By Brianne Johnson, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 18, 2012
“Nana, you’re a bigot and I’m unfriending you right now,” mutters newcomer Bebe Wood as eight-going-on-18 Shania Clemmons. Bigots be warned, director/producer Ryan Murphy (“Glee”) is at it again. Hold dear your every conservative preconception, for Murphy attempts to assign a redefinition of the American family standard with NBC’s “The New Normal.” Seemingly armed with an Idiot’s Guide to Stereotypes and the determination of a Diag preacher, Murphy falls victim to word vomit (scratch that — social commentary vomit) before Nana can shriek, “Sodom and Gomorrah fudge factory!”
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The pilot introduces David Murray (Justin Bartha, “The Hangover”) and Bryan Collins (Andrew Rannells, “Bachelorette”), who appear to have it all: successful careers, a devoted relationship and an infinite arsenal of witty pop culture references. But after a slow-motion encounter with a baby (so adorable that its spit bubbles surely gleam like does’ eyes) Bryan has an epiphany: The couple is one uterus short of a child. After wading through pools of possible surrogates’ applications — homophobic donors and heterosexual couples’ leftovers — David and Bryan finally strike gold in the form of Goldie (pun intended) Clemmons (Georgia King, “One Day”), a single mom and aspiring lawyer with sympathy for the gay community.
In true Murphy fashion, “The New Normal” is sharp, sprinting through one-liners faster than the Gilmore girls, yet with the bite of social satire of early “Glee” seasons. Rannells is sassy and vain, with only a hint of theatricality (imagine Ryan Reynolds goes Kurt Hummel minus the song and sequin glove), but he endears the audience within the premiere’s first minute as an earnest father-to-be.
Rannells’s moxie is outdone only by the right-wing whirlwind that is Ellen Barkin’s (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”) Jane Forrest a.k.a. “Nana.” The epitome of the conservative, white, upper-class shrew, Goldie’s grandmother spews racist and homophobic slurs from her lined lips like Mel Gibson in a pencil skirt. Her character, albeit a hilarious portrayal by Barkin, is an obvious ploy by screenwriters to mock the prejudices prevalent in America. Like a modern-day Archie Bunker, Barkin’s character is scripted to reveal bigotry in its true form: ignorance.
However there’s a fine line between social commentary and over-indulgent advocacy, and “The New Normal” speeds into PSA territory. Goldie is no more than a puppet through which Murphy serves (heaps, to be accurate) his message of love and acceptance, and King, mediocre at best, labors through lines like a self-help book.
The foundation of the show, as stated by Rannells, is clear: “Your definition of ‘traditional’ might need a refresh.” Though programs in which the lead actors portray a gay couple are rare, homosexuality in television is not revolutionary — refer to the remarkable pairing of Murphy’s own creation, “Glee” ’s Kurt and Blaine, or “Degrassi: The Next Generation” ’s early Marco Del Rossi seasons. As support for the gay community swells, as well as representations of nuclear families in the media (“Modern Family,” anyone?), is it possible that Murphy is late to the “normal” name game?