One thing that appeals to me about the writing of Ryan Murphy is that he is completely fearless, never sitting on the fence in style nor theme.
He writes with such commitment that there are times when his work soars spectacularly, and others when it crumbles under the mass of its own jumbled mess. Nip / Tuck is still my favourite of his works, American Horror Story has rushed into second place and Glee wavers between the two extremes (I didn’t see enough of Popular to pass judgement).
Now we have The New Normal, a half hour comedy about two upwardly mobile gay men in LA looking for a surrogate to help them have a child.
Playing the couple are television producer Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and gynecologist David (Justin Bartha). They have a seemingly stable, affluent life with dog but it’s just not enough for Bryan. He gets the idea for having a child when he spies the cutest baby in a department store -bad analogy already.
David is initially hesitant to the idea but doesn’t take much convincing to meeting with an agency to help them.
Meanwhile mid-western gal Goldie (Georgia King) has found her man in bed with the ‘help’ and had enough of listening to her over-bearing, racist grandmother Jane (Ellen Barkin). With her misfit daughter Shania (Bebe Wood) in tow she makes a break for a clean start by hitting the west coast. In need of money fast she soon becomes the prime surrogate candidate for our gay heroes.
It isn’t long before outraged Jane catches up with her granddaughter, and much to her homophobic horror, she learns of Goldie’s plans at the eleventh hour. A scene in which she gets a dressing down from Bryan’s assistant Rocky (NeNe Leakes doing her best black bee-yatch act) is one of the better moments here.
But the Pilot can’t shake off a number of problems that get in the way of what could be a very modern comedy.
The two men wanting the baby don’t ring true as potential fathers. Their decision-making is too flippant without having established them as sympathetic characters. They settle on the idea within 9 minutes of the opening scene. David’s character, pitched as a voice of reason, only has the slightest doubt which is resolved in one scene. So far, Bryan is more annoying than charming. I’m worried Bebe Wood as Shania is destined to channel Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine.
So far Ellen Barkin is the standout, given the best lines and all the room to upstage those around her, just as Jane Lynch has shown in Glee.
It’s hard not to compare this with Modern Family‘s Cam and Mitchell. They too arrived in episode one with baby in tow, with an opposing parent in Jay, but it worked so brilliantly. Maybe it’s because they got there when the issue was a burning one. Maybe it’s because they were so darned funny.
The narrative style is also unnecessarily eager to cram in gags from incidental characters, creating a sometimes frenetic pace.
This is not to say The New Normal is a lost cause. The message that unconditional love is family’s bedrock is of worth. But it needs to spend more time going for truth than pretty average jokes.
The New Normal airs 8pm Sunday October 14 on TEN.