Nothing New about The New Normal

By Erica Moulton on September 23, 2012


The cast of NBC’s new show The New Normal

The New Normal is the most recent television concoction to emerge from executive producer Ryan Murphy’s programming factory. His other television shows include Glee, American Horror Story and Nip/Tuck and like his other shows, The New Normal strains to address big issues like homosexuality, parenting and bigotry, but doesn’t really say anything substantive due to its heavy reliance on recycled sitcom gimmicks.

There are first-hand accounts from parents who talk about their non-traditional families or complain about parenting delivered directly to the camera, there is omnipresent sitcom music, there is a bigoted grandma and there’s a lot of hand-held camera work, but nothing new for audiences. On top of this stale sitcom skeleton, the show’s writers (Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler wrote the pilot) pile on the gay jokes, the racist jokes, the bigotry and the hate, and then pivot and ask audiences to shed tears.

The show’s most talked about character and the most bigoted is Jane Forrest, played with tarnished gusto by Ellen Barkin, who portrays her as an angry harpy with, as one character remarks, a “Callista Gingrich” hairstyle. Rather than make her an interesting character, the writers treat her like a mouthpiece for leftover Sue Sylvester one-liners.

Jane is grandmother to the sweet and forgettable Goldie Clemmons (Georgia King), whose husband’s infidelity prompts her to move from Ohio to Los Angeles with her precocious daughter, Shania (Bebe Wood). Out in L.A. she encounters a gay couple, played by Justin Bartha (of Hangover fame) and Andrew Rannells (The Book of Mormon). Bartha is cast in the role of the “masculine gay” and we first meet him watching football and drinking a beer and in the second episode, playing basketball with his colleagues. Rannells takes on the more stereotypical gay character and manages to imbue him with a nuance and sweetness that can only be attributed to Rannells’ natural charm as a performer.

Once the couple decides to have a baby, the process gets underway with lightning speed. They select an egg donor (a gratuitous cameo from Ryan Murphy’s go-to guest star Gwyneth Paltrow) and after some initial surrogate difficulties, they meet Goldie. It doesn’t take long for Goldie and her daughter to move in with the couple, much to homophobic Jane’s horror.

There are some clever lines here and there (as Jane threatens Goldie’s philandering husband with a gun, she declares she won’t shoot him because “I couldn’t live in prison without my Lean Cuisine”) but the show overall comes off as trite and insincere.

The biggest problem the show has is that the quality of writing is simply not there to support the concept. This is a problem that many of Ryan Murphy’s shows suffer from–call it Ryan syndrome. But luckily there’s a very easy cure–just change the channel.

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