It’s hard to go into a pilot of a new series with absolutely no expectations, especially when the shows are being promoted as heavily as a Beatles reunion tour. So yes, going into most of the shows premiering this fall, most of us will have a few ideas about where the show is going to go, what the tone is going to be, and a general assumption about how much we will enjoy the new program based on those ideas. If you enjoyed Kelly Kapoor’s incessant babbling you’ll probably like The Mindy Project, if you thought Chandler Bing was the funniest thing on television Go On will probably leave you gasping for breath. But where does that leave you with The New Normal?
Everyone certainly has expectations when it comes to Ryan Murphy, TV’s newest darling (which is confusing given how all of his shows are known for starting strong and then quickly deteriorating before our very eyes, with no one kind enough to put it, and us, out of our misery). But, a fan of Glee isn’t necessarily going to enjoy American Horror Story and devout fans of Nip/Tuck will be hard pressed to find anything of quality in Popular (though they would be wrong because that show is the shit). The point is, while Ryan Murphy has carved out quite a successful television career he’s hardly in danger of being stuck in a niche. So, depending on where you fall on the Ryan Murphy spectrum, your expectations could be wildly off base.
In relating the show to its creator, I’d say The New Normal has more in common with Glee than American Horror Story just in the fact that (so far) there has been very little latex themed rape. Although there is also less singing (but still plenty of musical references, fear not). But really, what this most closely resembles is Modern Family.
The show opens with a gay couple, the amazing Andrew Rannells(Book of Morman, Girls) and the potential to be amazing Justin Bartha (The Hangover), looking to adopt a baby. After some wacky obstacles and some lovely cameos, (I’m talking to you Leslie Grossman, not you Gwyneth, get back to Goop. Popular Love 4 Life!) They find their surrogate savior in Goldie (Georgia King), a down and out single mother looking to put her life back together and escape her domineering grandmother, a formidable Ellen Barkin. If there’s one thing Ryan Murphy does like in his shows its a grande dame that can come in and show those little whippersnappers how it’s done. Barkin may not be up to Jessica Lange level yet, but she certainly has the potential.
If there’s another thing Ryan Murphy enjoys it is beating the audience over the head with his preachiness, usually in realtion to homosexuality. Its one of the (many) reasons Glee has turned into steaming pile of slop and at first those prejudices were irritating me with The New Normal and I had to set aside my feelings about Ryan’s other work and try to look at this new show on its own.
The reason the endless soapbox speeches weaken Glee is because it feels like a betrayal to the original show we all fell in love with. Originally, Glee was presented as satire of the typical teen drama with some bitchin’ musical interludes, but after that stellar first half season, Glee has flitted between its original purpose and heavy handed after school specials with really bitchin’ musical interludes. The point is, it changed, but The New Normal is presenting itself this way from the get go, yes there is plenty of funny, but there is also going to be some serious and a little bit of soap boxing about the strife of the gay American. If that’s going to bother you, don’t even attempt it, if it won’t and if it doesn’t even bother you on Glee then congratualtions you’ve just found your new favorite comedy.
I want to think Ryan has learned his lesson from Glee and that’s why he’s shown his true intentions in the pilot, but I’m guessing the success of Modern Family has a lot more to do with it. Modern Family has cemented their reputation as show that will have you in tears of laughter for 21 minutes and then leave you with real tears at the very end. People may think it’s overhyped, but that that is a hard balance to achieve, as The New Normal makes clear.
The reason The New Normal fails where Modern Family excels is in everything else that makes it a Ryan Murphy television production, i.e. its innate weirdness. Sometimes it thinks its an average dysfunctional family sitcom and other times it is breaking the fourth wall for Sex and the City season one style talking heads, comparing the desire to havea baby to finding a ridiculous sale on cashmere socks, and attempting to make us take Real Housewife Ne Leaks seriously (which will never happen. She could deliver a pitch perfect take on the “coffee is for closers” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross and all I will ever hear is “Close ya legs to married men” and some weave yanking. Sorry.)
So maybe The New Normal does have some identity issues, but the good news is that this is the time to have those issues. A lot can change between a pilot and a season finale. The writing was a little frantic, but there were enough quality lines to suggest that this show could turn into something spectacular. Or it could crash and burn. Or it could be a real Ryan Murphy show and do both.
The New Normal premires on Tuesday Sept. 11th at 9:30/8:30c on NBC. The pilot is currently available at nbc.com.
– Devin Mainville