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Hein's TV Picks: Norm Macdonald Is Still Doing It His Way

Leave it to the always unconventional comic to record a posthumous standup special.
  • Photo: Michael Keegan/Netflix
    Photo: Michael Keegan/Netflix

    Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.

    Norm Macdonald has a new stand-up special premiering on Netflix today.

    The great Canadian comedian died in September 2021.

    Yup, it's a new Norm stand-up special, even though he's no longer with us. It was recorded directly from the comedian's living room about one year before he died. He knew what was coming and wanted to perform one last set while he still "had it." The laughs and snark are there.

    A sense of humor is required to get through this life. Norm knew this. He had tremendous ups and downs, but you couldn't tell from his public persona. Norm always did things his way. He was the smartest guy in the room who operated on a higher plane. His jokes cut so deep that you couldn't possibly get through all the layers.

    Many refer to Norm as a "comedian's comedian." I beg to differ. It's true that he was universally loved by comedic compatriots, and Conan, Letterman and my boss could never get enough. This special includes our favorite funny people paying tribute to Norm from the recent Netflix Is A Joke festival.

    But you didn't need to do an open mic night to appreciate Norm. He just made you work a little bit harder to get the joke. Norm would tell stories that went on forever, only to have a punchline that made the wait worthwhile. His talk show appearances speak for themselves. And he was the best ever to sit behind the Weekend Update desk.

    Norm wanted success, but he wasn't motivated by fame. He just wanted people to laugh. He was never limited by worrying about offending the wrong party or taking things too far. That was his forte, mixed in with pure Canadian charm.

    Norm sadly is no longer with us, but he did record one last special in case the worst happened. He feared his leukemia was progressing to the point where he couldn't perform. The self-recorded living room set was an insurance policy for Norm — and for us. Like the great athletes he admired and loved, Norm wanted to leave the ice showing he still had his slapper.

    Posthumous work plays on our emotions in multiple ways. Naturally you miss the individual, but the work lives on. It's poignant because the artist knows what's coming, and they work to preserve their legacy as their clock runs down. Warren Zevon and David Bowie recorded memorable albums on their way out. Life is short, but the music endures.

    Now it's Norm's turn. He's going out the only way that Norm Macdonald could. On his own terms… and making us laugh his way.

    Here's what else is worth watching this week…

    SEASON PREMIERES

    Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals (ION/Bounce)
    Thursday, June 2nd 8:00 PM ET

    ESPN gave the Spelling Bee the axe, but that doesn't take away from one of the most intense competitions you'll ever see. These young kids who can spell any word you throw at them sweat it out in front of their parents, a monotone presenter, and a live audience.

    The Bee always provides a lesson in performance under pressure, and all the prep and dictionaries in the world are no help as you're isolated asking for the language of origin. Changes to The Bee should eliminate the multiple player ties of the past. The post-elimination hugs are reminders that these brilliant competitors are just young kids trying to make their parents proud.

    Borgen - Power & Glory (Netflix)
    Thursday, June 2nd

    This was going to be my Foreign Affairs pick this week, but Borgen deserves its own full paragraph. This drama focuses on Denmark politics and the struggles of the Prime Minister and her staff. Think of The West Wing set in Denmark with all the drama, humor, and social commentary.

    The first three seasons took place ten years ago, but Netflix has brought back the Danish crew for an all-new season. The drama picks up years later with most of the major players returning.

    FOREIGN AFFAIRS

    This Is Going To Hurt (AMC+, Sundance Now) – Ben Whishaw works hard and charms his way in a British OB-GYN ward. Thursday.

    THIS WEEK’S STIHTGT!
    (Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

    Theodore Roosevelt (History) – Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin digs into Teddy R over two nights. Monday.

    Pistol (Hulu) – Danny Boyle tells the story of The Sex Pistols in this six-part limited series. Tuesday.

    Physical (Apple TV+) – Rose Byrne is back for her second aerobic season, and this time she's being mentored by Murray Bartlett from The White Lotus. Friday.

    The Boys (Amazon) – The God-like superheroes return for their third season as Homelander's ego and power continues to grow. Friday.

    GREATEST HITS
    (Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)

    This Week's Pick: Alias (Hulu/Disney+) – Jennifer Garner's big break was her star turn as Sydney Bristow, daughter of Jack (Victor Garber) who involuntarily gets sucked into the super-spy world. One of Bad Robot's first shows tackles the exotic arena of espionage in a thrilling way featuring young Bradley Cooper in a supporting role. Ron Rifkin is a fabulous bad guy, and it's the best role Garner has ever had. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

    Previous Picks:
    The Great (Hulu)
    Atypical (Netflix)
    Sherlock (PBS)
    Magic City (Peacock)
    Imposters (Netflix)
    Episodes (Showtime/Hulu)
    For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
    Abbott Elementary (ABC)
    Damages (Hulu)
    Luther (HBO Max)
    Downton Abbey (Netflix)
    Justified (Hulu)
    The Good Wife (Paramount+)
    Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
    Patriot (Amazon Prime Video)
    Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
    The Split (Amazon Prime Video)
    Bordertown (Netflix)
    Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

    ---

    If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

    Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay healthy and safe!

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: Norm Macdonald, Netflix, Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special