Comedies aren't easy to create or sustain. What one person finds funny, another will think is offensive. What someone considers a stereotype too broad to overlook, another will give a pass because they laughed at themselves or the absurdity of the joke.
NBC's "The New Normal" (9 p.m. Monday, then 8:30 p.m. Tuesday; 2.5 stars out of 4) has its share of stereotypes and crass jokes that straddle the line of bad taste. But it's also sweet and, dare I say, funny. You can watch the complete pilot episode below.
Co-created by Ryan Murphy ("Glee," "American Horror Story" and "Nip/Tuck") and Ali Adler ("Chuck"), "The New Normal" focuses on committed gay couple Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) who decide to have a child through a surrogate.
After signing up for a surrogate through an agency, the guys view several hilariously awful choices on video. (Gwyneth Paltrow cameos as an odd Gwyneth Paltrow look-alike.) They eventually meet Goldie (Georgia King), a down-on-her-luck, newly single mom of precocious 9-year-old Shania (Bebe Wood).
Now, let's talk about the "controversial" parts of "The New Normal." Conservative group One Million Moms already has called for a boycott of the show, and an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City dropping it because of "explicit" content, which they say is the gay family storyline. Not to get too political here, people, but get real: Gay families are neither "harmful to our society" or "damaging to our culture." (Um, your hatred is, though.)
Little do these groups realize that they are furthering Murphy's and his show's arguments about how people form all kinds of non-traditional families these days, and that honestly, love is all they need to make those families work.
"A family is a family," Goldie says in the premiere. "And love is love.""
That's a worthwhile message for any series, and although "The New Normal" sometimes delivers it ham-handedly in the first episode, straddles a delicate line with just about every character.
Bryan is stereotypically flamboyant and appearance-oriented; David is stereotypically "straight-acting," as gay folks of that sort like to insist. He loves beer and sports. Bryan's assistant, Rocky, is played with stereotypical sass and head-swinging by "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" vet NeNe Leakes.
And then we have Ellen Barkin barking insults and vitriol to perfection as Nana, Goldie's bigoted, anti-gay mother. Obviously her opinions are played for laughs, but Murphy and Adler need to work harder to make her Archie Bunker-like bigotry funny and smart--not just snappy.
Whether any of these characters are truly offensive is up to the individual judging. As a gay man, I'm not offended that Nana would say she likes "the gays" because they do such a good job with her hair. I'm also OK with the possible stereotypical traits of Bryan and David because, yes, those types of gays exist. But the show is quick to present them as more than just those stereotypes, so I believe we can all get over that right away.
If we can't laugh at ourselves, we can't laugh at anything, really. Right?
Bartha, whom I've been a fan of for a long time, and Rannells are instantly appealing. They and the rest of the capable cast expertly deliver many sharp jokes, including, "Sweetie, you know you can't return a baby to Barney's" and "I faint at the site of vaginas. They're like tarantula faces." (Uh oh, now women will be offended!)
"The New Normal" also has a refreshing sincerity and a subject TV rarely addresses. And for that, I applaud all involved.
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