The New Normal Review: "Pilot" (Episode 1.01)
It’s a weird idea for Ryan Murphy to create a new sitcom about redefining what a family in 2012 should be. It’s like asking Aaron Sorkin to make a CW teen drama or having Lena Dunham create the next CSI: it just doesn’t add up. Murphy’s shows have featured outrageous twists to surprise the audience (Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story), however with Glee, he brought broad stereotypes together to create a de facto family in a show that had a surprising amount of warmth of its characters. But having Murphy on a comedy like The New Normal just doesn’t feel like a good mixture, as the show employs stereotypical characters and jokes made by a bigoted grandmother while also trying to be a sweet series about how abnormal is the new normal. The New Normal is a show that tries to have a big heart but nothing else to back it up.
The New Normal focuses mostly on Bryan, played by Andrew Rannells, a gay man who while going clothes-shopping sees an adorable child and decides that a child is what he needs to complete his wardrobe, essentially. There’s no other reason given as to why he would like a child other than that he could dress it up in little kid clothes. His partner is David, played by Justin Bartha, and the pairing is the classic sitcom pairing idea that opposites attract. While Bryan goes to Barney’s in L.A. and tries to dress like Mary Tyler Moore, David is fine with just lounging around on the couch watching football with his dog. David openly accepts Bryan’s request for a child, and so off they search for the right surrogate for their child.
Meanwhile in Ohio, single mom Goldie, a quirky Georgia King, catches her partner of nine years cheating on her after she had left their house for six minutes. Goldie’s grandmother, a harsh Ellen Barkin, seems to have no other purpose other than to spout off horrible things about other people different than her, while claiming to not be a bigot. She scoffs at a lesbian couple showing signs of affection and calls an Asian woman “Hello Kitty,” but then claims she’s progressive because she was the first of her friends to eat at a Chipotle—cause you know, that’s Mexican food. When Jane goes inside Goldie’s house to threaten her now-ex, Goldie and her daughter Shania decide to take their Nana’s car and drive as far away as they can. After three days, they end up in L.A., with no money and nothing to go off other than Goldie’s teenage desire that she wanted to be a lawyer before the birth of her daughter changed her life.
With David and Bryan ready to have a child, they go a playground to discuss their ideals of what a family should actually be. This leads to the episode’s worst moments, where the show tries to explain its mantra that being a different family is what is normal today. To illustrate this point, they show a woman who was too big of a whore to have kids when she was younger, but then had a ton when she was older that she can now hardly contain, and a little person who had worries about having a normal-sized daughter but decided against it. It’s not a horrible moment, until the mother drives her daughter, who is already taller than her, away from the playground in her Barbie car for children.
Later on that night, David and Bryan look for surrogates, but instantly throw out candidates based on the fact that they are too large, a sci-fi nerd or have had too many abortions. They may think abnormal is the new normal, but there seems to be a line that has to be drawn so it doesn’t get too weird.
In a matter of a few days, David and Bryan go from deciding to have a child, to having a surrogate trying to blackmail them. She clearly won’t do, so they meet Goldie, who wants to become a surrogate so that the money she receives will start a new life for her and her daughter. David and Bryan decide to go for her, but as the eggs are ready to be implanted (keep in mind, all of this has happened in about four days), Goldie’s Nana appears out of nowhere to spew more of her hatred all over the place and proclaim her hatred for the whole idea. The show tries to make her sympathetic, as she states that her husband was a Beanie Baby-collecting gay man, but this revelation doesn’t change anything about how the show has shown her so far. Goldie stands up to her Nana and goes through with it for David and Bryan, because love is love.
In the end, David and Bryan don’t know if Goldie is pregnant or not, but they announce that they will help Goldie with her dreams since she is helping them with theirs.
First off, The New Normal has a real problem deciding how different it really wants to be. It tries to make the case that as long as there is love in a family, then it’s a good family. But then it goes on to show Bryan in particular as a person who just wants a little person to dress up, but clearly doesn’t want it to have any fat or weird genes. It also boosts the stereotypes that so many shows before it have tried to squash. Do we really need another loud and hate-filled person that was born in a different time? Plus the show also decides to speed through the surrogate process in half a week, in order to fill it into the pilot. This could have been slowed down and spread across a few episodes and still been even more effective.
But The New Normal does have heart; it just doesn’t know how to show it off in the best way yet. Goldie and David have some great potential as characters, and even though Bryan can be quite a bit much, Andrew Rannells does a great job at playing him.
The New Normal needs to get its tone down and level out its ideas, instead of constantly contradicting them, because as of right now, it plays more biased towards different people than for them.