Staff Reviews

The New Normal: It's Okay to Be Cliché

Why does a TV show about gay parenting feel so dated?


You'll recognize the gay couple at the center of The New Normal if you've watched much television in the last five years. They're upper class WASP-y men in good shape. One of them is more feminine and likes shopping, while the other one watches football and could "pass" as heterosexual. They are both completely non-threatening in every possible way.

We're having a baby for some reason!

That there's already a trope for the representation of gay male couples on television is a victory of sorts for the legitimacy of same-sex relationships. It's also a disappointment to see such an uncreative pairing at the center of a brand new show. If a couple of aspiring gay dads were enough to get an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City to refuse to carry the show, creator Ryan Murphy (of Glee fame) could have put a little more effort into showing us something we haven't seen before.

Instead we get Bryan and David. Bryan (played by Andrew Rannells) is the queeny stereotype, interested in fashion and appearances. He even has a sassy diva personal assistant (played by reality television fugitive NeNe Leakes). David (played by Justin Bartha) is literally first introduced to the viewer while he is watching a football game and hanging out with his large friendly dog—no trembling teacup Chihuahuas for him!

Bryan sees a cute baby while he's shopping and decides he wants one. That's it. He talks about it like the baby's an accessory, because he's that kind of gay. After the briefest of discussions about fatherhood, they're off to find a surrogate mom.

At the same time, Goldie (Georgia King), a young mother saddled with a cad of a husband and a brutally nasty grandmother (Ellen Barkin), is realizing her life's dream of becoming a lawyer has been derailed by her responsibilities keeping the family above water. Goldie and the couple collide when she decides to try to get her life back on track with the money she'll earn from serving as a surrogate mom.

As is typical of Murphy's oeuvre as a show creator, much of the humor in The New Normal comes from people being nasty to each other, particularly women. Bryan and David's first choice for a surrogate mom turns darkly horrifying fairly quickly. Barkin's openly racist and homophobic Jane strives to import the vibe of Glee's humorous harridan Sue Sylvester to the proceedings. It doesn't fit well, at least in the pilot. Jane lacks any sort of teeth as an antagonist, and her ravings are just so much cartoonish nonsense, but then again the same can be said for Sue now.

The pilot ends with the idea that this is a comic series about the development of a non-traditional family. In other words, it's a story that will progress, unlike a sit-com like Modern Family that has a general static space where the mayhem develops from. The challenge, though, with a progressive series is that developments need to be earned—it needs to make sense, even in a comedy. Nothing feels "earned" in The New Normal. As the pilot ends, there's still no real sense why Bryan and David really want a child. There's no real sense why they want to get directly involved with Goldie's life. There's no real sense why Goldie gets attached to them so quickly. They just do these things.

The same flaw has gutted Glee, which started essentially as a zippy, darkly comic new iteration of The Mickey Mouse Club, only to sink into a morass of misguided after-school earnestness and mysteriously appearing and disappearing plots and characters. Nothing on Glee is truly earned. Characters complain and sing and complain and worry and sing to get what they want. Things just happen. Characters don't ever grow. They just learn the same lessons of tolerance and working hard and fighting for what they want. Over and over again. The characters are all demographically appealing ciphers and the only plots (when they're not learning Very Important Lessons) are about people being mean to each other or arguing over who gets to have a solo.

I found the most intriguing character in the pilot of The New Normal to be Goldie, because she's the one whose character progression makes the most sense. The woman starting her life over is hardly a new character concept, but there's enough attention paid to her background for it to work. She's the true source of the pilot's inertia, not the gay couple.

Based on just the pilot, I have doubts The New Normal will break Murphy's streak of interesting story concepts that collapse due to lack of focus and self-discipline. Glee is a muddled pile of pandering nonsense. American Horror Story started off as an unfocused disaster that found itself in the middle of its first season and then lost it again at the end. The New Normal doesn't even start with anything new, so where is it going to go?

The New Normal premieres Tuesday, Sept. 11, on NBC at 9:30 p.m. eastern time (8:30 central) but the entire pilot can be viewed online here.

The fourth season of Glee premieres Thursday, Sept. 13, on Fox at 9 p.m. eastern (8 central).

NEXT: 2012 Presidential Debate Schedule Released

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  1. Scott is obviously a gay-hating Rethuglican with no sense of modern progressive sensibility, or else he would love this truly great and riveting show. I can’t wait to ceaselessly watch each episode on repeat until the next one airs, because that’s how awesome this show is. I mean, it has GAY PEOPLE! How could it be bad?

  2. Did I log onto by accident?

    1. Somehow the crowd found it pertinent to have a tv show critiqued here only because it shows a gay family. I mean, I am still recovering from Sister Wives and they thought this show was going to be “edgy”? C’mon.

      1. I wasn’t planning on reviewing it until the whole stupid Salt Lake City thing happened, then I figured I’d give it a look.

        1. Darn, I was hoping you’d review that new Matthew Perry show too.

  3. Ok, so… It sucks! Confirmed, someone else had to watch to find out.

    The only prime time show I ever watch and will watch is The Big Bang Theory.

    1. The only prime time show I ever watch and will watch is The Big Bang Theory.

      Please tell me you’re joking.

      1. I’m not joking. It kind of reminds me of myself and my geeky friends back when I was just finishing college.

        1. The Big Bang Theory is to nerds as blackface is to NWA

    2. It sucks! Confirmed, someone else had to watch to find out.

      Thank you, Scott Shackford, for your tremendous sacrifice. On behalf of humanity, I thank you.

    3. And because of the laugh track, you know when the funny is?

    4. My wife introduced me to the big bang theory last week. I watched a few mins, then explained to her how to tell a funny from a non-funny.

      “Look, if they have to tell you when to laugh by cueing a laugh track, it ISNT funny. If it is funny you will be able to figure out when to laugh all on your own.”

      Yes, I slept on the couch.

      1. Vindictive and No Sense of Humor is no way to go through life, lady.

      2. Technically speaking a live studio audience is not a “laugh track.”

        By that logic stage plays cannot be funny or live comedy shows can’t be funny.

        1. Live studio audiences are given cues to laugh and emote. Not exactly a laugh track, but not an stage-audience either.

          1. Funny thing that live studio audiences are more over the top than faked ones.

            Interesting defence of the laugh track here:

  4. Wow dude, you watched this and Glee? What did you do to deserve such punishment?

    1. It’s a negotiated trade-off with the gay mafia in exchange for not voting Democrat.

  5. Now we’re at the point where people are hiding behind gay people to deflect real criticism. The show is hackneyed and unfunny; so are most if not all TV sitcoms. But you can’t criticize THIS one because then you’re a homophobic bigot. If I were gay, I’d be more offended at being used so crassly.

    1. I haven’t seen it, but from Scott’s review there are no gay people in it, only a couple of two dimensional stereotypes.

  6. Frankly, this shit can’t be any worse than Glee. Glee was fucking awful in pretty much its every conceivable characteristic. And I’m really tolerant with what I watch.

    One of the few things I can imagine that would probably outdo Glee in shitiness is a Star Wars show with Jar-Jar Binks and Sebulba as the two leads fighting a war against a faction of Ewoks commanded by that double-headed podrace commentator from Episode I.

    1. All played by Hayden Christensen.

      1. Or, better yet, the kid who played the young Anakin in Episode I.

        At least I think it was a kid. It might have been an inanimate object, like a cardboard cutout, or something.

        1. Jake Lloyd, you mean. He now has some sort of bastardized goatee now.

          1. Wow, what a surprise that such a stunning reader of cue cards hasn’t been able to find work.

      2. I read that as Hayden Panettiere and almost became excited.

    1. I thought it was because he killed Art Modell.

    2. Would someone please tell me why this MMA guy didn’t just do the The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart instead of getting all messy with a knife??

      1. Well, he’ll have more time to practice his “finishing moves” in prison.

    3. Hmm, so no one’s commenting on the 50-year sentence even though this guy was tripping balls and probably had no real intent to harm the other guy?

      1. That was his choice. Voluntary intoxication should not be a defense.

        1. 1) “+25 years for ‘Inability to Handle Your Buzz’.”

          2) “I suppose now he’ll be known as ‘The Buzz Killer’.”

        2. It’s someone’s choice to drive a car when they accidentally run someone over. That doesn’t mean they get charged with murder.

          1. You don’t get charged with murder if you accidentally run someone over while sober. That’s because it’s demonstrably accidental.

            1. “While sober” was a response to something that wasn’t in your post. I thought you had said something to effect that you don’t get charged with murder if you kill someone while DUI.

              1. You won’t get charged with murder for killing someone while DUI, except in California. But California only allows you to be charged with second-degree murder in this case. To me, getting in a car while drink seems a bit more negligent than simply consuming shrooms. Yet this guy gotcharged with first-degree murder.

                Regardless, it baffles me that a judge would allow this charge. Where is the premeditation?

                1. “To me, getting in a car while drink seems a bit more negligent than simply consuming shrooms.”

                  I don’t agree with this at all. A drug user can be reasonably expected to know the potential effects of his drug. If you want to take a mind-altering substance, it’s your responsibility to put yourself in a safe situation during your high. For a night of drinking that could mean handing the keys over to someone else. For harder stuff that might mean locking yourself in an empty basement or something.

                  Sometimes the choice to get high is itself negligent. The only defense in my mind is if he was drugged as opposed to willfully taking the drugs.

                  1. Which is like saying, one should be prepared to be charged with murder every time you drive a car, since there is a small chance that you will run someone over. Again, you are totally avoiding the issue of the level of punishment. The issue is not whether he was negligent; we both agree that he was. The issue is how he should be charged. Should he be charged as if he had full volition and malice aforethought, or should the actual facts of the case determine his charge?

                2. FYI, here are the applicable CA murder codes:

                  (a)Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought…

                  Such malice may be express or implied. It is express when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature. It is implied, when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.

                  When it is shown that the killing resulted from the intentional doing of an act with express or implied malice as defined above, no other mental state need be shown to establish the mental state of malice aforethought. Neither an awareness of the obligation to act within the general body of laws regulating society nor acting despite such awareness is included within the definition of malice.

                  I’m having an awful time finding the definitional difference between murder one and two (though there are pages of sentencing differences), but you could definitely make a murder case for an intoxicated person.

                  1. You bolded the wrong part. Look at the first sentence. See the words “malice aforethought”?

                    1. The reason you would need to imply it is if you have no direct proof of it. But in this case their is clear proof that he had no malice aforethought.

        3. Yup, this. I’m for legalization, but not if that means being totally unaccountable for the consequences of your choice to use.

          1. There’s a difference between “not being held accountable” and a charge of first degree murder. You do realize that right?

            1. *”being held accountable”*

            2. Not knowing all the facts of the case, I’ll just say in general that you could still meet all the requirements for murder even if intoxicated. The intoxication doesn’t wipe out intent or malice – it can have the opposite effect, amplifying them to the point of action where a sober person may not have acted. That ought not lessen the charge if the offender knowingly used the substance.

              1. That’s not how shrooms work and that’s not what happened in this case. It’s clear that there was no premeditation. The shrooms were the sole cause of Wyatt’s actions.

                1. Well, somebody on the internet said so. It must be true!

                  Seriously, that’s something for the prosecution to prove and the finders of fact to decide. “Shrooms don’t work that way” isn’t really a defense.

                  1. My mistake, I thought this was a comments section and not as court of law.

                    Try some shrooms and then maybe you’ll have a proper response.

      2. “…even though this guy was tripping balls and probably had no real intent to harm…”

        Fuck. That.

        When I tought my son about guns, I told him that whenever he picks up a gun, everything that happens after that is his fault. there is no excuse about meteors falling and hitting the gun or aliens or whatever. If you put that gun in your hand, you accept responsibility for everything that happens after that.

        Same for dope. Fuck this dude, he cut a kids heart out. Let him rot in prison.

        1. When I tought my son about guns, I told him that whenever he picks up a gun, everything that happens after that is his fault.

          Amen to that.

        2. Last I checked, guns don’t take over your thoughts and actions. Shrooms occasionally do.

          And I agree, he should take responsibility for his choice to take shrooms and the results of that choice. That doesn’t mean he should be charged with willful and premeditated murder. He’s guilty of something, but not first-degree murder.

    4. First degree? Doesn’t that mean premeditated?

      1. no

        again, like SO much stuff in criminal law – depends on the state

        in some states, any # of aggravating factors can make it murder 1

        in some states, premeditated is nowhere near enough to make it murder 1

        probably pretty easy to google the penal code of the state this happened in, and READ the murder statute so you can get source info

        vs. bloviating

        like i am doing 🙂

    5. Witnesses say the two had ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms before the attack and believed they were involved in a struggle between God and the devil.

      Witnesses? People watched this happen? Also, no one I’ve ever known on mushrooms ever acted even close to this aggressive. I’m guessing there is more to this story.

      1. Yeah, I’m not buying the tripping excuse for a second.

      2. Never heard of shroom guy?

      3. Same here, Mr. S.

        Entheogens like mushrooms don’t enhance aggression. If anything (in my experience, I mean, I’ve heard), they suppress it.

  7. I recall this being heavily pushed during the ‘lympics, along with some other show that looked equally horrible. I also recall stating, out loud, “Thanks for the warning – I will never watch either show.”

    Readiing just the summary of the article suggests this was a good call. Thank you Scott Shackford for taking one for the team.

    1. You’re probably referring to the new Matthew Perry show “Go On”, which they preempted the women’s trampoline final to air a preview for. Now THAT’s gay.

      1. You mean it’s not “Goon”?

  8. bitter, loudmouthed women

    TV is supposed to be an escape from reality.

    1. No, no – it’s the “reality” shows that are the escape from reality.

  9. LOL at the “stop the Koch brothers” banner ad from Sierra Club.

  10. Bryan sees a cute baby while he’s shopping and decides he wants one. That’s it. He talks about it like the baby’s an accessory . . .

    To be fair, plenty of heteros have children for equally frivolous reasons.

    1. Yeah, but the pregnancy thing kind of puts a damper on the novelty factor.

  11. The promotional picture of the cast before the click-through reminded me of the Loretta sketch in Life of Brian.
    “It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.”

  12. This show had the most laugh free pilot of any sitcom I have ever seen. Seriously, there are one or two moments of pathos (SPOILER IF YOU CARE: The grandma’s husband was gay is kind of well played, as is the scene where the choose the biodad), but almost no laughs. And the show is patting itself on the back at every moment because it has the COURAGE to show a non-traditional family!

    BTW, of the new comedy pilots, Ben and Kate could be good, The Mindy Project is basically Bridget Jones the TV Series (so women may like it), and Go On has the most potential but it will be a nasty tightrope to walk between pathos and funny (I mean, your talking about a support group where a woman lost her lesbian partner, a dude lost his wife, another guy lost his pregnant wife, and another guy lost his brother. And their interactions are the basis for a comedy). Also, Go On is NBC, so I figure that it will get critical love but never get monster ratings (although maybe it will do well enough to go 4 or 5, maybe even 6 seasons).

    1. You know, it never even occurred to me to mention that it wasn’t funny.

      1. I just figured we all assumed the answer to that one!

    2. Saw the pilot of Go On and it was so-so… SPOILER ALERT, but when it’s revealed that his wife died from someone texting while driving it became very preachy.

      1. It was a little preachy, but compared to Glee which did a texting and driving thing and every commercial about it… it wasn’t bad.

        And, honestly, Perry’s delivery of the line to the group (Not the TO freakout, but the scene after) really drove home that what bugged him wasn’t the texting but the sheer senselessness of it. It wasn’t cancer or a blood disease- it was some stupid little thing that his wife probably had done tons of times before. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

        Also, I am grading it on the Pilot curve. The pilot was not great… but it established interesting threads and character ideas to pursue. The Cheers pilot didn’t have Cliffie nearly as big as he would be, the Friends pilot focused on Rachel… Pilots are tough, especially in comedy, cuz you are trying to establish a lot while staying funny.

    3. Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Don’t go any further! Go back! Seriously, it’s going to ruin the show for you if you don’t stop now. XRXhXaXeXgXaXrX XTXaXrXgXaxyXeXnX is XJXoXnX XSXnXoXwX’XsX XfXaXtXhXeXrX.

      Don’t say I didn’t warn you, you curious little monkey.

  13. Can some one explain to me the persistent angel theme that has been around since, like, forever?

  14. You would think that the Hollywood crowd, of all people, would have some dim notion of what gays are really like.

    It could be that their problem is arrogance: they figure that us unenlightened folk “can’t handle the truth”.

    1. Murphy is gay, so I don’t think the issue is that he doesn’t have an inkling of what gays are really like.

      I think the problem is more that he either lives in an echo chamber and only writes certain kinds of gay characters because those are the kinds of people that he knows and likes, or that he’s got a thing for self/”this is what I think gay people ideally should be” insertion.

    2. Are they right?

      1. I think they’re using comfortable, if unflattering and simplistic stereotypes in order not to provoke but entertain (and yeah, they pretty much fail in the entertainment regard).

        OT: What is it that causes such visceral feelings about homosexuality anyway?

        1. So, he’s trafficking in stereotypes in order to make stacks of money?

          I can respect that.

  15. My wife introduced me to the big bang theory last week. I watched a few mins, then explained to her how to tell a funny from a non-funny.

    “Look, if they have to tell you when to laugh by cueing a laugh track, it ISNT funny. If it is funny you will be able to figure out when to laugh all on your own.”

    Yes, I slept on the couch.

    You need a new wife, if stating the glaringly obvious gets you a trip to the couch. Or a new, far more assertive and manly attitude toward her unreasonable demands.

  16. You would think that the Hollywood crowd, of all people, would have some dim notion of what gays are really like.

    Gays are like every personality imaginable. If you can imagine someone acting a certain way who is hetero, there is a gay man or woman who acts exactly the same way, except with different sexual partners.

    1. Yeah, that’s where I was going with that. There’s no need for them to be portrayed as freakishly different.

  17. Man, the thing that bugs me most about Glee is the fact that those people really cannot sing. They are terrible.

  18. Shows like this fail as entertainment for the same reason that the TBN-produced Left Behind movies fail as entertainment. Being evangelized to under false pretenses sucks. You can always tell when the writers started with the agenda and then had to shoehorn the story in there to fit it.

  19. This could be true. Everyone is kind of over the “thing” to do and trying to be more original.

  20. I’m still trying to wrap my head around Ellen Barkin playing an *adult* woman’s grandmother.

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