The New Normal: Episode 4 review

28 02 2014

No idea what to blog about today, so here’s another review for The New Normal.

Episode 4: “Obama Mama”

Airdate: Sept. 25, 2012

Written by Ali Adler

Plot summary:

Goldie receives a letter but doesn’t mention what it says.  Shania’s class is having a mock election.  She says that most kids vote the way their parents do, but that she’ll be voting for Obama – implying that Goldie will be voting for Romney.  Anyway, Goldie’s not that interested in politics anyway, saying her grandma stole her voting card for the last election and voted for her.

Jane, a Republican, and Bryan and David have an argument about Obama vs. Romney.  She accuses Bryan and David of being racist because they support Obama simply because he’s black.  The gay couple counter by saying they have plenty of black friends – Jane can see for herself at the party they’ll be throwing in a few days.  In the meantime, they frantically try to find some black friends because, lo and behold, they actually don’t have any.

Eventually, Bryan is able to recruit Rocky, someone he works with (who is black).  He tells her to “invite as many friends as you want”.  However, at the party, the only friends who show up are white, and they get into a short argument about how assuming Rocky must have only black friends is actually racist.  After he explains the situation about how he really wants to prove Jane wrong, she says she invited her brother, who’ll be coming soon.

Bryan then goes up to the waiter of the party, who is also black, and discovers that the waiter is also an actor.  Bryan, who works in the film/TV industry, makes the waiter act throughout the night as if it’s an audition for Bryan.  The waiter agrees, and acts like “a black Frasier” (complete with snooty accent).

At the dinner, Goldie and Rocky’s brother, Clint, flirt and get along really well.  She tells him she’s single, and he asks her out.  Jane, who sees that they’re into each other, tells Bryan and David in private that they ought to tell all their friends that they have a baby on the way.  And they do, outing Goldie as their surrogate.  Jane further embarrasses her daughter by telling everyone that Shania, Goldie’s daughter, should be here.  Clint is shocked.  Goldie, humiliated, runs away.

Bryan, David, and Jane all argue yet again after the waiter reveals himself to be an actor.  David says the important thing is to find Goldie.  Shania leads them to a fast food restaurant, as she’s been craving red meat.  Goldie reveals that Clay, her dumb husband, is suing her for custody, and that the letter says she has to take Shania back to Ohio.

At school, Shania votes for Obama.  Bryan, David, and Goldie befriend an interracial couple who have kids, and they agree to have dinner together sometime to talk about being parents.  As the couple walks away, the husband says, “This is perfect.  We were just saying we need some gay friends!”

Comments:

Well, my feeling was right.  This wasn’t as good as the last episode.  Granted, politics and race are a hard thing to write properly, so I give them props for even tackling topics that are still controversial and could alienate viewers.  At the same time, while watching Jane go on and on at the dinner about Republic values while being completely oblivious to her own bigotry, I couldn’t help but think this:

Why are Bryan and David – no, why is anyone – putting up with her?  I realize they have to occasionally run into her because she’s Goldie’s grandmother, but quite frankly, why do they have to talk to her at all, if she’s going to say such mean things to/about them to their faces?  It’s one thing if Bryan and David tried to change her mind by rationalizing with her, but they don’t, and in many ways, this is what frustrates me sometimes about this show.  It’s almost as if the show is a soap box for Jane to spew her anti-everyone agenda with, little or insufficient rebuttal.  Yes, the show is trying to make her look like an idiot, and yes, she is supposed to be an antagonist.  But time and time again, I find myself wanting – needing – someone to give her the same kind of loud, in-your-face argument from the other side.  It’s almost as if the show doesn’t want to come off as overly left-wing (how the frick can it not when it’s based around a gay couple raising a family??) so instead of going on about liberal views, it posits right-wing ones.  I think this is probably because no Republicans are going to be watching this show and enjoying it.  Therefore, the only viewers would/should be those who are more liberal, those who already know that Bryan and David aren’t Sodomites or ruining families or what have you.  But still!  Argh.

Back to this episode.  Like I said, it’s tricky to handle big issues like race, and I don’t think it was quite successfully pulled off in this case.  The plot with Bryan and David trying to find black people for their party, not to mention the subplot with the waiter acting during the dinner, isn’t all that funny.  Yeah, it’s ridiculous, but really, who cares?

There were nice moments between Goldie and Clint, though I’m biased because I thought Clint was unbelievably good-looking…. sorry, I zoned out there for a sec.  The point is, that little scene with her and Clint said a lot about her character: she’s finally happy, she’s enjoying herself, she’s getting back in the dating world.  Good for her!

There was one other thing I thought didn’t quite work.  After Goldie confesses that she has to bring Shania back to Ohio because Clay is suing her, that’s a really emotional moment.  The next scene is at Shania’s school, at the mock presidential election, and suddenly, the tone jumps to excitement and anticipation.  Tonally, it’s a huge jump, and there should have been some other transition scene between these two.  Not only is there such a difference in tone, but Goldie is now suddenly content and no longer weepy, like magic.

So, all in all, race humour, for me, doesn’t really work.  Politics are also tricky.  Try again, The New Normal.





The New Normal: Episode 2 review

7 01 2014

Episode 2: “Sofa’s Choice”

Airdate: Sept. 11, 2012

Written by Ryan Murphy and Allison Adler

Plot summary:

Everyone waits on a blood test that will determine whether or not Goldie is pregnant.  In the meantime, Bryan bonds with Shania, who impersonates Little Edie from Grey Gardens.  He tries to get her to confess that she drew on the expensive couch in the house.  David questions whether he’s ready to have a kid in his life.  Bryan and David offer Goldie to live in their super nice guesthouse instead of the run-down (modest, really) place they’re living at now.  Upon Jane’s (Goldie’s grandmother) insistence, Clay, now Goldie’s ex, returns to get back together with her.

Eventually, Bryan figures out it was Jane who drew on the couch (to get Bryan and David angry at Shania).  David is ready to be a dad.  Goldie rejects Clay and asks for a divorce.  After moving in for a bit, she decides that she can’t accept Bryan and David’s offer to live in the guesthouse, saying it’s what they’ve earned, not her.  At the end of the episode, everyone learns that the blood test says Goldie is pregnant.  Group hug!

Comments:

Well, I like this episode more than I did the pilot, oddly enough.  Yes, most, if not all, the characters are still stereotypes (Bryan getting upset that the expensive, brand-name couch got vandalized, Clay is a Neanderthal straight man), but there are some interesting developments.  We see how David and Bryan met years ago.  Bryan doesn’t seem to have changed (he was the same flamboyant guy), but David, dressed like a geek and fresh out of medical school, is shy, socially awkward and wants to impress his (straight) friends by buying Bryan a drink.  That’s the kind of gay guy I want to see on TV.  Then we jump back to the present, and David is now not dressed like a geek, is well-groomed and handsome.  He’s nice to look at, sure, but he’s not as compelling a character as he once was, it seems.  At least for me.

Shania not fitting in at school is a familiar thing that Ryan Murphy’s been mining on Glee.  It makes sense, though, considering Shania is an oddball.  On the other hand, the Jane as the antagonist is already beginning to feel forced.  Yeah, I get that she’s the personification for all the Republican, conservative beliefs out there, but she’s so evil with no characterization that she comes off as a caricature/cartoon villain.  We know her efforts are going to fail, but that she’ll be back next week to try and ruin things again.  Not sure if she’s actually going to do anything besides be a one-note character (it also doesn’t help that Ellen Barkin delivers her lines in the same tone over and over again).

Maybe this is just me, but I’m beginning to really see Murphy’s writing, to the point where it pulls me out of the scene.  For example, Jane tells Goldie, ““Your daughter has no business spending time with those candy-packers in that Sodom and Gomorrah fudge factory”.  This is meant to be funny, I know, but it’s crass and feels like something Sue Sylvester would say on Glee.  It made me aware of the writing because although it might look funny on the page and be something Jane would say, it’s such an unnatural phrase that it doesn’t work in the show.

Also, maybe I’m just getting used to the pacing, but this episode doesn’t feel as hurried as the pilot.  There are still some cuts that are abrupt, but it seems as if the show is settling down, finding its groove.  I hope so, anyway.





TV Show Journal: The New Normal

5 01 2014

Did this last year for my TV pilot class and thought I’d post it.

TV Journal: The New Normal

Genre: Half-hour, single-camera comedy (like Glee); some talking heads, like Modern Family

Broadcaster: NBC (network); the show made news when the NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City, Utah, refused to air the series because the representatives were Mormon because, well, the show focuses on a gay couple and they don’t get killed instantly.  Fortunately, it did get picked up by the CW affiliate in the city, and airs on the weekends.

Timeslot: Tuesdays at 9:30pm EST, after another new comedy series, Go On (NBC’s comedy hour)

Stars: Andrew Rannells, Justin Bartha, Georgia King, Ellen Barkin, Bebe Wood

Creators: Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler

Season 1,

Episode 1: Pilot

Airdate: Sept. 10, 2012

Written by Ryan Murphy

Plot summary:

We are introduced to the main characters in the show.  One half of the gay couple, Bryan (Andrew Rannells) spots a cute child one day in a store and tells his partner David (Justin Bartha) that he wants to have a child.  After Bryan shows David how non-traditional families are “in”, the two decide to go on a hunt for the right surrogate.

Meanwhile, Goldie (Georgia King) finds her long-term boyfriend (of nine years) in bed with another woman one day.  This prompts her to change her life and to live her life the way she’s always wanted but never has, namely becoming a lawyer.  Goldie’s grandmother, Jane (Ellen Barkin) is a conservative who’s not fond of gays, and disapproving of just about anything Goldie does.  Goldie has a young, clever daughter, Shania (Bebe Wood), who follows in the tradition of being an unplanned child in the family.  After seeing a happy gay couple with a child on the street, Goldie realizes she wants to help other happy gay couples have a child.

Through an agency, she meets Bryan and David, who immediately love her and want her to be their surrogate to their child.  Bryan and David decide that they should use Bryan’s sperm, since Bryan is an only child and David thinks “the world needs more people like you.”  Just as Goldie is about to proceed with the implantation, her grandmother interrupts the procedure and reveals that Goldie’s father was actually gay, but that she put up with it anyway, despite being offended and grossed out by the thought that he was gay.  They go on with the procedure anyway.

The pilot ends with Bryan and David presenting Goldie a new lawyer’s suit for Goldie’s dream to go to school and become a lawyer.  Everyone is happy.  She checks the pregnancy test, and the show cuts to black.

Comments:

Well, Ryan Murphy does it again – or rather, tries to.  With Glee, he was interested in sharing his view about the importance of music and arts education in public high schools.  With The New Normal, he basically gives his flamboyant, stereotype Kurt his own show – if Kurt were a few years older and had a slightly less gay boyfriend.  It seems he thinks stereotypes are fun to watch, but quite frankly, I’m personally tired of them.  At the very least, a stereotypical gay character would be slightly less annoying to watch if he were actually different in some way.  But in the Pilot, this isn’t the case.  Bryan is the typical fabulously dressed, shopping-crazed gay.  The other characters seem fairly dull as well: David is “masculine” because he watches football and… that’s it.  Nene Leakes, who seems to be some sort of parental figure to Bryan, reprises her role, albeit with a different name, as sassy black woman (she first starred in the last season of Glee), while Bebe Wood, who plays David and Bryan’s surrogate saviour, walks around with the same wide-eyed, sad look the entire episode.  The only honourable mention in the show’s acting and characters is Goldie’s clever-beyond-her-nine-years daughter, Shania, adorably quipping lines like, “No one plans to have a kid when they’re 15, unless they’re in an extremist Christian cult!”  She easily seems to be the most logical and sanest member of the ensemble, which isn’t saying a lot.

Characters aside, the show’s pacing is way too fast.  The editing is too brisk, which makes the passage of time between scenes seem like days, or even the same day.  For example, David originally questions (but not opposes) Bryan’s plan to conceive and raise a child.  Good.  Room for lots of conflict.  This is quelled so easily – in fact, in one neat scene taking place in a playground – via Bryan’s argument that traditional families are no longer the only types of family in the world.  And magically, David is convinced, in what seems like the same day.  Other logical factors, such as financial matters, whether or not both of them are mentally ready to be parents, knowledge of how to actually care for a child, etc. don’t seem to matter, which is so frustrating to see.  If David and Bryan are representatives for gay couples everywhere, regardless of parenting ability, having a child for “cute little clothes” has got to be one of the lamest reasons out there.  In the Pilot alone, we go from gay couple thinking about having a kid, signing up to have a kid, meeting a surrogate, implantation, and finally seeing if she’s pregnant.  Sure, we’re on our way with the show, but the show spends so little time on breathing room that it’s almost as if someone pressed fast forward on this.

Still, I’m interested in seeing where the conflict will be, especially when, at this point, it all seems to be with Goldie’s Republican grandmother.  I wonder if the characters will be given more depth, as the premise of the show – gays having kids – is still a hotly-debated issue that is miles deeper than the shallowness presented thus far.

David Hinckley, of The New York Dailey News, says “The New Normal wants what Modern Family is having. But if we’re going to catapult from South Park to a Hallmark movie, we need a smoother ride.”  I really agree with this.  The pilot is so corny and gimmicky that when it presents genuine issues, these scenes feel fake. If they’re going for a comedy-drama, there needs to be something worth caring about, not just laughing about.