Marshall and the late Richard Pryor. Tommy Smothers guest starred in a two part episode that dealt with Norm’s father issues. If you think Macdonald is incapable of being anything other than sarcasm, think again. He can actually stir up some emotions (something he did again recently when he guest starred on ABC’s The Middle).

Shout Factory’s massive 8-DVD set of the entire series is on par with any of the other excellent TV collections the company has released over the years. Besides excellent packaging and an informative booklet that provides information on every episode, there are 8 commentaries by MacDonald and Helford throughout the discs. The two men obviously loved this show and it comes through.