Fall 2012: NBC’s The New Normal
Easily the show garnering the most controversy this season, The New Normal is not-so-shockingly a very Ryan Murphy show. And unfortunately, it is all the things I currently hate about Glee condensed into a half-hour comedy. Is there room to grow? Absolutely. And the show benefits from Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells, who are both excellent. I have to root for any show that is pushing a “new normal” agenda, but when it makes the agenda so clear, it doesn’t seem like real life. It seems like an after school special about everyone deserving love.
I think it was Ryan Murphy that joked to the One Million Moms group that they should be happy with the show because they are also represented, in the form of Ellen Barkin’s bigot character. While this is technically true, her character suffers from being defined by that and nothing else. She seems like a vacant vessel whose only function is to spew out vitriol aimed at anyone who is not white and straight. More caricature than character. And at the end, when we find out the source of her homophobia (her husband was carrying on an affair with a man), it doesn’t really explain why she is horrible to other groups as well. I thought it would be better if she were a representative of an older generation’s outlook but I guess this story will provide more melodrama.
Besides that, my only other major criticism is that the pilot moves at breakneck speed, almost like no one told Ryan Murphy how to write for a half hour. The storyline wants to pull at your emotional heartstrings by the end, but we simply haven’t spent enough time with these characters to care all that much. In that short time, we see two parallel stories converge: Bryan (Andrew Rannells) realizes he wants to have a baby, and he goes home to convince David, his partner; since becoming a parent is a serious discussion for any couple, this is surprisingly glossed over. And being a comedy, I guess all of the issues that could have been discussed about a gay couple deciding to have kids is too boring. It’s the new normal, but just barely. Meanwhile, Goldie (Georgia King) discovers her husband is cheating and takes her daughter on a spontaneous road trip to California where she divulges that her secret desire is to become a lawyer. She decides to become a surrogate to help fund her dream. At the same time, Bryan and David have already had a terrible surrogate experience. When they meet with Goldie, we get to hear her spiel about how love is love…herself becoming a blanket caricature of what we are told should be the case. At the end, we do get a great scene with Goldie and David, and it may be worth watching the pilot solely for this moment. Ellen Barkin’s character barges in and attempts to stop Goldie; we hear her traumatic history, and NeNe Leakes shows up for what was envisioned as comic relief but is really an awkward distraction. By the end, Bryan and David want to help make Goldie’s dreams come true and they are all one big family. In a half hour.
So far I like the idea of the show much more than the actual execution. My advice: give this show a few episodes to see if it evens out and in the meantime, watch Husbands!