Review: ‘Sports Show with Norm Macdonald’ gets off to an uneven start

Senior Television Writer
04.13.11 43 Comments

Comedy Central

I wasn’t able to review Comedy Central’s new “Sports Show with Norm Macdonald” in advance because the show is produced so close to airing in the interest of being timely (well, mostly timely, but we’ll get to that). So I DVR’ed it last night, watched it this morning, and have a few thoughts on the debut coming up just as soon as I say “Charl Schwartzel” 17 times in a row…

I liked Norm as the “SNL” Weekend Update anchor. Didn’t love him, but I often got a kick out of how amused he was when a joke bombed, as if he took more pleasure out of that than when the studio audience laughed. (He said in interviews at the time that his approach was always to write jokes that he and his closest friends would enjoy, and not worry about anyone else, and I think that’s about the right attitude to have in that gig. You’ve gotta be you, and if you’re not funny, you’re not gonna be funny trying to appeal to some phantom other.) And the “Sports Show” debut felt far more like an all-sports version of Weekend Update than it did an all-sports version of “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report.”

By that, I mean that the show was largely, like Update, a lot of rapid-fire jokes – set-up, punchline, set-up, punchline, move on to the next topic ASAP – and while I can enjoy that in small doses when the writing and/or delivery are good, I lose interest after a few minutes. “The Daily Show” more or less ruined Update for me, because hearing Seth Meyers drop a one-liner about some lunatic politician is never as much fun as hearing Stewart unload on this person for 3 or 4 minutes straight. (It’s the reason why Seth and Amy Poehler’s “Really?!?!?” was usually my favorite Update segment, because they took their time with the joke.)

So while some of Norm’s punchlines landed, a lot of the opening segment felt really slight. It wasn’t until he went into a long bit about Tiger Woods (embedded below) towards the end of the show that I felt like “Sports Show” was living up to its potential, and going forward I think the show would work better with fewer topics and more material about each topic.

Yet at the same time, the Tiger segment was one of several that felt awfully dated – like this is stuff Norm and/or his writers have been joking about for a long time, just waiting for a venue in which they could do it in public. The Tiger scandal is ancient at this point. The Hanes ad with Michael Jordan’s Hitler ‘stache is a year old (Colbert did a segment on it last June). Tosh had the guy who got hit by an ice cream truck while doing the Dougie on his show for a web redemption back in January.

Hopefully, a lot of that was just the result of this being the first show, and Norm wanting to address this stuff before moving on to more current topics. Because goodness knows there’s enough ridiculousness in the world of sports every week – sometimes every day – to keep a show like this current. I’d also hope that, like “The Daily Show,” Norm and company find room to deal with the absurdity of sports media as much as the athletes, because – as Deadspin, The Big Lead, Awful Announcing, etc. have shown over the years – ESPN alone is a limitless source of mock-worthy material.

It’s a first show. Kinks need to be worked out. It’ll take time to evolve. Not a great start, but I definitely laughed at times. (The Blake Griffin undercover bit was completely silly and pointless, but it was funny; seeing the NBA’s most spectacular athlete act like a complete spaz was a riot.)

What did everybody else think? You setting the season pass now?

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