September 13, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “The New Normal”

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

Previously… on THE NEW NORMAL: David and Bryan (Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells) are an affluent gay couple in LA who want to have a baby.  Seeking a surrogate mother, they hire Goldie (Georgia King), a newcomer to the big city who’s just left her cheating husband Clay (Jayson Blair) in hopes of starting a new life.  She’s brought with her daughter Shania (Bebe Wood), and following close behind is Nana Jane (Ellen Barkin), who doesn’t approve of gays, women who leave their husbands, Los Angeles, or just about anything else.

Episode 2:  The New Normal continues to suffer from a serious shortage of laughs.  The show’s first regular episode, written by series creators Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler, and directed (like the pilot) by Murphy, had less ha-ha hatefulness than the pilot, largely because there was less of Barkin’s character and her supposedly hilarious bigotry.  But the show is still a queasy mix of overblown stereotype and awwwww sentimentality.  This half-hour featured a Grey Gardens gag that just wouldn’t stop, as Shania, somehow obsessed with the documentary–somehow having seen the documentary (at least it could have been the HBO movie version)–spent virtually the entire episode imitating Little Edie Beale, complete with head scarf, much to Bryan’s delight.  This led to Glee-type life-lesson pronouncements about learning that the thing that’s special about us is the most important, even if others don’t get it.  Meanwhile, Nana tutored dumb-as-a-rock Clay to try to convince Goldie to come back to him, Bryan obsessed about Shania drawing on one of his couches (predictably, it turned out to be Nana’s doing), and David and Bryan worried (after a bizarre sequence with David’s straight friends that was like a promo for Guys With Kids) that parenthood would take all the fun out of lives that evidently weren’t too much fun to begin with.  The end of the episode had the only real plot development, as it confirmed that Goldie is indeed pregnant.

New Normal could get away with its bouncing tone and grating characters if it were genuinely funny, but so far it’s not.  Rannells plays Bryan like Jack on Will & Grace 10 years too late–no doubt because that’s what Murphy and Adler wanted–and watching him and Barkin (and Nene Leakes as Bryan’s assistant, who’s sassy and African-American because otherwise the show might have skipped a cliche), one just feels tired at all the effort that’s going into such relentless superficiality.  There isn’t a moment on the show that one feels like a real human being or real emotion is in play–it’s all contrivance, and not the funny kind.

The ratings so far haven’t been encouraging.  Given a special launch on Monday after the season premiere of The Voice, the pilot did an OK 2.5, and it held that number in its regular slot on Tuesday, but that was down more than 25% from the episode of Go On that preceded it–and on a night when none of the other networks aired regular season competition.  This being NBC, even falling below a 2 won’t necessarily kill The New Normal, but it would certainly start the show’s clock ticking. If the show wants to make it all the way to a Very Special birth episode, it’s going to need more than Lamaze classes.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  The Mindy Project Is On FOX, and Even Don’t Trust the B– Is Looking Good

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."