Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The New Normal, season 1 (2012-2013) ***

TV-14, 22 23-min. episodes
Creators: Ali Adler, Ryan Murphy

Directors: Ryan Murphy, Scott Ellis, Miguel Arteta, Max Winkler, Elodie Keene, Bradley Buecker, Wendy Stanzler, Paris Barclay, Burr Steers

Writers: Ali Adler, Ryan Murphy, Adam Barr, Mark Kunerth, Mike Scully, Aaron Lee, Moshe Casher, Erin Foster, Robert Sudduth, Karey Dornetto

Starring: Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells, Georgia King, Bebe Woods, NeNe Leakes, Jayson Blair, Ellen Barkin

Guest starring: Michael Hitchcock, John Stamos, Ravi Patel, Isaak Presley, Sterling Sulieman, Jackie Hoffman, Michael Chernus, John Benjamin Hickey, Cheri Oteri, Barry Bostwick, Toby Huss, Kelly Keaton, Shannen Doherty, James Urbaniak, Kevin Christy, Stacie Greenwell, Marlo Thomas, Robert Reinis, Matt Bomer, Elisha Yaffe, Wendy Benson, Jackie Joyner, Kyla Kenedy, Lexi Jourdan, Anjini Azhar, Angela Matemotja, Sarah Stouffer, Mark Consuelos, Briana Lane, Jason Boegh, Sarah Burns, Erik Weiner, Jen Ray, Kerri Kenney, Phil Abrams, Nicole Richie, George Takei, Indrajit Sarkar, Lenny Jacobson, Greg Pitts, Mary Kay Place

“The New Normal” is yet another bold experiment by NBC that will most likely result in cancelation after only one season. They dared to ask the question: Can Americans accept a sitcom based on a family with a same sex couple at its core? Now of course, this is hardly the first time we’ve seen a same sex couple in a major sitcom. “Modern Family” has been a hugely successful sitcom that features a same sex couple raising an adopted daughter, but that couple is not the sole focus of the series. “The New Normal” decided to take on a great deal more social issues by making that family the primary focus of the series.

The two gay men determined to start their own family are hardly the only players in this series that also restructures its modern family to include the surrogate mother, her daughter, and her fairly bigoted grandmother. The series later also brings on one of the dads-to-be black secretary as a major player who becomes a single mom and the ex-husband of the surrogate mother as a supporting presence. The casting of Ellen Barkin as the grandmother also cast another very modern convention into the mix, a grandmother who is her own woman and is a sexy and sexual creature to boot. This show does not shy away from its issues.

It is also firmly a sitcom and not a preachy, heavy-handed social lesson. It has its social lessons but contains them in quirky and funny sitcom based plots that sometimes run into the silly, especially considering some of the issues it tackles. It doesn’t necessarily always work, but it is a brave show, even for these modern times.

It seemed to be one of NBC’s more successful new shows during the fall half of the season, but failed to bring viewers back when it returned for its Spring run. In many ways that’s a shame, since along with being fairly funny, this show seemed to have a new perspective to offer audiences. Although, I do wonder where it might go after the surrogate gives birth to the son that the gay couple needs to have their own family. I fear it might be a strain to come up with ways to keep this odd family together. I’m sure the writers will find a way given the chance. The show’s boldness had it tackle such a wide variety of issues in its first season, I wonder what might be left and if the show will succumb to more typical sitcom practices should it continue.

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