Although NBC has temporarily closed the case on “Deal or No Deal,” Howie Mandel soldiers on — here in a loud and mostly obnoxious Canadian co-venture that brings his penchant for hidden-camera pranks to the fore. Inasmuch as Mandel has showcased similar material on “The Tonight Show,” consider this a foretaste of NBC’s plan to turn its primetime lineup into TV’s version of a discount mart — a cheaper way to lose on Fridays than with scripted fare like “Crusoe.” Frankly, a little of Mandel goes a long way — and a few dozen models in short skirts wouldn’t hurt.
“Howie Do It” is a strange animal, and that’s not entirely a bad thing. Most of the setups hinge on “marks” who assume they’ve showed up to participate in some kind of reality show, only to be subjected to a prank that puts them in this different show unwittingly — from a young guy who thinks he’s in a competition program trying to pick up women (they’re actresses) to another who thinks he’s part of a makeover show, only to see his wife (in on the gag) appear looking as if she’d lost a prizefight.
The scenarios conjured up have a naughty streak (sample pickup line: “You have really nice legs. What time do they open?”) that occasionally borders on mean-spirited — forcing a mark to sing, for example, dressed in a bunny suit at what he thinks is a funeral. That would be bad enough if the “corpse” didn’t sit up in the middle.
Setting all that aside, the show is equally peculiar in the way it’s produced. Mandel presents the taped bits to a studio audience for no particular reason, except perhaps to prove that somebody with the time to attend such a taping finds this silly shtick hilariously funny. And the punny title would be more tolerable if an amped-up voice didn’t sing, “This is ‘Howie Do It’ ” coming into and out of each commercial break until you’re bleeding from the ears.
Then again, Mandel has always been a hard-to-figure commodity — part comic, part performance artist, part actor (“St. Elsewhere” co-star) and most recently NBC’s great gameshow-host hope, at least until the desperate network wore the combination locks off those “Deal” cases.
People turning out for what they think are reality TV tapings are pretty much fair game, but “Howie Do It” almost makes you feel sorry for some of these saps — who invariably seem every bit as delighted as Mandel himself once the reveal occurs.
“I don’t want it to end, but it did,” the host gushes at the hour’s close.
Even for those who enjoy Mandel’s puerile brand of comedy, that qualifies as a clear case of Howie overdoing it.