[07/24/12 - 08:05 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "The New Normal" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]

(written by Ali Adler & Ryan Murphy; directed by Ryan Murphy; TRT: 24:11)

The network's description: "These days, families come in all forms - single dads, double moms, sperm donors, egg donors, one-night-stand donors... It's 2012 and anything goes. Bryan (Andrew Rannells, "Girls," "The Book of Mormon") and David (Justin Bartha, "The Hangover") are a Beverly Hills couple and they have it all. Well, almost. With successful careers and a committed and loving partnership, the one thing missing is a baby. And just when they think the stars will never align, enter Goldie (Georgia King, "One Day"), an extraordinary young woman with a checkered past.

A Midwestern waitress and single mother looking to escape her dead-end life and small-minded grandmother (Ellen Barkin, "Ocean's Thirteen"), Goldie decides to change everything and move to L.A. with her precocious 8-year-old daughter. Desperate and broke - but also fertile - Goldie quickly becomes the guys' surrogate and quite possibly the girl of their dreams. Surrogate mother, surrogate family. "The New Normal" is produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Ryan Murphy Productions. Murphy serves as creator/executive producer and director along with executive producer/creator/writer Ali Adler ("Glee," "Chuck") and executive producer Dante Di Loreto ("Glee," "American Horror Story")."

What did they leave out? Look for a cameo by a certain Oscar-winning actress who's worked with Murphy before.

The plot in a nutshell: In a video to his unborn child, Bryan Collins (Andrew Rannells) recounts the journey that brought him and his partner David (Justin Bartha) to parenthood. It all begins in Ohio, as struggling waitress/former teen mom Goldie (Georgia King) discovers her husband's (Jayson Blair) infidelity. Crushed, she nevertheless sees it as a much needed wake up call to do something more with her life. "I want to drive to Hawaii," her precocious daughter Shania (Bebe Wood) suggests. And so they do - well, at least to California - much to the horror of Goldie's overbearing and unapologetically bigoted grandmother Jane (Ellen Barkin).

Meanwhile, Bryan gets a case of baby fever while out shopping and returns home to David, professing his newfound purpose in life. After a series of debates about their respective fears and preparedness - not to mention a reminder that families nowadays are anything but traditional - they settle on surrogacy. A disastrous attempt later, Bryan and David ultimately cross paths with Goldie, whom they sense a kindred spirit. She offers to carry their child while they in turn support her efforts to try law school, allowing her a chance to give Shania a better life. And so - again to Jane's, who follows her out to Beverly Hills, horror - their new normal begins.

What works: It's got an earnest and introspective spirit as all of the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves and emote profusely at the drop of a hat. Whether it's Goldie's Pollyanna-esque hopes and dreams, Bryan's bubbly anticipation, David's armored distress or even Jane's relentless sadism, everybody's a heartbeat away from breaking down into piles of emotional goo. But while it's a likeable show with the best of intentions...

What doesn't: ...it's just not a funny one. Aside from some thoroughly rehearsed barbs by Bryan's assistant Rocky (NeNe Leakes) - "The last time I checked, this diamond speckled watch my gay boss bought for me without his consent, it was 2012," she tells Jane. "Now why don't you take your Callista Gingrich hairdo and your racist mind back to the past or the South where they belong." - the pilot seems more than content to smile its way through creaky bits ("I thought your mother was a fibroid tumor," Jane explains to Goldie. "By the time I figured it out she had a face and I was screwed.") and eye-rolling cliches (Bryan's ringtone is Cher! Jane is labeled "Nana from Hell" in Goldie's phone!).

It doesn't help its cause that Rannells's Bryan and Bartha's David are a Venn diagram of the usual stereotypes as each practically shouts their respective traits (Bryan's an impulsive shopaholic! But hold on, David loves sports!). King's Goldie likewise is the unicorn of surrogates, unflinchingly selfless and absent doubt of any kind, while Barkin's Jane is brazenly one note, fueled with an embarrassingly cartoonish homophobia ("I happen to love the gays, I could never get my hair to look this good without them."). The end result is a tepid half hour that coasts on heart, lacking any real comic chops. While that may be good enough for some...

The bottom line: ...I like the funny in my comedies.

  [july 2012]  


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