July 28, 2012



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THE NEW NORMAL: Tuesday 9:30PM starting September 11 on NBC -If Nothing Else Is On…

Disclaimer: Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall. Pilots are often reedited and re-scored, and in some cases even recast or reshot. These critiques shouldn’t be taken as full pilot reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

As someone who worked at NBC in 1998, when Will & Grace was hitting the air, I can testify to the agonizing that went into every detail of that show’s first season, from its initial timeslot (not on must-see-TV Thursday), to its extremely careful marketing, to its content (it took a very long time before Will was permitted to date on screen, let alone demonstrate any PDA).  It’s remarkable and heartening that just 14 years later, there’s hardly any furor at all (other than the requisite noise from the far right) accompanying the debut of THE NEW NORMAL, a sitcom about a gay couple and the surrogate mother having their baby.  Things have come so far, in fact, that the show’s place in television history is less notable than the fact that it isn’t particularly good.

New Normal is very recognizably the work of its co-writer/creator Ryan Murphy, the auteur of  Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story, and more to the point, Glee.  (His fellow writer/creator here is Ali Adler, a Glee Co-Executive Producer.)  The new show is so Glee-like in tone that it’s one show tune/R&B mash-up away from being A Very Special Episode.  The problem is that New Normal is presumably intended for adults, not teens, and the mix of rude jokes, self-aware stereotypes and blunt sentimentality plays less well in this context.

Our protagonists are David (Justin Bartha) and Bryan (Andrew Rannells), a long-term, loving couple (the show is set in California, but there’s no mention of marriage in the pilot).  David is a responsible, level-headed obstetrician, while Bryan is the kind of caricature that probably only an openly gay writer like Murphy could get away with writing these days, one who obsesses about fashion and his weight and has poached eggs hand-delivered to him at a medical clinic.  Bryan’s profession is unclear, but it earns him his bitchy black assistant Rocky (Nene Leakes, essentially still playing her teacher role from Glee).  David and Bryan decide they want to have a baby through a surrogate, and that brings them to Goldie (Georgia King), a fresh arrival in LA from Ohio with her daughter Shania (Bebe Wood), whom she had when she was 15.  Goldie is breaking free from a bad marriage (she walked in on her husband having sex with another woman) and a feeling that she’s been squandering her life and her dream of becoming a lawyer; she also truly wants to give David and Bryan a baby, because she recognizes their struggle and how much they’ll love the child.  New Normal‘s Sue Sylvester is Goldie’s grandmother Jane (named after Jane Lynch?), a lovable bigot who chases after Goldie and Shania from Ohio, and whose every word is politically incorrect.  (When an Asian woman uses Twitter to locate Goldie and Shania for her, Jane doesn’t just note how good her “people” are with computers, but thanks her for building the railroads.)

New Normal is likable, and the combination of Barkin, Leakes and Rannells could conceivably create the bitchy humor equivalent of a nuclear fusion bomb big enough to blow up Gotham City.  The cast is very skilled, and the pilot is well paced (although Murphy, as pilot director, indulges in weird cinema-verite camera moves at times that have nothing to do with the content of the show).  Overall, however, it’s about as unsubtle as a comedy can be.  It’s either hitting you over the head with its not-so-daring political incorrectness, or shoving you in the belly with how wonderful and nontraditional it is that all the characters really love each other down deep.  Glee makes a very similar mix work (more or less) because it has a huge cast with several storylines going at once, plus splashy musical numbers to boot; New Normal, confined to one basic story and a half-dozen characters, and with no songs (so far), is likely to be more of an ordeal.

NBC has done New Normal no favors with its scheduling, placing the show (and its lead-in Go On) against directly competing female-skewing sitcoms on 2 networks, with New Girl/The Mindy Project on FOX and Happy Endings/Don’t Trust the B on ABC.  The only thing you can say for what seems like a death slot is that NBC will probably win the female-skewing audience at 8PM with The Voice results show (NCIS will likely continue to take the men), and maybe those viewers will lose their remotes at 9PM or be so transfixed by The Voice that they’ll be incapable of changing the channel.  The good news–and this isn’t facetious–is that if New Normal fails, it won’t have anything to do with controversy or social content.  It’ll be for the good old-fashioned reason of being a mediocre show in a lousy timeslot.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."