Thursday, August 30, 2012

TV Review: The New Normal

Let's begin with a disclosure statement, shall we? My day-job employer, KSL,  recently decided to not air NBC's new fall comedy "The New Normal," saying the show is inconsistent with the company's brand. This review is NOT commentary on that decision, it is a review of the show based on its pilot episode, which was recently made available by NBC for online streaming, based on the same critical standards that I apply to everything I review.

Now, moving on.

New Normal is the latest TV offering from controversy-courting and boundary-pushing creator Ryan Murphy, who previously gave us Nip/Tuck, Glee and American Horror Story. The show follows Bryan and David (The Book of Mormon's Andrew Rannells and National Treasure's Justin Bartha), a successful and loving gay couple who decide the time has come for them to expand their family. Georgia King plays Goldie, the skinny blond woman they choose as the surrogate to carry their child. The remainder of the cast is rounded out by Glee carry-over NeNe Leakes as Bryan's assistant, Bebe Wood as Goldie's daughter and Ellen Berkin as both Goldie's grandmother and the Sue Silverster-esaue white-woman-who-says-crazy-things character.

The pilot is straightforward, showing Bryan and David's decision to pursue parenthood after Bryan sees a baby while shopping and decides he wants baby clothes and baby to wear them and, in parellel, the shattering of Goldie's status quo and she walks in on her husband having an affair and decides to make something of herself (with the financial boost that surrogacy provides). The rest of the pilot is spent establishing character as we learn quickly that Bryan is the stereotypical feminine half of the relationship (because he wears skinny jeans), David the masculine (because he watches Football) and Berkin is an offensive, bigoted, racist.

It's hardly groundbreaking stuff and despite being on the peacock the show looks and feels as though David and Bryan once guest-starred on Glee and got their own spinoff. The directing is clean, the presentation is polished, the dialogue is zippy and while the 22-minute introduction is low on deep chuckles, it sets up the potential for a show with legs, much like the pilot for New Girl did last year.

The show's strength is actually the charming fun of Bartha and Rannells. Their yin-and-yang relationship is derivative like a lost episode of Will and Grace: The Will and Jack Story, but (so far) they walk the line of caricatures and character with a better sense of humanity than the cliche-robots the Glee cast has devolved into.

Ultimately, Normal is surprising in how un-surprising it actually is. From this limited peak, a viewer is likely to assume that the show could go a number of ways with equal possibility landing on utter disaster and limitless success. Besides showing a same-gender kiss in the record (I'll have to look it up, but that HAS to be a record) and  the occasional outrageous comment by Berkin's character, the show is mostly void of Murphy's modus operandi of daring and shocking material.

The KSL decision also offers little precedent to make assumptions of success. The most recent shows banned by the local affiliate (The Playboy Club and Coupling) didn't make it through a full first season. On the other hand, Saturday Night Live (which continues to be shown in Utah via the alternate KUCW) is one of the longest-running shows on television.

So, Mr. Murphy, let's see what you can do. B-

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