Tuesday, September 25, 2012

5 Random Thoughts I Had After Watching the First Two Episodes of "The New Normal"

1. David and Bryan make a good couple on The New Normal, NBC's Tuesday-night freshman sitcom, but how unrealistic are they? In a sense, it's nice to see such seemingly well-adjusted longtime gay companions where one doesn't always have a eye on Grindr. Their relationship is straighter (as in no curves, no coloring outside the lines) than most straight relationships on TV! If that really were the new normal, opponents of gay marriage wouldn't stand a chance (and in the long run, they probably don't). But there's really little comic gold to be mined from it. The couple dynamic -- one's queeny while the other is slightly nerdy and could possibly pass for straight among the severely gaydar-challenged -- is not exactly a match made in sitcom heaven. Andrew Rannells (as Bryan) and Justin Bartha (as David) are appealing, but I wanted them to be funny, too, and so far they aren't.

2. In fact, the only one who did or said anything funny in the first two episodes was Ellen Barkin as Jane, the grandmother of David and Bryan's surrogate Goldie. But I wonder why she wasn't cast as Goldie's mother instead. I get that she's supposed to be the first of three generations of babies who had babies, but Barkin looks too darn hot to be playing a great-grandmother. Jane easily could have been a gay-unfriendly variation on Holland Taylor's dragon mama on Two and a Half Men, but Barkin gives Jane a little bit of vulnerability and turns her into what might end up being prime-time TV's most lovable bigot since Archie Bunker. She seems to be vaguely aware, on some level, of how inappropriate her racist and homophobic pronouncements are, but she just can't help herself. Look out, Julie Bowen! She's coming after you in the Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy category next year!

3. Georgia King is fantastic as Goldie, David and Bryan's surrogate, but the goody-two-shoes character is a bit of a bore so far. I think the actress is taking the material too seriously, treating the vehicle like it's a tony prime-time drama instead of lightweight fluff. Her best scenes in episodes 1 and 2 were the ones featuring Goldie and her ex-husband Clay (Jasyon Blair). Maybe I'm swayed by the fact that I could spend 22 minutes just staring at Blair, but I found Goldie and Clay's straight relationship to be a lot more interesting than David and Bryan's gay one.

4. I like Bebe Wood (as Goldie's daughter Shania), and her bonding with Bryan over Grey Gardens was kind of sweet, but since when is Grey Gardens a gay thing? I'd never even heard of it until the Jessica Lange-Drew Barrymore TV-movie remake a few years ago. Maybe I'm just too much like David, who has no idea what it is (prompting Bryan to make the two episodes' only bullseye observation, about gay men who pretend to be clueless about "gay" things to seem more "straight"), but the flashback sequence with the model of the Dynasty mansion seemed more authentically "gay" to me.

5. NeNe Leakes' reality-TV origins (The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Celebrity Apprentice 4) are showing because the lady, though fierce, cannot act. Unless she's being the sassy black woman (which pretty much seems to be her only purpose so far), her line readings sound too much like she's regurgitating memorized, rehearsed dialogue. As much as I like Leakes, I think an actual actress, someone like The Game's Wendy Raquel Robinson, could make Rocky more than just a stereotypical archetype. I wonder if Mo'Nique is busy. It's not like she's been doing anything since she won that Oscar. She might be just what this sitcom needs to seem less like the old normal and more like something new -- and funny.

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