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The Trouble with Nornal aired from October until November 2000 on ABC.
Paranoia was played for laughs in this pratfall sitcom, which might have been called The Four Stooges. Bob ( David Krumholtz) was a youthful, shaggy-haired Manhattan apartment dweller who thought everyone was spying on him-including his creepy neighbor Zack ( Jon Cryer). Bob's pal Max ( Brad Raider), who worked at a spy goods store, thought so too, so together they set up a trap and caught both Zack and his pudgy mailman friend Stansfield ( Larry Joe Campbell), who themselves were world-class neurotics( Zach so much so that he kept changing his last name to throw people off). After a certain amount of good-natured bumbling, the four found themselves in the basement of a local church attending a "neurotics support group" led by cute , sensible therapist Claire ( Paget Brewster), who tried to convince them that the world was not spying on them. But of course it was-there were cameras in the ATMs, credit card companies knew everything they bought, HMOs kept records of their most intimate ailments. The dysfunctional four became so dependent on "normal" Claire that they started hanging out at her apartment creating a whole new kind of singles gang.
A Review from Variety
The Trouble With Normal
(Series -- ABC, Fri. Oct. 6; 8:30 p.m.)
By PHIL GALLO
Taped in Los Angeles by Garfield Grove Prods. in association with Paramount Television and Touchstone Television Prods. Executive producer, Victor Fresco; producers, Andy Ackerman, Marc Solakian; director, Ackerman; writer, Fresco; camera, Gregg Heschong; art director, Wendell Johnson; editor, Joe Bergen; music, Bruce Miller; casting, Julie Mossburg, Jill Anthony. 30 MIN.
Claire - Paget Brewster
Bob - David Krumholtz
Zack - Jon Cryer
Stansfield - Larry Joe Campbell
Max - Brad Raider
Credit "The Trouble With Normal" with getting one thing right: Set decorator Diane Yates' clutter-filled Manhattan apartments. It may be the only worthwhile touch, besides Bruce Miller's bubbly Latin music, on this thoroughly unfunny paranoid romp through New York. Rev up the midseason replacement.
Beyond an eight-minute segment in the second episode, which takes place in a less-than physically accurate Gotham bar, the trouble with "Normal" is the trouble with TV: derivative and dull.
Show marries the Upper West Side neuroticism of "Seinfeld" with the kooky therapy group of Bob Newhart's first sitcom -- but they forget to transport the jokes. Cast is moved en masse from scene to scene, never establishing anything outside of how four guys and their therapist deal with "normal."
Pilot introduces Bob (David Krumholtz) who is convinced he's being spied on by his neighbor. He shares this with nutty pal Max (Brad Raider), who shares a similar point of view. And, of course, Bob is right: Neighbor Zack (Jon Cryer) is indeed tracking Bob's moves with the less-than-able assistance of his neighbor, the pudgy mailman Stansfield (Larry Joe Campbell).
Initially, it is only Bob seeking help in group therapy with shrink Clare (Paget Brewster), and within an episode, they are all in the church basement sharing their feelings of paranoia and theories of conspiracy.
In the first three episodes, the group attempts to break out in the real world -- an actually comical bar scene in which the four pick up women. A tedious third episode follows the four as they disrupt Clare's life and she has to figure out where to draw boundaries. Show's conclusion is obvious, as they realize they're all family.
None of the characters are well drawn or even interesting beyond their phobias. Clare seems too kooky to be either a Manhattanite or a therapist; Bob is the only patient shown at work, and it's unclear as to what he does.
Andy Ackerman's direction is perfunctory. Exterior New York shots inform viewers that the guys live above shops and Claire lives on a residential block; otherwise there's no sense of New York City in this sitcom.
A Review from the Deseret News
'Trouble with Normal' is that it isn't funny
ABC sitcom is long on paranoia but short on laughs
By Scott Pierce
Deseret News television critic
Published: September 30, 2000 12:00 am
"The Trouble with Normal" isn't the worst new show of the season, but it does have the worst title. Unless you've seen the show, it doesn't make much sense.
And once you have seen the show, you won't much care what the title is.
Actually, the sitcom's previous moniker, "People Who Fear People," was more descriptive. And catchier, not that that's going to matter much.
Paranoia is the punchline here. And it gets old quickly.
David Krumholtz stars as Bob, a relatively normal guy who is sure that everyone is out to get him. In Friday's pilot episode (7:30 p.m., Ch. 4), he's just certain that the guy living in the Manhattan apartment next to his is spying on him.
Which, as it turns out, he is. But that next-door neighbor, Zack (Jon Cryer), is only spying on Bob because he's certain that Bob is spying on him. Get the picture?
Toss in a couple more paranoid personalities — Bob's friend Max (Brad Raider) and Zack's friend Stansfield (Larry Joe Campbell) — and the lack of hilarity begins.
All four of these guys join a paranoid-support group led by a struggling therapist, Claire (Paget Brewster), whom they quickly start to drive crazy. But she's mainly there to react to the guys.
This show really is a case of the lunatics running the asylum. And it isn't pretty.
Not that they're completely, over-the-top crazy.
"I don't think these guys are mentally ill," said creator/executive producer Victor Fresco. "I mean, I really think they're not that different from any of us."
(We should all be insulted by that observation.)
"I don't think that they're any more mentally ill than the 'Seinfeld' characters were as being neurotic," Fresco continued. "These guys just have a different take on things, which is they're paranoid."
OK . . .
The cast here is better than the show, particularly Krumholtz and Brewster. And poor Jon Cryer, who keeps coming back to the sitcom well despite the failure of two really good attempts ("The Famous Teddy Z" and "Partners") and the less-than-adequate "Getting Personal." He deserves better than this feeble attempt.
As do the viewers.
A Review from The New York Times
New TV Season in Review; Are They Paranoid Or Just Plain Realistic?
By WILLIAM MCDONALD
Published: October 5, 2000
'The Trouble With Normal'
ABC, Friday night at 8:30
This is a lonely guy version of ''Friends,'' except it might have been more aptly titled ''Perceived Enemies.'' Four hapless single young men are somehow living on their own in Manhattan, trading weak one-liners and -- here's the concept -- acting paranoid.
Why these not very cool but otherwise healthy-looking guys are so neurotic is not made clear in the debut episode. The answer must be New York, that well-known incubator of weirdos. It's also not clear why a paranoid New Yorker would routinely leave his apartment door unlocked and casually open it for anyone who knocks, as Bob does. But no matter.
We meet Bob (David Krumholtz) in turmoil. He thinks his high-strung next-door neighbor Zack (Jon Cryer) is spying on him. The joke is that Zack is spying, for his own paranoid reasons. Joining the high jinks is Bob's equally skittish chum Max (Brad Raider) -- who works, originally enough, in a surveillance-equipment store -- and Zack's befuddled sidekick Stansfield (Larry Joe Campbell), a portly mailman.
The four eventually stumble into one another and become, yes, friends. Bob and Max then recruit Zack and Stansfield to join their therapy group -- this is New York, after all -- led by the rookie psychologist Claire (Paget Brewster), who tends to say the wrong things. Through all this Mr. Cryer and Mr. Campbell, alone among their peers, manage to display some comedic talent. They may need it soon for their next job. WILLIAM McDONALD
An Article on Paranoia from Salon
They've been watching us all along
From Joan of Arc to Oliver Stone, society has perfected the art of worrying about nothing.
By King Kaufman
Feb 13, 2001 | Paranoia has raised its ugly head and cut its beady little eyes throughout our history and culture. Some highlights of paranoia through the ages:
Salem: The events responsible for the term "witch hunt" were the result of a sort of mass psychosis in Salem, Mass., in 1692. Several girls who had been behaving unusually accused various women of the town of putting spells on them. A similar incident had happened four years earlier, resulting in the hanging of one accused witch. This time, the initial accusations sparked a flurry of charges of witchcraft, and eventually, 19 "witches" were hanged and another pressed to death. All were exonerated by decree in 1711. The Colonies had nothing on Europe in the witch-burning sweepstakes, but the auto-da-f barbecues of the Spanish Inquisition probably had more to do with power and control (those interested in the sciences were routinely toasted) than with a paranoid belief that witches were undermining society. Massachusetts formally apologized for the trials ... in 1957.
Sen. Joseph McCarthy: The junior senator from Wisconsin played on Americans' Cold War fears of communism by leading a witch hunt so fierce that his name has become synonymous with such tactics. He came to national prominence in 1950 with a speech saying the State Department had been infiltrated by Reds. He provided no evidence for that or any of his many similar accusations, but as the chairman of a powerful subcommittee, he ruined many lives and careers. His power diminished after he was censured by the Senate in late 1954.
Joan of Arc: She kicked English butt and took names at Orleans in 1429 after becoming convinced that she'd been divinely chosen to, you know, save France. She had visions of saints and heard their voices. She's a saint herself now, but if she'd come along today with that story, she'd be labeled a paranoid schizophrenic and medicated heavily.
All this week, Salon People features articles on various aspects of paranoia.
Various and sundry dictators, would-be dictators and cult leaders: From Adolf Hitler on down the old evil scale, these guys usually have an enemy they point to as responsible for all of the world's ills -- a classic symptom, although for many it has been more a matter of pragmatism than paranoia.
Richard Nixon: The disgraced 37th president's paranoia is well documented, and it has become something of a badge of honor for people ranging from Daniel Schorr to Joe Namath to brag that they were on his famous "enemies list."
Howard Hughes: The insanely rich and eccentric oilman, aviator and movie producer suffered a complete breakdown in the late '50s and lived as a total recluse from 1966 until his death a decade later. He lived in sealed-off hotel rooms, obsessed with germs and hiding from even his closest associates. Because he refused to be fingerprinted, he never received security clearance to see the details of military projects his own companies were working on.
The Illuminati: If I told you, I'd have to kill you, and then they'd have to kill me.
Franz Kafka: His works, particularly the unfinished novels "The Trial" and "The Castle," are masterpieces of paranoia, in which a faceless, unreasonable and unreasoning bureaucracy abuses the apparently innocent. Kafka had his reasons for exploring paranoia. As Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia put it: "As a Jew, he encountered anti-Semitism; as a German-Austrian [in Prague], the political resentment of the Czech population; and as the son of a well-to-do businessman, the class hatred of the poor." And that's not to mention his domineering father. As Dr. Johnny Fever said on "WKRP in Cincinnati": "When everybody's out to get you, paranoia is just good thinking."
The JFK assassination: The murder of our 35th president is to conspiracy theorists what a young Madonna's MTV Music Awards performance of "Like a Virgin" is to the Gen X music nostalgia industry: a defining moment, a central text, the few frames of moving imagery that shook the world. And conspiracy theorists are to paranoia as goth rockers are to low self-esteem. As Jerrold M. Post, M.D., of George Washington University and Robert S. Robins of Tulane wrote in their paper "Political Paranoia as Cinematic Motif: Oliver Stone's 'JFK'": "The paranoid message will give more and more, and then it will give even more ... If evidence appears that refutes the conspiracy, the suppliers of the discrediting material will themselves be accused of being part of the conspiracy. The paranoid explanatory system is a closed one. Only confirmatory evidence is accepted. Contradictions are dismissed as being naive or, more likely, part of the conspiracy itself."
Black helicopters: Unmarked and painted with special black paint that avoids infrared detection and absorbs radar, these aircraft are used by the unholy alliance of the FBI, the DEA and the military against U.S. citizens, with the Branch Davidian raid in Waco, Texas, being the most famous example. Black helicopters have become such a modern icon that they are now used as shorthand for paranoia. Someone about to spell out a conspiracy theory is likely to start by saying, "I'm not one to see black helicopters everywhere, but ..."
"The Caine Mutiny": Humphrey Bogart's Captain Queeg on the court-martial witness stand is the shining moment of cinematic paranoia. "They were all disloyal," he says, rolling three little steel balls in his hand. "I tried to run the ship properly by the book, but they fought me at every turn. Ah, but the strawberries! That's, that's where I had them." Other great moments in silver-screen paranoia: Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver ("Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me") and of course, for the conspiracy theorists, "JFK."
"The X-Files": "No matter how paranoid you are, you aren't paranoid enough." One of the main characters of this long-running and wildly popular TV show is paranoid, and the other is consistently skeptical of his ideas. And guess who's always right!
"The Trouble With Normal": This fall 2000 ABC sitcom was about four paranoid guys who became pals, even though they were all suspicious of one another. Sounds like a barrel of laughs. It has been canceled. Is that just because it was a bad show, or could it be that viewers confused it with the John Goodman vehicle "Normal, Ohio"? Which was also canceled, and by all accounts was a really bad show. Could it be that Fox just created a bad show with the word "Normal" in the title just to torpedo the ABC show?
Eh ... Could be.
To watch clips of The Trouble with Normal go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=the+trouble+with+normal+tv+series
For more on The Trouble with Normal go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trouble_with_Normal_(TV_series)
To watch the opening credits go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQHA81gxWiA
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