After reading Ellen Ginsberg’s article on her favorite gay TV characters I started to think about my own gay TV icons. This led inevitably to thinking about my new favorite “gay” show. If you haven’t seen it, The New Normal is the sweetest show on TV right now. The series, created by Glee and American Horror Story’s Ryan Murphy, features a similar exaggerated reality-style as Glee but without the focus on musical numbers, although there are some of those too. It’s the story of a delightful pair of gay men, David and Bryan, played by Justin Bartha (National Treasure, The Hangover), and Andrew Rannells (Broadway’s Book of Mormon, HBO’s Girls) who decide it’s time to add a baby to their family. They end up getting more than they expect when they hire the lovely Goldie, played by Georgia King, to be their surrogate.
Goldie is a timid waitress from Ohio who, after discovering her husband in bed with another woman, decides to make a new life in L.A. for herself and her daughter Shania (Bebe Wood). She is quickly followed by her staunchly Republican and shockingly outspoken grandmother Jane “Nana” Forrest, played by Ellen Barkin, who is trying to lure them away from the den of iniquity she believes L.A. to be.
Barkin is like a modern day Archie Bunker, espousing harsh but often hilarious diatribes against all things liberal or alternative. Her character serves to highlight the opposing viewpoints on some of the serious issues the show takes on. Nothing seems to fall outside of its purview. It has touched on everything from gay marriage to cell phone addiction and from bullying to public breastfeeding.
The Real Housewives of Atlanta reality star NeNe Leakes rounds out the cast as Bryan’s sassy assistant Rocky. Although her stilted delivery is distracting at first, after a few episodes she grows on the viewer and has a few genuinely tender moments later on. The episode where she takes over producing duties on Sing, the thinly veiled parody of Glee that Bryan produces, is comedy gold.
The structure of the show is relatively formulaic in that each week a dilemma is set up for the cast to explore. After the ensuing high jinks, understanding is reached and their unit is stronger for it. But in each episode there is something that is memorable and hilarious. The second episode, “Sofa’s Choice,” features Shania’s uncanny impersonation of Little Edie from the cult documentary Grey Gardens to hysterical effect. In another episode, “Stay-at-Hom Dad,” the attendees of Shania’s princess party find David and Bryan’s lube in their nightstand and, mistaking it for clear lotion, rub it all over themselves. All of the characters antics are handled with a tongue-in-cheek understanding of its silliness and a tenderness that is ultimately heartwarming.
The strength of The New Normal really lies in its heart. Each week we see the soon-to-be new parents struggle with the impending changes and added responsibility of caring for a child coupled with the pressure of being modern gay men. The show somehow manages to balance itself between embracing and breaking gay stereotypes. It’s a far cry from the clubbing, sex, and drugs model of gay life seen in shows like Queer as Folk; but nor does it regulate its characters to a Will and Grace-style sexless, gay-best-friend zone where they can dole out sassy one liners and fashion advice. Not that there aren’t plenty of sassy one liners and catty fashion critiques but these are multi-faceted characters who make mistakes and battle against their inner demons but always seem to come together in the end. The cornerstone of the show is definitely the relationship between Bryan and David. Their romance is so gooey one can’t help but fall in love with their love. Like Glee, it can get a little preachy at times but the strength of the characters has made this a must watch show for me every week.
The New Normal airs Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30 central. The full season (to date) is currently available on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.