Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review - The New Normal

First let me start off by saying kudos to the nets.  I am thrilled that today's television landscape is including programming that represents what the increasingly typical family model is today:  a unit consisting of a mix of people from previous marriages or by race, by age or sexual orientation, or a combination of these and more, like ABC's appropriately named Modern Family

NBC this fall has The New Normal, with two gay men at the heart of the show who are trying to have a baby.  Naturally there's been flack by conservative parties speaking out against the series, but I applaud the network for the effort.

Now if only I could say I love the show.  Alas ...

I'm a fan of the man behind this series, Ryan Murphy.  I was on board with FOX's Glee from day one (though I'm wary about the upcoming season, but more on that another time) and FX's American Horror Story was some super-twisted fun and looks to be again with the upcoming AHS: Asylum (could these shows BE more different??). 

But here, perhaps the most mainstream of the three, I think it's almost trying too hard.  It has a likeable enough cast and a good premise, and they certainly set up the story in the pilot episode well enough, but between hitting you with  blatant affirmations and perhaps one of the most unlikeable characters on TV (Ellen Barkin's Nana makes Glee's Sue Sylvester look like Polyanna), it just didn't grab me.
Here's the scoop:  Bryan (Andrew Rannells, hot off The Book of Mormon and HBO's Girls) and David (Justin Bartha of The Hangover films) are a successful L.A. couple who have almost everything - careers, home, love - except a baby, which they begin pursuing via a surrogate in the pilot episode.
 Enter Goldie (Georgia King, Sugartown), a broken-down waitress and single mother who decides she needs to change her circumstances for her daughter Shania's (Bebe Wood) sake.  She also desperately needs to get out from under her judgmental, bigoted grandmother (the aforementioned Nana). 
Goldie is introduced to Bryan and David through a surrogacy service called Expanding Families - run by Gary (Michael Hitchcock, Men of a Certain Age, The United States of Tara) after the couple goes through a challenging narrowing-down process that included a womb-blackmailing nightmare and a surprise cameo by Gwyneth Paltrow (she's an old friend of Murphy's, having done a wonderful turn on Glee).  On insemination day, Nana tracks down Goldie and expresses her disapproval with a rant of the most un-PC content I've heard in a long time.  Seriously, there's is nothing to like about this character.  At least Sue Sylvester has moments of sympathy and heart.  Not this woman.  I see nothing redeeming, and it's not funny.

That's one of the enigmas of this show.  It's classified as a comedy, but that really doesn't fit here.  Definitely not a laugh-out-loud program ... I didn't even chuckle.  I'd call this more of a "life study" if there were to be such a genre.  The comedy I suppose will come from Rocky, played by Nene Leakes (The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Celebrity Apprentice and most recently ... you guessed it:  Glee), who is doing what she does best - playing a speak-your-mind, brazen, confrontational woman who will obviously have many face-to-face-offs with Nana, and Shania, a 30-year-old in the body of an eight-year-old.  She's a precocious one, but nothing we haven't seen before.  And the Twitter references are gonna get old real fast.

Rannell's Bryan isn't as ... flamboyant as say, Sean Hayes' Jack on Will and Grace was, but he's definitely the wife in the marriage.  He has a sweet face, you do buy his desire to be a parent and the two male leads make a nice couple.  King is also sweet, but seriously, between her wide eyes and gentle voice and her affirmation-spouting nature, it's too much.

  • When Nana asked what Goldie's daughter could learn from her mother doing this, Goldie replies "That you can be whatever you want to be no matter how many people tell you you're nothing."
  • Another winner:  "I need to help these guys ... and myself."
  • And:  "A family is a family.  Love is love."
  • Let's not forget:  "Abnormal is the new normal."
  • Not to be outdone, David had one of his own:  to Goldie, "You gave us ... you gave me hope.  We want to help make your dreams come true because you're helping us with ours."
I think I got a cavity after this episode.  Look, I'm all for positivity and happiness for characters, I just don't want to be hit over the head with it so blatantly in 22 minutes, you know?
I also wish Goldie and the guys had met differently, by chance.  The fact that it was through the agency just didn't seem creative enough for me.  Would another way have been more contrived or unoriginal, maybe, but I still would have preferred it.

I may give the second and third episodes a chance, just because I want to support (without getting to political) a program that does celebrate the freedom to be together regardless of what conservative society dictates.  But the Nana character is a problem.  I'm sure the writers are counting on using Rocky to put her in her place as often as possible, but you can't rely on that in the long run.  And whether this will find its identity as a "comedy" remains to be seen.

Bottom Line:  I can neither recommend nor condemn ...

The New Normal premieres this Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 9:30 p.m. PST on NBC

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