Wednesday, March 24, 1999

'Norm' on too early; 'You Know' wacky fun




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Laurie Metcalf was smart enough to know that she couldn't carry her own series, after winning three Emmys on Roseanne.

        Then she made a dumb choice — as Norm Macdonald's sidekick on ABC's Norm.

        Too bad she wasn't offered the Jennifer Grey celebrity neighbor role on It's Like, You Know ..., ABC's funny Friends clone today.

        When Roseanne ended two years ago, Ms. Metcalf signed to star in her own sitcom. “I was trying to get my own show together, but never did. I could never get on the same page, as they say, with a writer,” she said.

        In the process she learned that she “definitely” was more comfortable as a second banana, instead of the star. So she hooked up with two former Roseanne writers Mr. Macdonald (before going to Saturday Night Live) and Bruce Helford (before creating the Drew Carey Show).

Like an "SNL' sketch
       

        But there's a big difference between Roseanne and Norm. Roseanne Conner was caustic and funny. Former hockey player Norm Henderson (Mr. Macdonald) is very crude and not very funny. It's more like a late-night SNL sketch than a prime-time program — and the most vulgar sitcom on ABC since Disney bought the network, and probably before.

        Norm, doing community service as a social worker after being banned by the NHL for gambling and tax evasion, calls his boss “ass face.”

        It goes downhill from there when Norm tries to help a prostitute (Nikki Cox). His jokes about strippers, hookers, oral sex and pedophilia usually are heard only on late-night or cable TV. The premiere is rated TV-14-D (unsuitable for young children; with suggestive dialogue). It also deserves an “L” for coarse language.

        “I don't think at 9:30 p.m., following the Drew Carey Show, that there's anything in there that's going to be shocking,” Mr. Helford said. “It's a real adult show. And it's always been my feeling that any show that's for adults ... should be the way adults really speak.”

        I'm no prude, but really adult shows belong on pay-cable or late-night, and not on Disney's network before 10 p.m.

L.A. story
       

        On the other hand, actress Jennifer Grey couldn't have asked for a better role than It's Like, You Know ... to revive her career.

        Ms. Grey (Dirty Dancing) plays the wacky celebrity neighbor in ABC's Los Angeles buddy comedy, a delightful mix of Seinfeld, Friends and Ellen by former Seinfeld writer Peter Mehlman.

        It's Like, You Know ... lampoons the laid-back, surgically enhanced, superficial L.A. lifestyle as much as Seinfeld celebrated New York.

        Chris Eigeman stars as Arthur, a New Yorker living in L.A. with two friends (Steven Eckholdt, Evan Handler). They hang out with an airhead masseuse (A.J. Langer from My So-Called Life) and Ms. Grey, who often isn't recognized since plastic surgery nine years ago.

        Robbie (Mr. Eckholdt) sums up the contempt for L.A.: “It's a prison camp with three area codes ... Where you have to drive to take a walk. Where the murder trials last two years, and the marriages last two months.”

        And where the gang obsesses about stupid stuff, like, you know, seeing Elliott Gould driving a Honda.

        “Maybe it's a rental. Maybe he does voice-overs for Honda. Maybe it's his wife's Honda. Maybe it's an Acura Honda.”

        Even if you've never been to Southern California, you can relate to the show. TV has filled the air for 40 years with L.A. comedies, cop shows and car chases. It's like, you know, everywhere on TV.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.