In typical Murphy fashion, ‘Normal’ has its moments
TV Review | 3 out of 5 stars
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 01:09
Like most Ryan Murphy productions, “The New Normal” tries to cover a lot of ground in a small space. Sometimes it works and all the various characters and plotlines blend together well. But other times, the show just seems like a series of missteps.
“The New Normal” stars Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells as David and Bryan, a gay couple who have decided they’re ready to have a child together. Georgia King plays single mom Goldie. Determined to turn her life around, Goldie has left her small−town Midwestern life behind for bigger dreams in Los Angeles. At first glance, these two sets of characters seem as if they could be on separate shows, and “The New Normal” often presents as such. But these individuals eventually come together when Goldie agrees to be David and Bryan’s surrogate in order to make money for law school.
During the scenes depicting David and Bryan together, “The New Normal” feels like an amusing, sweetly domestic comedy. For the committed couple, having a baby seems like the natural next step. However, both men are more than a little nervous about raising a child. Their moments of uncertainty provide much of the show’s comic relief and situational humor. Though they are incredibly different people, David and Bryan work well together. Their chemistry translates to viewers and will have audiences laughing and smiling.
Goldie’s story is little less light−hearted. Usually, scenes with Goldie come off as satires of the “underdog” role, chronicling the well−worn tale of the single waitress with a no−good boyfriend who beats the odds and ultimately makes something of herself.
After Goldie discovers that her boyfriend cheated on her less than five minutes after she left their house for work, she just wants to drive away and never come back. She asks her eight−year−old daughter Shania, played by Bebe Wood, where they should go.
“I’ve always wanted to drive to Hawaii,” Shania replies.
“I think we can make it to Honolulu on half a tank,” says Goldie — an Ohio resident — with nothing but sincerity in her voice.
Goldie may not be the smartest, but the viewer does get a chuckle from the television cliche of the upset character just picking up and driving off into paradise, even if paradise lies in the middle of the ocean.
“The New Normal” gets another jolt from the hilarious dialogue and fiery one−liners of Jane Forrest, Goldie’s antagonistic grandmother, played by Tony Award−winner Ellen Barkin.
Barkin has a touch for the crazier moments in the script and she sells them well. For example, when Jane sees a lesbian couple with a child, she begins to rant about how she doesn’t think two men should have a baby. When Goldie tries to explain to her that love is love and that those are actually two women, Jane becomes even more certain that the lesbians are just a pair of ugly men. It’s the kind of rant that could make the character seem overly crazy and offensive, but Barkin’s manic energy gives it just the right amount of absurdity to make it work.
NeNe Leakes, best known for her stint on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” plays Rocky, Bryan’s assistant. Unfortunately, the series doesn’t really seem to know what to do with her. She appears in scenes, rattles off a few quick, aggressive jokes and leaves. Her punch lines do hit hard — to one of Jane’s racist comments, she responds, “The last time I checked the diamond watch my gay boss bought me without his consent, it was 2012” — but something about her lines and her character feel off.
When the two main storylines come together, the show can’t decide which one of its many tones to follow. This makes the series feel slightly jarring. The show can’t be both a feel−good people−helping−people comedy and a bitter and quick one−liner show.
While “The New Normal” might need a few episodes to iron out some of these tonal problems, the talented cast and its genuine humor give it plenty of potential. It very well may develop into a solid sitcom.