It has been some time since the name Norm Macdonald was relevant in the world of comedy. The veteran comic left “Saturday Night Live” in 1999 and since then has shown up on various talk shows and specials hosted by more contemporary comics. In 2014, Macdonald unsuccessfully campaigned to be Craig Ferguson’s successor on “The Late Late Show.” Macdonald was once a prominent face in comedy, thought of as one of the great SNL cast members and perhaps the best “Weekend Update” host of all time. Now, he’s trying to reclaim that fame, with the sad attempt at relevance that is Netflix’s “Norm Macdonald Has a Show.”
“Norm Macdonald Has a Show” seeks to offer a laid-back alternative to the politicized, scripted talk shows that dominate airwaves. Each show starts with guests, including David Spade, Drew Barrymore and David Letterman, who are guided on set by staff and seated next to Macdonald. There is no monologue, no opening music, no sense of preparedness; guests come to offer career anecdotes and shoot the breeze with a seasoned comic.
This lack of preparation might be intentional, perhaps meant to add an endearing element to the otherwise dry show. Instead, it makes for an incredibly uncomfortable half an hour, leaving the viewers, guests and even Macdonald confused at what it is they are watching and taking part in. There are multiple lulls throughout the show, where neither Macdonald nor his guest quite know what to say. At one point in the premiere episode, David Spade asks Macdonald if he wants him to come back next week. It’s meant as a joke, but Spade’s recognition of the feeling of incompleteness isn’t far off. The deconstructed nature of the show falls flat, and feels more like an unfinished production that was rushed to air.
It doesn’t help that just a week before the show was released on Netflix, Macdonald gave a controversial interview in which he discussed the downfall of two of his friends, Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr. Macdonald was quoted saying that the victims of Barr and C.K.’s actions and words “didn’t have to go through” the shame and backlash the performers did. His attempt to apologize on “The Howard Stern Show” just made matters worse, as he claimed that to lack sympathy for sexual assault victims, one would have to “have Down’s Syndrome.”
These horrific comments cast a shadow over an already lackluster show, but they embody the essence of Macdonald’s routine. “Norm Macdonald Has a Show” has the aura of a group of lonely dads sitting in a basement, drinking a couple beers and wondering where the good ol’ days went. It’s not funny enough to make up for the visible lack of preparation nor is it innovative enough to make up for the apparent lack of care. Macdonald and Netflix may be trying to conjure comedic nostalgia with the former SNL cast member’s return to center stage, but there is a reason the world of comedy has moved on from Norm Macdonald. One can only wish he would stop making attempts to claw his way back in.