Howie Do It -- TV Review

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Howie Mandel, the improbable "it" guy of the moment thanks to the monumental success of "Deal or No Deal," tosses his hat into the hidden-camera arena for this "Candid Camera"/"Punk'd" offshoot that leaves the starting gate looking like a reasonably entertaining piece of whimsy.

We could do without the overly loud snickering of the host -- who has the annoying habit of always reacting to his own jokes -- but clearly it's too late to change Howie at this point. The play-on-words title that's sung going in and out of the breaks ("This is 'Howie Do It!") also proves grating. But again, the actual situations are fairly clever, and the marks are treated with a degree of quasi-humanity, if not exactly respect.

You find yourself laughing at this stuff even as the undeniable cruelty of the situations plays out. There's the guys who think they're trying out to be anchors on a new cable weather channel who are "tested" during their audition by having water and wind sprayed repeatedly all over their faces and bodies. But that's nothing compared to the poor schmo working for a singing telegram service who is sent, in a bunny suit, to what he discovers is a funeral (actually a set up with actors). He's forced to sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" to the corpse as his grieving widow whimpers nonstop in the front row. The look on his face when the deceased leaps up to tell him he's on a hidden camera show is truly priceless.

A later bit gauges a husband's reaction to a plastic surgery nightmare perpetrated on his wife, while another hubby watches his wife get felt up by a commercial producer for what he thought was a tryout for a mouthwash ad.

Mandel does a lot of the heavy lifting in the skits himself, only to reveal his bald-pated identity at the conclusion. He looks to be having a good time, the victims slightly less so. But there have been far nastier hidden-camera efforts than this. Better ones, too. Yet to be sure, in the opening hour, "Howie Do It" at least delivers laughs more often than it inspires groans.

Airdate: 8-9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 9 (NBC)
Production: Hallock Healey Entertainment and Suddenly Seemore Prods. in association with 3 Arts Entertainment, CanWest Media, Alevy Prods. and HDI Prods.
Executive producers: Howie Mandel, Scott Hallock, Kevin Healey, Michael Rotenberg, Morgan Elliott, Mike Marks
Co-executive producers: Mike Harney, Rich Thurber
Producer: Howie Mandel
Co-producer: Carla M. Jones
Director: Shelagh O'Brien
Director of photography: DamirChytil
Production designer: Callum MacLaughlin
Editors: Alison Taylor, Caroline Christie, Steve Lawrence, Leif Stoehr
Composer: Jack Lenz
Casting: Mercedez de Castro, Heather Muir
Host: Howie Mandel
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