Judge Brett Cullum likes heartwarming inappropriate family comedies.
Face it, abnormal is the new normal!
Ryan Murphy created small screen sensations such as Glee, Nip/Tuck, and American Horror Story. The New Normal was his bid for a sitcom success to add to his long list of critical and television hits, but the show only lasted a season before being canceled. It was a little too much like Modern Family in that it was dealing with the issues of relationships redefined for the new millennium; primarily, two gay dads producing a kid with a surrogate much like that "other" sitcom's characters. Viewers and critics found it offensive with stereotypes thrown out for gays, African American women, Republicans, transsexuals, and just about any other group you can imagine. It was a rough road for The New Normal. Despite the slings and arrows of harsh criticism, I found a lot of heart and funny moments in the show that come out on a repeat viewing. It was an enjoyable season about several unlikely characters finding common ground, and stereotypes finding their way to several layers and dimensions of humanity. The facts are that it may have been misunderstood by the very choir it was attempting to preach to, but it was a story that should have resonated more with all the freaks who make up the new normal in America.
Facts of the Case
Hollywood wealthy same-sex couple Bryan (Andrew Rannells, Broadway's The Book of Mormon) and David (Justin Bartha,The Hangover) want a baby, but it's tough to find the right surrogate. Goldie Clemmons (Georgia King, One Day) has just arrived in Los Angeles with her strangely smart 9-year-old daughter Shania (Bebe Wood, 30 Rock), and she needs some help to make her dreams of law school come true. So Bryan and David decide to knock her up and help her out while she carries their baby. The only bad news is her ultra-conservative grandmother Jane (Ellen Barkin, Sea of Love) has followed Goldie all the way to the West Coast from Ohio and does not approve. Luckily for all of them, Bryan's sassy black assistant Rocky (NeNe Leakes, The Real Housewives of Atlanta) is there all too ready to spar with her.
The New Normal premiered on Sept. 10, 2012, and lasted twenty-two episodes until its finale in early April of 2013. It created controversy from the start when KSL-TV, the NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City refused to carry the series on moral grounds that it was against their core beliefs. The station was owned by the Mormon church, and they deemed the material and jokes not appropriate for "family prime time viewing." Oddly enough, the series also got criticism from left wing proponents who found some of the jabs at minority groups disturbing. Left groups thought the mincing gay men were too quick to flaunt materialism, and that the black woman in the series perpetuated a certain myth revolving around her slackerish sassiness. This all reached a head when there was a joke about an intersexed character which was deemed derisive and outraged queer culture watchdogs. Ratings were okay to start, but the show never gathered enough steam to be a hit. It was canceled after the first year, but the finale did serve as a nice conclusion to the series, since the creators knew in time that their likely end was drawing near.
The New Normal often played out structurally like an ongoing Woody Allen film with characters going at each other on pop culture issues while dealing with drama, and then occasionally breaking the fourth wall and talking straight to the camera to explain their feelings or thoughts. Humor was usually kicked off by something extremely inappropriate like somebody picking on a handicapped person, one of the characters reacting heroically, and then the handicapped person calling the heroic character "fag" to his face. The New Normal was never afraid of anything taboo, and let fly with some real zingers and rants. Ellen Barkin and NeNe Leakes got the best and most offensive moments thanks to their willingness to play a stereotypical Republican sparring with a liberal California black woman minority. Yet what was most endearing was watching these two foster an uneasy friendship that resulted in a great softening of both women's ire with each other. At the heart of The New Normal was a good story about how a situation like two guys having a baby shows what a melting pot America really is. Sharp tongues were on display, but so were softening hearts and barriers to be broken.
Given the one season and then done fate of the series, there is not much to pile on a DVD set. Don't expect a super deluxe package, because in truth it's pretty bare bones and even a little chintzy. This series is being marketed exclusively on Amazon through a "burn to order" DVD program. The quality of the image is fine without any issues, but it is softer than expected with only a stereo sound mix. There are also no extras on the discs, you basically just get the episodes with nothing else. Everything has a quick-fix feel to it, but nice to actually have the whole run of shows in one package. It's good to find it out there even if the fear is it won't sell enough to merit a mass production release with bells and whistles.
The New Normal: The Complete First Season contains an interesting show that became a lightning-rod before being summarily canceled due to flagging ratings. It was Ryan Murphy's bid for a successful sitcom, but it was too much like Modern Family and too unapologetically unafraid to display and poke at stereotypes to feel safe. I enjoyed the story arc of two gay men coming to terms with the idea that they had to create a modern family to deal with a baby, and that included embracing a straight woman, her smart daughter, a Republican grandmother, and a black "aunt" who were all going to shove their way into a baby's life. The show was never truly allowed to blossom, but we do have twenty-two episodes to enjoy, even if they are on a bare bones "burn to order" set of DVRs from the world's largest online retailer.
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