Joseph Nicolia, 2007.

The Night-In : barbecued chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, and spinach-artichoke dip from Sezoni , to be eaten in front of Norm Macdonald's


Norm Macdonald and Sezoni Offer a New Take on Armchair Athleticism

Joseph Nicolia, 2007.

The Night-In: barbecued chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, and spinach-artichoke dip from Sezoni, to be eaten in front of Norm Macdonald's Sports Show on Comedy Central (Tuesdays, 10:30 p.m.).

The Restaurant: Sezoni is essentially the Upper Capitol Hill reboot of Vincenzo's Pizza and Pasta, currently located a mere six blocks south of its predecessor. Older fans of Vincenzo's will delight in hearing that the Italian restaurant's Mediterranean-influenced menu really hasn't changed all that much in spite of the branding overhaul. The restaurant's new, family-friendly digs may lack the hip atmosphere of the nearby Neapolitan-style pizzeria Via Tribunali, but that is, of course, useless knowledge for the purposes of this column.

I decided instead to feature a gameday-worthy meal consisting of Sezoni's sides; after all, I've held their formidable list of delicious appetizers in higher esteem than their actual entrees for quite some time. Their sinfully cheesy baked cauliflower is an absolute must for most any Sezoni delivery, but I felt I had to skip it this time in lieu of more obviously unhealthy eats.

The mozzarella sticks were a great blend of seasoning and breading, allowing a much more balanced flavor than you'd get from your average frozen cheese tubes while still keeping the sports grill staple's greasy familiarity. The barbecue-flavored chicken wings had a disappointing lack of zing, but were otherwise ideal for shoving into your face without missing anything on the screen. The spinach-artichoke dip was perhaps the biggest letdown, with the plate's expected creaminess hindered by either just a little too much artichoke or by the vegetables being cut a little too far on the chunky side.

All in all, the food wasn't going to redefine your Super Bowl Sunday spread, but I'd like to think it was a cut above your average sports bar fare. In addition to that, the food "aged" well as it carried across a couple episodes, with the mozzarella sticks hardening their goopy insides but still packing plenty of flavor.

The Entertainment: Norm Macdonald's Sports Show is the snarky Canadian's latest attempt at securing his position as the world's most divisive comedian worth paying attention to by hosting a sports show of which he is the sole feature, despite his constantly affirming his lack of insight or even interest in most of the sports highlighted.

Combining this show's existence with the recently not-so-successful-at-all Onion Sportsdome, Comedy Central seems to be on full alert for a sports-flavored satire to stand alongside its long-time ratings champion, The Daily Show. With a decidedly conservative attitude towards non-Norm Macdonald correspondents and a mere weekly presence, I'm not entirely sure they've got it here, either.

What they have got is the infinitely quotable poetry of Macdonald's succinct digs on pop culture, hilariously half-hearted attempts at ventriloquism, and a whole lot of macabre humor, all adding up to a triumph of apathy in the face of public figures that are, more often than not, given just a little too much credit.

Aaron Sorkin's first network television drama Sports Night (recently made available in its entirety on Netflix Instant Queue) centered a lot of interesting conflicts around sports TV commentators becoming jaded with their shows' getting caught up in the more shameful, criminal actions of athletes rather than focusing on the inspiring, albeit less "sexy" stories that drew them into sports in the first place. In the caustic spirit of the host's run on SNL's "Weekend Update," Norm Macdonald's Sports Show chooses instead to bask in these flaws and work them with quick and dirty barbs like a boxer works an opened-up eyebrow.

You can chalk it up to my cynical generation, but it just seems so much easier to get into a sport by learning about all of its dirt first before getting to the tales of encouragement that can hardly even seem real in this time of carefully manufactured public image. Even though Norm can teeter towards the misogynistic, homophobic, or racist, he does so with a constant sense of open doubt. His glib assaults don't endear him to everyone, but if he didn't piss anyone off, no small part of the show's charm would evaporate.

The problem with Sports Show (or perhaps another upside, depending on whether you're a sports fan or just a Norm Macdonald fan), is that Macdonald's trademark meandering shtick often takes him far away from the world of sports entirely, particularly in his weekly "What the H" feature, which can often feel like some kind of drunk Andy Rooney segment in its sole focus on being bewildered by stuff. As one of the people who tuned in for Norm's comedy over his expert athletic analysis, I can't be too upset about the distractions, but I do find it funny that Norm can't even knuckle down on his half-hour-long show's titular subject during its first season.

The Pairing: At the end of the night, both restaurant and television show had been more fulfilling than say, Pizza Hut and Khloe & Lamar, but still left plenty to be desired. Either institution seems to have a pretty rigid technique they follow that will either alienate or endear. If you didn't like Vincenzo's, you probably won't like Sezoni; if you didn't like Norm Macdonald in anything else he's been in, you probably won't like Sports Show.

Comedy Central is becoming even more notorious than Fox when it comes to cancelling shows indiscriminately before they've had a chance to grow, so I really hope Norm doesn't become their next casualty (although lord knows there are few people in the world who have taken so many cancellations and firings in stride). Sezoni's probably nowhere as near the chopping block as Sports Show, but that's a good thing--both have a sizable amount of people who would be very upset if they were to see either property go. With Norm's simultaneously ascerbic, subdued wit and Sezoni's divine baked cauliflower, there's no shame when I say I would be in both of those camps.

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