A Work Com intended to cash in on the comic persona of Saturday Night Live's Norm MacDonald, in which he played a complete jerk who gets caught cheating on his taxes and becomes a social worker for community service. A somewhat neglected show which was actually fairly lively and entertaining, if just for its well-conceived, Karmic Trickster-like lead character.
- Abusive Parents: Norm and Artie's dad is emotionally abusive. At the end of an episode, we learn that his dad is very much the same way (though is genuinely nice to Norm).
- Actor Allusion: As in Dirty Work, Norm and Artie play half-brothers.
- And Starring: Ian Gomez was the last credited, but had the "and" credit. Upon joining the cast in Season 3, Faith Ford was listed second-to-last, using the "with" credit.
- Animal Talk: Wiener Dog only barks, but Norm seems to understand him and converses with him as if he could talk.
- Animated Credits Opening: Season 1.
- Armor-Piercing Slap: Shelly is very angry when she finds out about the deception listed under The Beard. Norm tries to snark his way out of it, but she slaps him so hard that he actually shuts up for a few moments.
- Bad Boss: Upon his arrival, Mr. Denby didn't want to anything to rock the boat - being more concerned with his pension than his job. His actions annoy even Norm, which leads to some items listed below.
- Badass Boast: At the end of the first episode, Norm is faced with Wiener Dog's old owner, who gave him up because he found him annoying but now wants him back because his girlfriend keeps nagging him. Norm refuses.Man: You can't take my dog.
Norm: Shows what you know, pal. We're social workers. We can take children.
- Bait-and-Switch: "Norm vs. Shelly's Old Flame" plays up Norm being distrustful while a guy Shelly previously dated visits. The episode suggests Norm's distrust was due to him being needlessly jealous and then Properly Paranoid, but the ending reveals it was actually Shelly he was distrustful of. Norm had actually been holding back resentment of their abrupt breakup in Season 2, their constant Will They or Won't They? tease in Season 3, and her dating Danny behind his back for a couple episodes.
- Batman Gambit: In "Norm and Wiener Dog vs. Fatherhood," Norm and Denby go to court over the custody of Wiener Dog and Fifi's puppies. They're worth a lot of money, but Denby initially gave up his claim to them out of frustration of Norm's dog impregnating his. During the trial, Norm claims to have a tape recording of that. The judge sees that Norm is only holding a candy bar and is incredulous that Denby could be fooled into admitting the truth this way, but Norm knows better.
- The Beard: Norm and Laurie fake being in a relationship in "Norm vs. Deception" due to the former lying on some insurance forms. They initially engage in the deception due to Denby's suspicions, but they take it further when Shelly becomes jealous and a guy Laurie was interested in finds her more attractive now that she's "spoken for."
- Big Brother Worship: For all the snarking, Artie really looks up to Norm and values his opinion.
- Brilliant, but Lazy: Norm usually only works hard just to get out of work. In one episode, the others find a notebook full of pages of just "I'm writing this so Denby thinks I'm working."Taylor: Wouldn't it be easier just to work?
- Butt-Monkey: Mr. Denby
- The Cameo: Drew Carey, Ryan Stiles, and Diedrich Bader all appear as poker players in "Gambling Man."
- Canine Companion: Wiener Dog
- Captain Obvious: The trial in "The Norm Law" ends with the councilmen declaring that, from now on, social workers will be properly trained before doing any case work.Councilman Schmutznik: Gee, when you say it out loud, it sounds pretty obvious, doesn't it?
- Characterization Marches On: In the first couple episodes, Danny was a bit sleazier and more of a willing partner to Norm's antics—likely owing to Artie Lange being the original choice to play the character. A few episodes in, Danny became more sensitive, the voice of reason, and The Drag-Along.
- Christmas Episode: "Norm vs. Christmas." Norm's attempt to get Laurie in the Christmas spirit gets Artie (while dressed as Santa) shot in the leg and taken to the hospital.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Molly Carver worked at the office in Season 1, but disappeared afterwards. Norm's steady Season 2 girlfriend Jenny also disappeared.
- Comically Missing the Point: A source of much humor in the series. Lampshaded in the first episode.Mr. Curtis: I can't tell if you're being funny or you're just stupid.Norm: I like to mix it up, sir.
- Confessional: In "Laurie Runs For Office," Norm goes to, but only in the hopes that the priest will say he was right to play dirty politics against Councilman Krantz. The fact that he starts off by entering the priest's side of the confessional indicates how badly this will go.Norm: I'd like to confess I think I just groped a priest.
- Determinator: Landlady will do anything to collect rent from Norm, including taking his door away and moving in.
- Epic Fail: In "Laurie Loses It," when Laurie openly doubts that she's making a difference, the others decide to throw a party and invite all of her success stories. Unfortunately, Norm only invited the recidivists because he didn't know the term and thought it just meant that they had found religion.
- The Eponymous Show: Of course. In Season 2, though, the title was shortened to just Norm.
- Even the Girls Want Her: Norm suspects Laurie has "thought about Taylor." She denies it, though.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Norm's landlady is simply referred to by everyone as "Landlady."
- Fake Guest Star: Nikki Cox in Season 2. She appears in every episode that season and in the opening title sequence.
- Fanservice Extra: In "Norm Dates a Client," Norm takes William to a bar and discusses helping him get a date. When Norm asks if he sees anyone of interest, William points to a blonde lady. Norm compliments him on his taste, but tells him to aim lower.
- Freudian Excuse: Norm's gambling addiction and Artie's over-eating stem from their childhood interactions with their dad.
- Taylor casually mentions in one episode that her mother was a junkie.
- Friend to All Children: For all their faults, Norm and Artie are very good with kids.
- Fun Personified: In "Norm's Free," Shelly guesses that this is why Laurie doesn't want Norm to leave. As exacerbating as he can be, he makes it fun to go to work.
- The Gambling Addict: Norm
- Halloween Episode: "Norm vs. Halloween." Norm thinks he can win over Shelly by dressing as a fireman at a costume party, but has to take his youth group out trick-or-treating.
- Heroes Love Dogs: Norm treats Wiener Dog very well. As said in one episode:"I would never do anything to Wiener Dog that I wouldn't do to myself. That's why I never had him neutered."
- Heroic BSoD: "Laurie Loses It" sees her questioning her course in life. The others' attempts to help and her focusing on her career don't help at all, leaving her alternating between depression and inappropriately laughing at a client's troubles.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Every time Denby tries to get him, Norm is able to turn the tables and humiliate him instead. Even when simply invoking the trope name.Denby: You've been hoisted by your own petard.
Norm: Petard? What's that, sir? What's a petard? I never heard of that.
Denby: It's a... it's a... hoisting implement... used very rarely—
Norm: Well, that doesn't even make sense, sir. I don't own a petard.
Denby: No, no, no! Look, it's when you try to make someone else look foolish, you just make yourself look foolish instead.
Norm: Oh. Oh, you mean like a moment ago when I pretended not to know what that phrase meant. I was helping you hoist yourself on your petard?
Denby: Exactly. (realizes and groans)
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Taylor
- How We Got Here: The Framing Device to "Norm is Fat" is Norm explaining to Shelly what's happened to him in the weeks since the events of "Norm vs. Homelessness."
- Hypocritical Humor: The Teaser to the first episode sees Norm lecture Billy about stealing. Billy asks why he should listen to him, given Norm's history of tax evasion and being sentenced to community service. To add insult to injury, all Billy stole was a comb.
- In "Norm Comes Back," Denby's boss cracks down the office, including cutting off benefits for a number of clients. To make things right, Norm hopes to get some dirt on him and seeks out personal assistants he fired for unexplained reasons. They turn out to be transvestites, but they refuse to sign an official complaint on the grounds that it would draw attention to themselves.Norm: [looking at them in full drag] Yeah, you wouldn't want to draw attention to yourselves.
- In "Norm Comes Back," Denby's boss cracks down the office, including cutting off benefits for a number of clients. To make things right, Norm hopes to get some dirt on him and seeks out personal assistants he fired for unexplained reasons. They turn out to be transvestites, but they refuse to sign an official complaint on the grounds that it would draw attention to themselves.
- I Love the Dead: In "Norm vs. Norm," Norm finally agrees to get counseling for his gambling addiction. At a support group, he remarks that he used to think he was better than those in the room until he hit Rock Bottom and that he now needs help. It's at that point another person gets up to announce how many days it's been since he had sex with a dead person. Much to his horror, Norm realizes that he wandered into "Necrophiliacs Anonymous" by mistake.Norm: Remember when I said I wasn't better than you people? Well, I was wrong! And if I should die out in the hallway, just stay the hell away from me!
- I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Norm MacDonald and Artie Lange, of course, worked together before this series. Also, in different episodes, Norm's former Saturday Night Live co-stars Kevin Nealon and Dennis Miller also appear.
- Johnny Galecki guest starred in a two-parter as Laurie's young boyfriend.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Most episodes were titled "Norm vs. _____"
- Intellectual Animal: Wiener Dog. Granted, Norm yells at Wiener Dog for bringing him corn chips instead of the potato chips he asked for, but still...
- Interrupted Suicide: In "Laurie Loses It," Laurie goes through a rough time both in her work and personal life. She seeks out her old mentor for advice, unknowingly dropping by just as she was about to kill herself. While Laurie and her mentor chat, Norm stumbles onto the noose and some pills.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The defining characteristic of Norm. He was arrogant, angry, and mean to everyone he knew, but usually ended up wanting to help the people he worked with.
- Karma Houdini: Norm is this when, say, Mr. Denby hasn't done anything in the given episode to deserve it.
- Lampshaded in one episode: "How come he can pick on me, but I can't pick on him?"
- Karmic Trickster: On the other hand, Norm is this when, say, Mr. Denby does do something to deserve it.
- Landslide Election: Laurie airs a nasty electoral ad where she dances on the grave of her opponent... seconds after a newscast where his death was announced. Despite being the only living candidate left, she still gets trounced.Laurie: I would like to congratulate the winners of this election, write-in candidates Mickey Mouse and pornstar Wendy Whoopers.
- Loophole Abuse: In "Laurie Loses It," Mr. Denby discovers Norm's duties are for him to decide. He intends to make Norm suffer with whatever humiliating task he can think of, but Laurie intervenes and threatens to file an official complaint.
- Morality Pet: Norm usually tried to help his clients as best he could, but he appeared to have a special fondness for William. In "Norm Comes Back," William losing his benefits is what causes Norm to go back to the office.
- Odd Friendship: In "Norm's Free," Norm and Mr. Denby develop one of these.
- Out of Order: "Norm vs. Cuba" was filmed for Season 2, but wound up airing very late into Season 3 - leading to inconsistencies such as Taylor still working at the office and Norm still dating Jenny. This ordering is maintained for the DVD release, but a title card informs viewers of the mistake.
- Platonic Life-Partners: Norm and Laurie.
- Put on a Bus: Taylor three episodes into Season 3, as Nikki Cox got her own show on The WB. The Bus Came Back for a couple episodes later in the season.
- The Quiet One: William, one of Norm's clients. He does talk, but he's so incredibly shy that it's almost always an inaudible whisper.
- Racist Grandma: Norm and Artie's father is an exaggerated example. He shoots his mouth off at every turn (to the point where, after he has a heart-attack and goes to the hospital, Norm and Artie are immediately apologetic to his black doctor). Norm and Artie's grandfather takes it even further.
- Ripped from the Headlines: "Norm vs. Cuba" is a parody of the Elián González story. The episode was meant to air during Season 2 when the story was still ongoing, but it didn't air until a year later due ABC abruptly putting the show on hiatus.
- Rock Bottom: After Shelly breaks up with him in Season 2, Norm gets depressed and falls back into gambling. He initially has a hot streak, but when it wears off, no bookie will touch him and he's reduced to a bizarre game he doesn't understand. He ultimately gets arrested—inadvertently dragging Laurie, Danny, and Artie with him. Everyone but Artie gets out, but while going to get the money to bail him out, Norm instead bets it on "a sure thing." He wins, but finds Artie got beat up pretty badly while in jail. That convinces Norm he needs professional help.
- Series Fauxnale: "Norm Comes Back" was filmed as this, though it was the second-to-last episode aired.
- Shipping Bed Death: Invoked in Season 3. Taylor develops a crush on Norm and ends up breaking up with Danny and leaving the office because of it. She returns later in the season and hooks up with Norm. After sleeping together, though, Taylor immediately cools on the relationship.Norm: [lying in bed] The first time I ask a broad what she's thinking and look what happens.
- Shout-Out: In "Norm vs. Youth, Part 2," Norm greets the bar and the response is "Norm!" - just like another character of the same name.
- Something Completely Different: "Norm vs. Fear", which was used for "The Norm Movie Contest." The episode contained over fifty Shout Outs to different movies via lines, costumes and props - with the goal being to list the most. The winner would receive a new car, a trip for two to L.A. and passes to Oscar functions.
- During Season 3, ABC ran a contest allowing viewers to send in punchlines for Norm. The winning lines were used in "Norm vs. Danny and Shelly" (with the end credits featuring a montage of the best runner-ups).
- Team Pet: Wiener Dog.
- Theme Tune: "Too Bad" by Doug and the Slugs.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Taylor hooked up with a portly, balding man who was maybe a 3 while she was a 10.
- Ultimate Job Security: Exaggerated. Norm is only at the office as part of his community service and often slacks off. Mr. Curtis and later Mr. Denby even have the power to declare his community service a failure and have him sent to jail. A storyline in Season 3 sees Laurie lampshade that Norm actively antagonizes those who could do the most harm to him. It's played straight in the Series Fauxnale, though, where Norm says he's got so much dirt on the higher-ups that he can work at the office indefinitely.
- Unskilled, but Strong: The Season 1 finale reveals that Norm's coach was going to cut him from the hockey team had he not been busted for tax evasion. When Norm asks why, the coach replies that he was sick of him just coasting by and not trying to live up to his true potential.
- Voodoo Doll: When searching through his desk for clues to Norm's whereabouts, the others find a voodoo doll of Mr. Denby, who dismisses it as childish nonsense. Once the others leave, however, Denby whips out his Norm voodoo doll.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Norm desperately craves his father's approval in "Norm vs. Dad." Artie averts. He has anxieties around his father, but he recognizes the guy is trouble and would rather avoid him.
- Wham Line: After the Armor-Piercing Slap incident mentioned above, Laurie tries to talk to Shelly and convince her not to be so hard on Norm.Laurie: You can blame me.
Shelly: I'm not in love with you.
- What the Hell, Hero?: In the pilot, Norm gives a brief one to Taylor that ultimately motivates her to turn her life around:"Look, Taylor, I don't think you understand. You're a huge whore."
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Norm in the Christmas Episode. Despite his Hilariously Abusive Childhood, he sees Christmas as the perfect time to come together, be happy, and have cake.
- Wisdom from the Gutter: Artie may be a bit gruffer and sleazier than the others, but he more often than not tends to provide reasonable or correct advice.
- You Do NOT Want to Know: Norm learns in "Norm Pimps Wiener Dog" that he can make money by breeding his dog. After a while, though, Wiener Dog won't perform—leaving Norm without some needed cash. One of his attempts to fix this is getting Wiener Dog "doggie porn."Laurie: Where do you get doggie porn?
Norm: Trust me, you do not want to meet these guys.
- You Mean "Xmas": In-universe example. Norm wants to hold a Christmas party at the office, but Mr. Denby informs him that separation of church and state makes that impossible in a government office. Norm has his party anyway as intended, but includes every other possible religion to prevent any backlash."Ah, that's for the goat sacrifice."