Review: NBC’s The New Normal Has a Solid Start, but It Could Go Either Way

No spoilers, just basic premise.

The New Normal has been described by some as NBC’s answer to Modern Family. But based on the pilot, The New Normal still has a ways to go.

The series’ creator, his trademarks and the threat of history repeating itself takes away from a great premise, strong foundation and solid cast.

The New Normal tells the story of Goldie, a single mother who has lived an unfulfilled life. She wakes up to the realization and finally decides to do something about it after finding her slob of a husband being ridden by another woman. (No this is definitely not a show you can watch with the kiddies.) But interestingly enough, the strength of the series is its basic premise about what makes a family.

Goldie decides to be the surrogate for Bryan and David, gay couple who want to have a baby. She does this despite a last minute plea from her bigoted grandmother (who still appreciates “the gays” for being able to make her hair so nice). But all of this is so she can give her daughter, who she had when she was 15, a better life. She’ll use the money from being a surrogate to go to law school to fulfill her dream of being a hotshot attorney like Julianna Marguiles (on The Good Wife of course). Plus, she’ll be doing something incredibly wonderful for another couple, helping them with their own family.

The cast is solid. Georgia King is likeable as Goldie, easily getting you on her side and quickly making you hope she actually does start living her life. Bebe Wood fills the always winning role of the only kid on an adult sitcom as Shania. How can you not enjoy kids who think and act like they’re twice or three times beyond their years?

Justin Bartha is one of those actors who’s always deserved a good TV role. (Remember Teachers? I doubt you would.) He and Broadway actor Andrew Rannells share a great chemistry as David and Bryan, but save for the scene between Goldie and David, lack the depth that keep them from being mere gay stereotypes. Ellen Barkin fills the Sue Sylvester role on the series as Nana Jane. And while her character is anything but likeable, Barkin is great at it.

And finally, if you know anything about Nene Leakes, her role as Bryan’s assistant Rocky should be of no surprise to you. She’s sure to be the biggest source of one-liners, but has to hand over the scene stealer title to little Bebe Wood.

Now anyone familiar with a Ryan Murphy production should expect the rapid-fire dialogue, snarky pop culture references and the plentiful one-line zingers. But anyone familiar with a Ryan Murphy production would also remember that even with a show like The New Normal that has lots of potential, things could go off the rails at any time.

It happened with Nip/Tuck, it quickly happened to Glee and it happened to American Horror Story, some would say even before it started.

The New Normal‘s basic premise is very compatible with its Tuesday partner Go On. Both attempt to be funny with a lot heart. But Go On just does it a little better. The New Normal unfortunately suffers from its pedigree.

You quickly relate to and connect with Goldie and her daughter Shania, as well as Bryan and David. There is a strong show there, wanting to see both families grow and succeed, together and on their own. But then you get the bigot jokes care of Goldie’s “Nana” Jane and the inevitable use of stereotypes Ryan Murphy seems to love. The gay and racist jokes contrast all the fuzzy heartwarming stuff so much that they end up feeling forced. Two standout scenes (Goldie and Shania at the beach, with Goldie basically telling her Nana to bug off and Goldie comforting a worried David before starting the procedure) showed the series’ best potential.

I’d also like to add that I question their assumption that an image of Callista Gingrich and her hair is readily available in my mind for a joke by Nene Leakes’ character to make any sense.

The series has already rubbed uber-conservatives the wrong way and there really isn’t anything the show can do to change their minds about it. For the more open minded, the series could help open some eyes and hearts to the idea that same-sex couples are just as fit to raise children as heterosexual couples. But it could also do without the David E. Kelly-ish monologues too, which I hope do not continue as the show goes on.

Because just telling the story, one that is universal and could be told just as well with a straight couple as it could with a gay couple, can maybe bridge some gaps while providing a half hour of laughs every week. But maybe if someone other than Ryan Murphy were at the helm, The New Normal could do that. Instead, right now, it’s a countdown as to when we’ll see the train start wobbling on the tracks. And all the charm and fun turn into a nonsensical, contrived mess. I’m rooting for the charm.

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