by Leah Waldron
This week marked the much-awaited premiere of Ryan Murphy’s new NBC sitcom, “The New Normal,” a 22-minute glimpse into the lives of “real” gay Americans who want to be treated—rightfully so–like everyone else. But is Murphy’s new series demonstrating “the new normal” for gay people in America, or “the new normal” for Hollywood depictions of LGBT characters?
Like many other LGBT viewers and film critics, I was on the fence about “The New Normal.” The premise was pretty interesting and the laughs kept coming, but the comedy was drowned out by the myriad of problems with the two leads, who were anything but normal. Like Cam and Mitch on “Modern Family,” David and Bryan are white, wealthy, good-looking, live in one of the most gay-tolerant areas of the country (Los Angeles), and want to/can afford to have kids. And “Modern Family” is just one example. You’ll find this same scenario with the gay couple Tom and John on “Smash” (since broken up) and Will and Vince on classic “Will and Grace” re-runs. When you trade out Los Angeles for Manhattan, all four couples are pretty similar: white, rich, fit.
Maybe the problem is that Ryan Murphy has one too many uber-gay story lines to juggle. When he created “Glee,” the gay characters were pretty well-written, until they ended up being magnets for the show’s PSA-style storyline (full disclosure here: I stopped watching “Glee” when Murphy crammed gay bullying, gay suicide, texting-while-driving and teen marriage into one episode). “Glee” was actually pretty good when it was about singing, but it progressively became so preachy that I, like other once “Gleek” viewers, had to turn it off altogether (I nearly threw up during the Christmas episode, when Coach Sue played the Grinch but was reformed when she saw the “Glee” kids singing to the faculty). Compared to Murphy’s saccharine story-telling, Mitch and Cam actually seem pretty “normal.”
Stereotyped gay couples aside, the other issue with “The New Normal” pilot, as more than one LGBT critic has pointed out, is the “baby as new accessory” theme. When Bryan (Andrew Rannells) is shopping at a designer West Hollywood clothing store, he sees a baby in a stroller and decides he simply must have one. Instead of showing a gay couple with real, “normal” desires to be parents, Murphy begins the show by making gay couples seem shallow, bored and pretentious. Bryan rushes home to tell his boyfriend, David (Justin Bartha) that he wants a baby, and within a few days, they are meeting with a surrogate company. Their “how do we get a baby problem” solved, the couple eventually finds a surrogate who is a bit closer to reality, a down-and-out single mother who needs quick cash.
I’m excited that Ryan Murphy is taking on the subject of gay parenting (Blaine and Kurt were not quite old enough for that plot addition on “Glee”), but I hope he tones down the gay couple stereotype by the season finale. If Joe Biden is right, and shows like “Will and Grace” do more for America’s perception of gays than LGBT activism, then “The New Normal” has its work cut out for it. Maybe Ryan Murphy should take a page out of “The Sarah Silverman Program”, which depicted the most real-looking gay couple on TV, Brian and Steve:
Or not. Maybe a happy medium?
NBC/The New Normal
Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Will and Grace
The Sarah Silverman Program