TV Critics Roundtable: “The New Normal”

 
 

After creating buzz the minute it was added to NBC’s Fall TV schedule, The New Normal is finally airing and we can all see if the fuss it has stirred up was truly fuss-worthy. The gay community will undoubtedly form its own opinion, but what are critics – gay and straight – saying about the show?

AfterElton gathered some of the top TV voices in print and online to chat about the series and its stars (Andrew Rannells, Justin Bartha, Ellen Barkin, Georgia King, Bebe Wood and NeNe Leakes). Under discussion was what works in The New Normal pilot — and what doesn’t — and whether the the show’s future is cloudy or bright.

Is The New Normal (and Andrew Rannels & Justin Bartha) worthy of a hello or a buh-bye?

Included in the roundtable, Laura Prudom (Associate Editor, HuffPost TV) and Dan Fienberg (Executive Editor, HitFix.com), both of whom happen to be straight, along with Trish Bendix (Managing Editor from AfterEllen.com), Damian Holbrook (Senior Writer, TV Guide Magazine) and AfterElton Entertainment Reporter Jim Halterman, who are gay.


As a comedy pilot/series, how does The New Normal measure up?

DAN FIENBERG: Ryan Murphy and [co-creator] Ali Adler aren’t exactly veterans with this format, and it shows. The pilot is wildly uneven and, perhaps not surprisingly, actually works better in the semi-dramatic moments, rather than in the broadly comic moments.

DAMIAN HOLBROOK: Like all pilots it’s got an uphill battle to set up everything, and they’ve got a lot to throw in there as far as character delineation. You know, the one is more fem than the other one. They make it very clear that Justin Bartha’s character is extraordinarily straight as he watches sports and Andrew Rannells’ character is the Cameron [from Modern Family]. Of course they are affluent. You have to set up the racist grandmother. It’s a lot, but I think that they cover a lot of ground in 22 minutes. It doesn’t feel incredibly clunky, but that’s just structure wise.

TRISH BENDIX: I think it’s one of the funniest offerings this season. Judging based on only one episode, I think it’s smart and refreshing compared to some of the other network shows that feel a little bit flat and cliche.

LAURA PRUDOM: I think it’s well made. My problem was that I just didn’t find it funny. And structurally, yes, it’s set up well. I think it treads a bit too much in stereotypes just when it’s setting up. And just being Ryan Murphy, I imagine they are going to continue treading on that. He’s pretty good at adding depth and bringing different voices to it, but I think he also does rely on being a little too heavy-handed with some of it. I don’t see that changing as it goes on.

JIM HALTERMAN: I always feel like with a lot of [Murphy’s] work, in general, that he likes to push the envelope, but sometimes forgets to wrap a good story around it, or make the character something really interesting with whatever message he’s attempting to get out there.

Are you laughing or cringing at the words coming out of Ellen Barkin’s mouth?

Did you think the bigoted comments by Jane [Ellen Barkin] will offend viewers or will they find the humor in what she says?

DAMIAN HOLBROOK: Oh, with [Jane], this is Sue Sylvester, this is Mary Cherry [from Popular], this is Jessica Lange’s character from American Horror Story. There is a something that Ryan Murphy’s theme there is an aggressive, racist, blunt, older woman. I’m surprised that there is not a child with Down Syndrome.

LAURA PRUDOM: They’ll get there.

TRISH BENDIX: I think that brand of offensive humor is both funny because it’s so offensive and because there are people that really think and say those offensive things. I don’t think someone who identifies with that character is going to watch the show and say, ‘Yes, that’s right! You tell them, sister!’ I think she comes off as crass and, like her granddaughter says, bigoted. If there’s a villain of the show, it’s her.

DAN FIENBERG: Personally, I found myself tiring of Jane and her shtick very early in the pilot, and I was neither offended nor amused by anything she did. Some viewers will feel a similar Ryan Murphy-based fatigue with this familiar character.

JIM HALTERMAN: I know people like Jane exist in the world. I’m related to some of them, but it just didn’t strike me as amusing any time the show fell back on stereotypes. For example, Jane’s assumption that the two lesbians we see in the beginning of the pilot, who just happened to be cast as stereotypically butch with flannel shirts and short, masculine haircuts, were mistaken for two gay men. Yes, that exists in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s instantly comical.

A gay couple raising a child doesn’t seem as progressive anymore, but in 2012 is it progressive to build a show around this idea?

DAN FIENBERG: We’ve seen more and more examples of gay couples raising children in both general culture and in the media, but just because we already have Cam & Mitchell doing it on Modern Family doesn’t mean that it isn’t still progressive. After all, Cam & Mitchell are only one third of the family picture while New Normal puts it front and center.

JIM HALTERMAN: To me it doesn’t seem so progressive, but then I have to remind myself that I live in the middle of West Hollywood. I come from the Midwest, and know there are still places in big and small cities where people don’t have a gay culture to identify with, or they do but choose to look the other way. So, for some people, maybe it’s their first glimpse of a same sex couple who are working towards being parents.

TRISH BENDIX: Speaking from a lesbian point of view, most of the time lesbian moms end up being incredibly boring and written off or killed. I have a feeling the gay couple on this show is not only going to survive but be as entertaining and subtly progressive as those on Modern Family. Hopefully some day a lesbian couple will be able to stick out an entire show’s run. At least Grey’s Anatomy‘s Callie and Arizona are still managing to stay alive and also maintain a life outside of motherhood.

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