Ryan Murphy talks Brittana, a lesbian character on “American Horror Story” and “The New Normal”


In life, there is little as universally infuriating and communally satisfying as having a common enemy. A villain we love to hate, a villain we love to hate together. In the lives of gay women who love TV, that villain of late has been Ryan Murphy. Though, to be honest, him and us, we go way back. Back to Popular. Back to Nip/Tuck.

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So now, with Season 3 of Glee in the books and many (though very pointedly not all) of our McKinley High graduates stepping into the future with freshly printed high school diplomas in hand, what can we expect from Mr. Murphy moving forward?

He gave a wide-reaching interview to New York magazine’s Vulture earlier this week in which he discussed his many shows (Glee, American Horror Story and The New Normal) and other projects he has in the works. He also took the opportunity to further enrage Brittana fans – but more on that later.

The interview addressed Murphy’s reputation for opening big and then fizzling out on shows, boring of his projects as they wore on and constant multitasking. Where should we begin? Well let’s just start with Glee because, well, it’s Glee.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Fox

Murphy said he is excited about writing multi-year arcs for the characters and knows exactly how Rachel Berry will end up – even what the last scene will be. And, in case you’ve been living under a Slushee machine, he repeats that all the series regular will be back in some form next season, though not necessarily for each of the 22 episodes. Just don’t expect anymore Glee concert tours with the original cast. That ship done sailed.

With all the regulars coming back in some small way, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly called next season a “creative renaissance” for the show at the upfronts. Murphy says we can expect it to be very pop-culture based (starting out with another big Britney Spears episode) and have all the characters start over as underdogs. Will Schuester doesn’t get married. (Sorry, Emma). Sue Sylvester needs a new nemesis. The show will “be very different” with “less characters than we’ve ever had,” which Murphy deems “a good thing.”

Credit: Photo courtesy of Fox

Sounds not so terrible, right? Well, remember before the third season Murphy promised the show would go back to basics with fewer tribute episodes and no big guest stars. So, you know, let’s talk again in 22 episodes and see how that all works out.

But what about that broken pre-season promise from a year ago about the tributes and the stars? Well, Murphy said he tried, he really did. But Murphy said Fox’s Reilly wasn’t a big fan of the show’s direction. And the fans weren’t big fans of the show’s direction either.

As Murphy told Vulture:

I think the thing about the fan base is you can’t take anything too personal because it all comes from a place of passion. There are some people who love the characters. There are other groups of people who love the spectacle. When you do the spectacle, the people who love the characters get pissed. “F–k them, why aren’t they doing a Brittany and Santana story instead of a Michael Jackson celebration?” Then when you do the opposite they’re like, “You know, where’s the tribute to Frank Sinatra? This is bulls–t.” You just can’t win. So I think you try to do the best that you can, and I really do respect the fans, because I think it’s a young audience, and I think it’s a very Internet-savvy audience. We care about the show and we care about the characters and the tributes, but it’s a young, rollicking show by design. I get that sometimes people fall in and out of love with it in the course of two episodes.

Yes, Brittana fans, he mentioned you. No, Brittana fans, it wasn’t in a particularly flattering way.

Credit: Photo courtesy Fox

But then, he’s not particularly flattering to any of the show’s viewership. Yes, that was a bite you just felt on your hands, Glee fans. Perhaps we should just stop feeding him. As he said:

So whenever you have something like that (that the fans made into a hit), and then you evolve and you grow and you try different things and you experiment and you risk, [they say] “We don’t like it, go back to what you used to do.” And then you say “Well, we are kind of doing what we used to do, but I understand how you would see it was different.” Sometimes I feel that you can’t win. It’s just a volatile group of people that watch it, and for that, I like their passion. Anybody who’s ever done a show about youth has told me they went through this exact same thing.

So in other words, he likes your enthusiasm, but get off his lawn!

Oh, and because the show will now move to Thursday nights, expect there to be a lot of really annoying The X Factor tie-ins and possibly some more mature writing because it’s no longer in the family hour of 8 p.m.. If that means the gays get to kiss more than once a semester I’m all for it. But I’m certainly not holding my breath.

Moving on to Murphy and his Glee co-creator Brad Falchuk’s other show, big changes are afoot for American Horror Story next season, too. The show will reboot with many new characters and a totally new setting. Jessica Lange will be back, but others will join the cast as the show takes on an anthology/miniseries format for each season.

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Murphy told Vulture that Season 2 will be set in the 1960s with Lange’s character running an institution for the criminally insane. Well, just let him tell you about the premise:

Chloë Sevigny, for example, plays a character who was put in an asylum because she was a woman who likes sex, so her husband sends her away. At the time, you were able to put people away for that. Another character is institutionalized for being a lesbian. To me, there’s nothing more scary than somebody coming to you and saying they’re going to take you away and put you in a mad house and you have no legal rights and there you shall stay till the end of your days. That is a real horror. Everybody has felt people thinking, “You’re f—ing crazy.” Even somebody saying that to you is scary.

Normally a show that featured such talented female leads and a lesbian character would have me super excited. But coming from Murphy, I’m one part pretty excited, two parts very concerned.

Because if you want a quick history of lesbian/bisexual characters on Ryan Murphy shows they go: does not much as a background mom character (Popular), has a brief lesbian fling only to end up with a man (Nip/Tuck), dies (Nip/Tuck), sleeps with one male lead and gets artificially inseminated by the other (Nip/Tuck), flunks senior year and no one seems to care (Glee), forgoes a free education to live in New York (Glee) and makes out with a maid and then dies an infamous death as the Black Dahlia (American Horror Story).

Credit: Photo courtesy FX

Now, Murphy’s new upcoming show The New Normal doesn’t appear to have any lesbian characters in it yet. But it is co-created by a real, live gay lady in the form of out Glee writer/producer Ali Adler. And the premise is certainly gay. The half-hour comedy focuses on a gay couple (The Book of Mormon’s Andrew Rannells and The Hangover’s Justin Bartha) who use a surrogate to have a baby. Ellen Barkin plays the surrogate’s ultra-conservative, homophobic grandma.

Murphy also told Vulture he already had a three-year plan for that show, saying:

The New Normal is also a really great template because I know the last scene of the first season is the birth of that baby. It’s a five-year plan — first season is about getting ready for the baby, second season is about the baby, the third season is like, “We’re in our f—ing mid-forties and we need to have another baby!” New Normal is almost like a weird hybrid of Glee and American Horror Story. It’s good for me to write to something in the long and the short term.

So does that mean there will be a gimp suit and show tunes?

The story is apparently somewhat autobiographical as Murphy and his partner are engaged and talking about starting a family. He said he was interested particularly in writing Barkin’s conservative character, who he called “a modern-day Archie Bunker,” because “that voice is not on television right now.”

Um, while that voice may not be on the TV shows Murphy watches, it is definitely on TV. Have you watched C-SPAN for any length of time? How about Fox News?

Credit: Photo courtesy NBC

Murphy says ultimately he wants The New Normal to be a tribute to the Norman Lear shows of past.

This show in a weird way is a salute and an homage to his work in that it’s really about tackling social issues. The seminal childhood TV viewing experience for me was the episode of All in the Family where Edith almost got raped. Also on Maude, when Bea Arthur made the decision to have an abortion. I remember watching those shows and talking to my parents about them, and it was a way for my parents to talk about those things with me and feel comfortable doing it. So it really is something I’ve always loved since I was a kid, that form. I’m interested in doing a family show that presents difficult, sometimes controversial topics wrapped up in a very loving arena. This show is surprisingly gentle and very loving.

Having seen the preview trailer, the show certainly has potential. But that’s the maddening thing about Ryan Murphy, all his shows do. Whether any of them can follow through and reach their potential, well, that remains very much to be seen. And whether he can finally write a happy, healthy non-haphazard ending for a lesbian character is entirely another.

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