"A Minute with Stan Hooper" Episode 5: Insider Report
OCTOBER 10, 2003 -- BY DOUG PINSAK
I stood in front of Paramount studios on Friday filled with both excitement and nervousness. For you see I was awaiting the filming of "A Minute with Stan Hooper" starring none other than my hero Norm Macdonald (he only recently beat out Jesus). While I was certainly excited to be there to see the new show, I was also nervous that it wouldn't live up to my expectations. Unfortunately, this would turn out to be the case. While waiting for filming to begin, as the set was being set up and the actors were preparing their lines, we were "treated" to the pilot episode. While it wasn't exactly televised tripe, neither was it the filet minion my comic-pallet was salivating for. It was definitely no "Dirty Work". Certainly not "The Fake News". And goddamn it, it wasn't even as good as "The Norm Show".
First off, the cast is okay. Not awful, not superb; just okay. I would be surprised to see anyone from the supporting cast go on to make it big in the world of comedy. The writing/dialogue was so half-assed that the writers should have been flogged for thinking the script was good enough to be deemed finished. It wasn't so bad that they should be flogged to death mind you; just flogged sufficiently (qualitatively and quantitatively) to be taught a lesson. For me, the highlight of the pilot episode occurred towards the end. I won't tell you exactly what was said.
The episode I saw filmed was, to me, not as good as the pilot episode. The plot was centered around Stan Hooper receiving a letter from "his biggest fan". Norm, after reading the letter, is convinced that this person is brilliant, a beautiful woman, and his kindred spirit. However, he eventually meets his biggest fan and it doesn't quite turn out the way he had hoped (and no, his "biggest fan" doesn't turn out to be some fat broad). The side plot involves one of the characters (Ryan Hawkins) buying a terrible-looking sweater with a picture of a cat on it for his girlfriend Chelsea. A mediocre plot can easily be counteracted with great filler; but there was little of such filler to be had. In fact, during the filming (on more than one occasion) we had to be reminded by the crew that we needed to laugh, since laughter was being recorded (it should be noted that no such reminder was given or needed when I went to a filming of "The Norm Show"). Although the episode was not terrible, it was not what I had hoped for.
I guess the main problem is that, in the end, it's just a sitcom. It's not a superb sitcom, it's not a god-awful sitcom; it's just a sitcom. It's not Norm's version of a sitcom; just a sitcom. As Steve (the editor of this illustrious website) noted, TV guide said: "Bottom Line: Norm's pre-ironic identity is preternaturally funny". Steve referred to this as a compliment. However, after having seen the show, it's almost more of a euphemism. Simply put, TV guide's quote can be reiterated as: "Norm's character isn't bad, but it ain't the Norm you came to know and love." Norm is ironic, he is cynical; he is a foul, crude, motherfucker. That's what made him famous for shit's sake. That's why I like him more than Jesus. I don't want a pre-ironic Norm, I want NORM. I want a pre-ironic Norm as much as I want a pre-pubescent Britney Spears. A pre-ironic Norm doesn't even seem like Norm to me. I understand a prime-time sitcom can't be about hookers and cocks and midgets (oh my); but the character Norm plays just seems too bland and not Norm-requiring (nothing about the character screams "Norm Macdonald") for me. I wouldn't go so far as to call Stan Hooper 'Norm's antithesis', but Stan Hooper is also not the epitome of what makes Norm great. Norm is great because of what he says, because of the thoughts he creates, because no subject is taboo; but this show seems like it's relying on his acting talents (for an explanation of why this is bad, see "Screwed").
I don't fault Norm. During the breaks he cracked jokes that were better than anything in the script. When I saw him do stand-up about 7 months ago he was fantastic. And, the show's concept isn't bad either. So the writers, or the director, or the producers (or some combination thereof) have to take the blame. Unless Norm can gain some creative control over the show, I'm not sure it will make it.
I realize I've painted a terribly glum picture here. Probably an overly glum picture. The show isn't as bad as "Sister, Sister" or "Small Wonder". I laughed during both the pilot, and the episode which I saw filmed. In fact, I laughed a few times. And even if the show isn't that great, I still like seeing Norm on Television; it just gives me a good feeling. Also, Stan Hooper's persona is such that more Norm could be added to the character without obliterating it (in my mind, this leaves the door open for improvement). However, although you may watch the show's premiere, as well as subsequent shows, and feel that I've overstated its mediocrity in the preceding paragraphs I, unfortunately, find myself dubious that you'll deem me wholly wrong.