Could The New Normal become just the norm?
The television landscape welcomes a new kind of family to our homes this season, but will viewers accept David and Bryan as ‘The New Normal’?
It’s been quite some time since a TV series has featured a gay character as its lead, much less two of them … and I can’t think of a time when the two were a committed couple. Ryan Murphy’s new sitcom, The New Normal, breaks all kinds of new ground with its premise, even while sticking to tried and true sitcom tropes — the sassy sidekick and the mature beyond her years child among them. Some of the hoariest sitcom cliches were on display in the show’s pilot — and our own An Nicholson felt these cliches really needed to be addressed for the show to truly succeed — and I’m happy to say that things started to smooth out a bit with the second episode. Personally, I felt both episodes that have aired delivered on the set-up and the comedy, and managed to have some touching moments as well.
If you’ve been living under a rock the last few months, the premise of The New Normal is this: a gay couple, David (Justin Bartha) and Bryan (Andrew Rannells), decides they want a baby, so they hire a surrogate, Goldie (Georgia King), against the advice of Bryan’s assistant Rocky (NeNe Leakes) and the objections of Goldie’s abrasive grandmother Jane (Ellen Barkin). When the guys hear Goldie’s life story and her dream of going to law school, they know she is the one because they can help her with the money and she will help them with their dream. Goldie also has a precocious daughter, Shania (Bebe Wood), who generally is the voice of reason — even when she’s pretending to be Little Edie from Grey Gardens (and Wood was amazing inhabiting that character). It has all the trappings of a traditional sitcom — think Modern Family meets All in the Family — but the subject matter had outraged some people even before the show aired.
The NBC affiliate in Utah refused to air the show (surprise … but another station picked it up), and many organizations that are actively campaigning against marriage equality and the LGBT community in general are protesting the show sight unseen. But in our current political climate, what with the Prop 8 fight in California on the verge of being resolved once and for all, and the Democratic platform in favor of marriage equality and general equal rights for the LGBT community (unlike the Republican platform which wants to deny any and all rights to gays), isn’t the time right for this show to maybe make those people who are fighting against the issue — mostly because someone else told them to — see what a real gay couple is like instead of just basing their thoughts on sermons from the pulpit or Fox News?
I’m going to be honest with you all, and I’ve not really put this into any of my other posts here on CliqueClack: I’ve been in a relationship with the same person for twelve years, and we were married in the state of New York on October 31, 2011 (because same-sex marriage is still not legal in my home state). I can identify with David and Bryan, I want people to watch this show and stop thinking that all gay people are flaming queens (and I do hope they continue to tone Bryan down a bit from the pilot), drag queens, leather daddies, and any other stereotypical types you generally see in the media. Except for the baby, my husband and I are pretty much exactly like David and Bryan. We work, we have a home, we have pets, we sit around and watch TV … it’s a pretty “normal” life just like any straight married couple. This is what Ryan Murphy is trying to portray on the show, and this is what people need to see. David and Bryan are average guys who happen to love each other, and they want to have a “normal” life just like everyone else. They will face adversity, especially from the Archie Bunker-ish Jane, but they will also find love and happiness. That’s all they, and we, really want out of life … and these characters could, and should, be representing that to the viewing audience.
On its first two airings, The New Normal pulled in fair but not great numbers. I hope viewers actually give the show a chance to get into its groove (it’s so hard to judge a show solely by its pilot since those are usually a collection of high concept ideas put together to sell it to the network), but I was happier with the second episode. Bryan was less queeny, Rocky was used sparingly (NeNe is basically playing the same swim coach character from Glee, but this time in heels), and the relationships seemed more realistic. Yes, Jane is still scheming to get Goldie back with her cheating ex while trying to drag both her and Shania (whom she refers to as Goggles because of her glasses) back home and out of this appalling situation she’s gotten herself into. Yes, Jane speaks loudly for those very same people that have decided to boycott the show, so maybe they find her more offensive than David and Bryan. It’s not easy to have a mirror held up to your own bigotry.
The real question is will the show be given a chance to grow, and can Murphy keep things on an even keel and not go completely off the rails like Glee did in season two? It’s really up to the viewers at this point. The cast and crew are delivering a quality product that is both entertaining and enlightening, so people need to watch. Right now it’s “preaching to the choir” for the most part, so if you are watching the show and know someone who should be watching, tell them to give it a shot because they just might see that gay couples aren’t that different after all … and eventually The New Normal can simply be renamed “The Norm.”