Fall 2012 Pilot Review: The New Normal


Premise: David (Justin Bartha, The Hangover) and Bryan (Andrew Rannells, Girls) are a 30-something couple seems to have it all – a loving relationship, successful careers, and a nice house. But when the two decide to have a child through a surrogate mother, things begin to get complicated. They face judgement from several people, they confront their own doubts about their fathering abilities, and they must decide who will be the biological father of the child.

My expectations going in: Medium-low. I’m a big fan of Bartha, and I thought Rannells was great as Hannah’s gay ex on Girls, but the ad campaign put me off. Showing them both as pregnant men was kind of silly and lazy, and it seemed like a cheap tactic to appear “zany”. I half-expected one of them to give birth to a hoagie sandwich in the pilot.

My thoughts: It certainly wasn’t a great pilot, but it was a pretty solid start to the show. They did a good job establishing John and David as a loving, likeable couple with little fuss. Both Bartha and Rannells were charming and funny in the pilot, and they were very convincing as a couple. The fashion-savy, sharp-tongued character of Bryan really walks a fine line in terms stereotype, but I think there’s enough shades in the characterization and Rannell’s performance to duck cliché. Bryan is also strong, confident, and funny – and that’s never a bad thing for a television character to be. Bartha, on the other hand plays a bit more of the straight-man (so to speak), and I already really like his matter-of-fact, slightly neurotic gynecologist character a lot.

I also appreciate the show’s relative frankness (considering it’s on a major network) about gay relationships. These guys aren’t Cam and Mitchell from Modern Family. They kiss, they cuddle in bed, and there’s a palpable sexual attraction between them. It doesn’t feel forced, or like it’s there for “shock value”, and it actually adds to the show’s believability.

And I’d be remised if I didn’t say that this episode had some pretty funny moments. Ryan Murphy is one of the creators, and the pilot at times felt reminiscent of Glee’s edgy-ish first season. Ellen Barkin provides a lot of the humour as the bigoted grandmother of the woman who becomes David and Bryan’s surrogate mother. Who wouldn’t want to watch Ellen Barkin deride someone for his “ridiculous Fozzie Bear impression and self-diagnosed narcolepsy”?

However, the pilot definitely had its problems. Tonally, it was a little bit all over the place. It ranged from broad, over-the-top humour at times (not all of which worked), to attempts at more legitimate drama. I like the fact that the show wants to take a somewhat serious approach to exploring these guys’ relationship, and their doubts and insecurities. And I don’t think that part is bad (though the writing could be a bit stronger). I think they just need to find a way to make those dramatic moments feel a bit more believable with the rest of the show.

Also, the show takes a pretty moralistic approach to the whole idea of a gay relationship. In the pilot alone, David and Bryan face several people who look down on them because they’re a same-sex couple. And I don’t mean to minimize that inequality. Many gay people do face judgement on a regular basis, of course. But I am also hoping the show will decrease its focus on that negativity. First of all, it already got repetitive in the pilot, because I feel most humour involving ignorant, closed-minded people can really only strike one note. And secondly, I don’t want their “gayness” to become the characters’ defining trait. If the show wants people to accept that this type of relationship is the standard for the “new normal”, they should probably not have other characters constantly point out how strange and unnatural they think that relationship is. I think as long as the show finds a balance in tone, though, it’ll be fine.

Chances of Survival?: I predict it’ll make it to a second season If NBC is still propping up Whitney and Up All Night, they probably won’t just toss a Ryan Murphy comedy to the side. It’s already got complaints against it from certain groups, but I think there’s enough charm to pull it through the season.

Will I watch again?: Yes, I’ll give it at least a couple more episodes. Overall, I thought it was pretty good for a sitcom pilot, and I’m interested to see where the relationship between Bryan and David will go. As well, Justin Bartha is super cute, and I’m loving Ellen Barkin.

B-

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