Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hopefully not the new normal for television

By Meg Walter

Ryan Murphy's new show The New Normal is even more problematic than Glee, if that's even possible. Like Glee, the production value is high. It looks more like a high budget film than a sitcom. The soundtrack is fun, the wardrobes spot on, and the sets enticing. But, like Glee, the characters are completely unbearable, making the whole ordeal exhausting at best and unwatchable at worst.

Goldie, yes, her name is Goldie, loves everyone! She's so open minded! So sweet! So blond! Sure, she steals her grandmother's car to drive across the country with her daughter who should probably be in school and on a whim decides to be a surrogate mother, but she's the hero and we can overlook her faults because she's tolerant and disagreeing with her choices makes us just like her villainy grandmother, Nana.

In the first two episodes Nana uses slurs to refer to gay men, lesbians, Latinos, black people, people who wear glasses, Asians, and the Jewish. Besides being highly offensive, these lines are very poorly written. "I feel like I ate a black and gay stew," suggesting that the show's writers drew random Sue Sylvesterisms from a hat or played Bigoted Madlibs to write their dialogue. Nana is the obvious foil to the shows other "progressive" characters. She watches Bill O'Reilly. She hates Obama. She's a closed-minded conservative, or conservative because she's close-minded, the show doesn't really seem to care which.

Bryan, of the David and Bryan couple, sees a baby in a department store and decides it's the cutest thing he's ever seen and he must have one, which is a totally legitimate reason to pay thousands of dollars for a surrogate mother have a child. Bryan loves to shop, thinks of foot ball half-times as Madonna performances, wants a skinny blond baby that doesn't cry, and says to David that he wants baby clothes and a baby to put them on. Like Goldie and Nana, Bryan is an extreme hyperbole, a stereotype in lieu of a person.

David, of David and Bryan, is the only character I found likable, responsible and multidimensional. Unlike his partner, David seems grounded and caring. He wants a child capable of cognitive thought, not just a pretty face. He thinks through what having a child will really mean for his future, and even hesitates before ultimately deciding it's the right step for his and his partner's future. He deserves better than this train wreck of a narrative.

Goldie's child Shania serves the sole purpose of exposing other character's motivations. "Mom, what were your dreams before you accidentally had me?" she asks, allowing Goldie to explain she  wishes she were a powerful lawyer, completely gliding over the fact that this child has been told at too young an age that she was unwanted and that her existence prevented her mother from living her dream.

Bryan's assistant Rocky is played by NeNe Leakes, who is apparently a big deal in The Real Housewives universe, and proof that a reality television star does not a good actor make. She delivers her Sassy Black Lady lines with all the enthusiasm of a sleeping sea slug. If NeNe were pulling this off, her character would be another cliche, but she's not pulling this off, so instead we get a flat recitation of a cliche script.

The New Normal is awfully bigoted for a show that so vehemently denounces bigotry. A show that dares us to defy stereotypes should not have a gay man concerned only with  superficials, an elderly racist conservative or a single mother who wishes her life were different. We call that reinforcing.

Meg Walter writes about televisions to justify watching so darn much of it. When she's not on her couch letting her brain turn to jello she's blogging at tobetomars.blogspot.com, playing with her baby girl, or beating her husband in board games.


  1. It's true, I don't know Megan personally, but I suspect we both have the wit and insight this TV show so clearly needs. Also, less racism.