SOUND OFF Special Review: THE NEW NORMAL On NBC
A gay gallimaufry, Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler's new half-hour comedy THE NEW NORMAL - premiering September 11 on NBC - more than merely delivers on the premise of a significantly more glossy meta-MODERN FAMILY, complete with all the requisite fabulous Murphy flourishes we have come to expect - and much, much more. After all, Murphy is the man behind POPULAR and GLEE, two of the most genre-bending and outrageous TV comedies of the 21st century (in addition to the just 17-time Emmy Award nominated new FX horror series AMERICAN HORROR STORY and the many-season-running Golden Globe-winning nighttime soap NIP/TUCK), so THE NEW NORMAL finally provides him with a full-out, mainstream, main-stage, network sitcom series in which he can creatively explore the lighter side of life while also explicating his own life (that is: he and his partner's path of adoption) and imparting a serious, progressive and all-too-apropos message along the way: a family is a family is a family. Gay, straight or otherwise, a family is founded upon love and only love as its basis and the overriding theme of the series is exactly that - if it all comes from love, love will multiply and it will all work out in the end somehow if we stick together. While this all may sound a bit ooey gooey and pat - particularly from the man behind the most provocative, progressive and just-plain-shocking "Did You See That?" moments on TV - THE NEW NORMAL is anything but the embodiment of the last word in its title insofar as its style, presentation and attitude in the pilot. It's a crave-worthy chocolate cupcake with some spicy chili baked right in, topped with a heavenly whit of farcical whipped cream and a sweet-and-sour cherry (or three) on top.
As the central couple of THE NEW NORMAL, Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha strike all the right chords in their respective positions as being the first major gay couple in the forefront on a network TV series - sure, MODERN FAMILY shows weekly a lovable male pair as featured players and WILL & GRACE's memorable figures (namely: Will and Jack) had their day, but THE NEW NORMAL brings TV sitcoms firmly into 2012 (and beyond). There is no pussyfooting around (pardon the pun) - these are two fully-functioning homosexual men in a healthy romantic relationship and they are portrayed as such. Gone are the chaste couplings of sitcom's past, THE NEW NORMAL is in-your-face and on-the-pulse - you either go with it or you do not. This is not a show for those who oppose gay marriage and adoption - as if inalienable rights such as those should even be up for debate, let alone at this late date in mankind's history (and at this time in political history) - but those who stand in opposition would be well-advised to give it a look. While Rannells and Bartha seamlessly conjur a longstanding relationship almost instantly in their subtle interactions and with their palpable rapport, the chemistry between their two disparate personalities - Bartha portrays the more straight-laced and conservative "gaynecologist", David, while Rannells essays the more free-spirited and flamboyant Bryan - it is their interaction with the four leading ladies of the series that cause THE NEW NORMAL to come together into a wonderfully, wickedly wacky new ALL IN THE FAMILY for a new era: Georgia King, Bebe Wood, NeNe Leakes and Ellen Barkin.
Goldie, the surrogate giving rise to the baby that will inextricably link her clan with David and Bryan forever is played with nubile, fresh-faced pertness by Georgia King. Immediately likable and appreciably acerbic is her daughter, Shania, embodied by Bebe Wood, particularly in the smartly rendered and ingratiating scenes establishing the spunky relationship between the two. Less sanguine is the mother/grandmother dynamic - enter Ellen Barkin as THE NEW NORMAL's Archie Bunker, Jane Forrest. Spewing forth bile whilst washing down those she eats for lunch with a bloody mary most likely mined from the blood of young virgins, Barkin as Jane is an instant icon. Rarely do we see a character come stalking onscreen with such delectable force and ferocious tenacity as to endear us to them despite the hateful, horrible things that they say - yet, that is the power of this performance as expertly honed by recent THE NORMAL HEART Tony Award-winner Barkin, with Larry Kramer's Pulitzer Prize-winning THE NORMAL HEART being not only an influence and forerunner to THE NEW NORMAL, but, also, a personal passion project of Murphy's, with recent news indicating he and Kramer have finalized a script and shall start shooting the feature film adaptation next year. Before THE NEW NORMAL was THE NORMAL HEART and the connection between both Barkin and Murphy to that material through THE NEW NORMAL acts as a striking and important roman a clef. Yet, no character could be further from the compassionate doctor character that won Barkin a Tony Award in Kramer's masterpiece than this woman - an ultra-conservative real estate agent most likely to be selling properties in Hell. The homes of Judas, Brutus or Cassius, perhaps? And, on the topic of Dis and dissing, the go-to queen of the sassy, snap-snap-snap putdown of all our reality show dreams is here on hand to dish it up and serve it right back to Jane, to boot (up the caboose, as it were), in the form of erstwhile GLEE standout NeNe Leakes. Bonus points go to the unexpected and blink-and-you'll-miss-'em cameos from two former Murphy leading ladies - recent Emmy-winner for GLEE, Gwyneth Paltrow, appears in a video message montage sequence, while POPULAR's unforgettable Mary Cherry herself, Leslie Grossman, appears in a caustic cameo as a scheming surrogate.
Above all else, it is in the quick shots of barred souls and in the fleeting glimpses of basic, base humanity - the essences of life and the basis of love - that give THE NEW NORMAL something truly special, and, ultimately, something really relatable and real to witness and digest, too. With the outlandish, edgy content, plentiful button-pushing pop culture and political references, as well as the grandly over-the-top, campy vibe of the comedy considered altogether, one may not have immediately assumed that THE NEW NORMAL would deliver on the bathos and pathos and gritty humanity that all comedy is really derived from and arises out of, usually, but it does; it really does. In just the first three minutes alone, Murphy and Adler manage to give us the entire range of human emotions and apropos topics that will play a pertinent part in the assumed drama and comedy of the series as it plays out.
From first in medias res confusion - Bryan and Rocky's computer conversation about the filming of his first daddy video; which also establishes the prominent, ubiquitous role technology plays in our society (which will only be magnified and exacerbated in future generations, such as that of his soon-to-be son) - to materialism and sexual politics - "Half giraffe, half drag queen, honey," quoth Rocky of her newly gifted high heels - to tearful testimony from father to unborn son, wrought with everything but the maudlin tropes of such fare; THE NEW NORMAL covers it all. It broaches all these touchy topics with a whisper-thin light touch, always, as well - that's what is applied so subtly by the actors and creators in so many little moments and in also the overarching style of the show that truly makes it all gel and hold together like the socially conscious but delicious soufflé that it is. A cupcake with some substance, as stated before - with some spice, sweetness and a hearty helping of something more substantive inside to keep us satisfied; that's THE NEW NORMAL. And that is only two minutes! For the final minute of the three that expertly establish this world, we move to the interior of the car with three generations of Goldie's family - Goldie, Shania and her grandmother, Jane. Cue the ensuing ribaldry, political incorrectness and hilarity.
A sample triptych exchange between the women that make up the other half of the big, happy family on THE NEW NORMAL. Goldie: "You were a year older than me when you had my mom." Jane: "I was married. I thought your mother was a fibroid tumor. By the time I figured it out she had a face and I was screwed." Shania (from the backseat): "So, if I actually planned to have a baby someday, that would be a family first?" And that is the relationship between Jane and her granddaughters in a nutshell - and a capsule of the comedy, tragedy, reality and the artful way it is all quite effortlessly combined on the show before our very eyes. While Goldie and Jane are clear-cut familial foes, Shania, meanwhile, seems to have an easier time talking back to the bilious surrogate mother-in-law from Hell, which should set us up for some enjoyable exchanges in the weeks, months and (hopefully) seasons to come. Yet, when Jane arrives in Los Angeles once having caught up with Goldie and Shania - finding them with David and Bryan at the insemination facility, with is already crossed and ts already dotted - it is clear that all bets are off as to what will come next. Jane is positively livid - and Hell hath no furty like a woman such as Jane scorned. While the final shot of the episode leaves the options open as to what the scientific side of the family's development may be - that is, if Goldie's egg is fertilized by David/Bryan's sperm yet - it is obvious from the promos for the next couple of episodes that a due date can certainly be set for the first of hopefully many members of this brand new family to come down the proverbial pike.
THE NEW NORMAL is a comedy series that is abnormally fabulous - it is good at being real, while being really good.
Check out the pilot episode for THE NEW NORMAL below. Enjoy!
So, having taken a look at Ryan Murphy's sure-to-be-smash new comedy series now for yourself for the first time, what is your immediate reaction to it? Who is your favorite character? What line of dialogue made you laugh loudest? Most importantly, do you think THE NEW NORMAL could further the conversation and cause so that someday the law will recognize all individuals, couples and families fairly and equally? The pilot episode is the first of many steps in the right direction - baby steps.