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'The New Normal' Premiere Episode

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating

By

The New Normal
Photo courtesy of NBC

The Bottom Line

The New Normal is a tonally inconsistent mess whose shortcomings outweigh its novel premise (a gay male couple having a child via a surrogate mother).

Details

  • Stars Andrew Rannells, Justin Bartha, Georgia King, Bebe Wood, Ellen Barkin, NeNe Leakes, Jayson Blair
  • Created by Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler
  • Premiere airs Monday, September 10, 2012, at 10 p.m. EST on NBC; subsequent episodes air Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. EST

Review

With his shows Glee and American Horror Story (and his previous show Nip/Tuck), Ryan Murphy has demonstrated a talent for provocation that often supersedes his talent for coherent storytelling. With his first half-hour comedy, The New Normal, Murphy once again shows that while he’s great at grabbing people’s attention with outlandish or controversial material (this show has already been targeted by some conservative groups), he has trouble backing it up with consistent characterization and sturdy plotting. On Glee, there are lavish production numbers to distract from the narrative deficiencies, and American Horror Story has its lurid violence to keep the audience interested. But Normal only has feeble jokes and unearned sentiment, and is easily Murphy’s weakest work so far.

Credit (or blame) should also go to co-creator Ali Adler, who worked as a writer on Glee (as well as other shows including Chuck and No Ordinary Family). Murphy and Adler wrote the Normal pilot, which Murphy directed, and it’s a poorly paced mish-mash of stereotypical characters, over-the-top jokes and sappy emotional speeches. Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha play a Southern California gay couple looking to have a child, and Georgia King plays the woman who agrees to carry their baby. Rannells’ Bryan embodies a wide range of gay stereotypes, playing the flamboyant, mincing dandy to Bartha’s David, the straightest-acting gay man there is (he’s pointedly shown watching football as Bryan first proposes the idea that they have a child).

Despite embodying complementary stereotypes, Rannells and Bartha do have some nice moments together, and if anyone other than Murphy were behind the show, it would be reasonable to expect their characters to evolve beyond their initial one-dimensional portrayals. But fans of Glee and American Horror Story know that Murphy’s characters are likely to just double down on their most obvious traits. That’s a shame for the rest of the characters, too, especially King’s Goldie, the sweet and somewhat naïve single mother who decides to carry Bryan and David’s baby. King gives the show’s most well-rounded performance and creates the most likeable character, the one with the most potential for growth.

That’s in contrast to Ellen Barkin as Goldie’s grandmother, a “hilarious” racist and homophobe who gets away with making horribly offensive jokes by being portrayed as lovably old and out of touch (but, of course, kind at heart). The anti-gay advocates who’ve been attacking this show might want to consider promoting it instead, since it doesn’t exactly offer a flattering portrayal of gay life. Instead of showing the characters as real people, it merely stops every so often to deliver disingenuous speeches about how much they value each other, which only come off as insincere given how hard they seem to be trying to convince the audience.

Murphy’s penchant for stunt-casting also means that the show is stuck with The Real Housewives of Atlanta star NeNe Leakes (who’s also guest-starred on Glee) as Bryan’s assistant, yet another stereotype (the sassy African-American woman), and a poorly acted one as well. (Gwyneth Paltrow also has a pointless, distracting cameo in the premiere episode). With Murphy’s workload now divided among three shows, it’s possible Adler will have the chance to turn The New Normal into a funnier, more genuine comedy, but the pilot indicates that it’s just going to be another show-offy Murphy train wreck.

Disclosure: A review screener was provided by the network. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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