With a brand new work schedule and a yen to try something new, I noticed that Glee creator Ryan Murphy has a new show out - The New Normal. Well, I love Ryan Murphy, at least when I am not hating Ryan Murphy, so I thought I would try this out.
I figured this might go the way Glee did; brilliant writer/producer comes up with fresh new concept that sparkles with humor and a new way of looking at things for at least 13 glorious episodes before becoming overburdened with its own runaway success, causing a rapid and frustrating descent into a quagmire of painful stereotypes and Murphy's own special kind of self-righteous sermonizing, as insistent and one-dimensional as anything ever to be spewed from a right-wing pulpit. .
Glee's descent into preachy purgatory took an entire season. For The New Normal, Ryan has dispensed with the stage of the show where it's fresh and funny altogether, and has gone straight for the sermons shoved down our throats. I am 100%, entirely, completely in favor of everything he is preaching to us, and he's doing it so badly this is almost unwatchable.
The full recap of this pilot episode is after the break.
The episode begins as Bryan, an effeminate gay man so exaggerated he makes Kurt Hummel look like.... well, somebody who might have been a star football player back in the day... is tapping impatiently on his computer. It goes boink. Oh, I am sorry, Bryan, I stand corrected. It goes bing. A sassy, smart personal assistant comes to the rescue of her hapless boss, and we see... Uh, hi, Roz? What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be off conspiring with Sue to overthrow Figgins? Apparently this character is not Roz. Roz has a glittering bronze medal; this character has glittering high heels, which apparently enables her to reach the top branches. She sets the laptop right with a single press of a button, and Bryan begins speaking earnestly to his computer.
He is leaving a message for the child who is coming. A moment of love and joy passes over his face, wiping away the smarmy stereotype with a millisecond of genuine emotion. He wants the child to know how desperately he (or she?) is wanted... And then he realizes that we, the audience, don't know why this is an outrageous moment. He decides to backtrack, explain himself, and ruin that lovely genuine moment that he shared with us.
Bryan tells us that it all began in a faraway land called Ohio - what is it about Ohio, anyway? If this is a hit, is he going to have Glee characters come to visit? Will Bryan end up giving Sue parenting tips? If Bryan's secretary meets Roz, will they both explode from the shock?
Two blonde women, Jane and Goldie, mother and granddaughter, are driving in a car in the mystical fairy tale land of faraway Ohio when Jane stops in slack-jawed shock and horror at a traffic light. She has seen something horrible; two women are walking down the street holding a baby. Of course, so that we will immediately recognize them as a lesbian couple, they are both built like linebackers. Jane makes a homophobic comment that wouldn't pass muster at a Tea Party rally, and her ten-year-old great-granddaughter scolds her. Jane makes a crack about loving her gay hairdresser, and Goldie remarks that the lesbian couple obviously love each other as the two women kiss. Jane calls them ass-campers, cementing the tragically inaccurate idea that all homophobic bigots are this blatant and obvious in the spewing of their hatred, and the blonde women proceed to argue about whether the lesbians are women or not.
Archie Bunker became a cultural icon spewing hateful rhetoric, but somehow this does not work as well as All in the Family did. Possibly it's because Archie Bunker was an uneducated blue-collar dunderhead in the 1970s, and this is an obviously educated upper-middle class woman in 2012. Jane, done trashing two strangers who were not bothering her, proceeds to berate her own granddaughter for ruining her life by having an illegitimate child as that same child sits quietly in the back seat listening to this mess. This lovely woman compares her own daughter, Goldie's mother, to a thyroid tumor, and throughout it all manages to be almost unbearably nasty without actually being funny once.
Goldie walks through the door of her house to find her husband, Clay, screwing a bored Asian lady who is arousing him with dutiful dirty talk. "The United States is the most powerful country on earth." I am going to presume that Goldie has been on to this jerk for a long time, because her response, while appropriate, is not believable from a woman who has just discovered her husband's infidelity for the first time. Less than ten seconds after finding them, she hands the Asian girl some bleach and tells her how to do his laundry; Goldie is leaving him. Yes, she tells the ASIAN girl to DO HIS LAUNDRY. Really. They did that. Did Goldie tell the new girl what sushi recipes he liked best, too?
While Goldie's life is falling apart around her, Jane waits in the car and tries to regale her great-granddaughter with tales of her Girl Scout Cookie sales glory. Little girl picks up the "Excessive preachiness" baton and calls her Nana a bigot. To illustrate her point, Nana obligingly mispronounces "Chipotle" and declares it to be Spanish food. However, when Goldie returns in tears to tell her grandmother what happened, Jane bursts in on Clay and his little geisha with a gun, thereby earning the accolade "Horribly offensive bigoted character with the heart of a lion who protects her own." After all, Ryan Murphy doesn't want his characters to be two-dimensional. Still.... she does not shoot him because she... could not live in prison without her Lean Cuisine? Seriously, who wrote this garbage?
Goldie decides it's time to blow this awful joint and take her daughter someplace else, someplace better, someplace amazing. I think she was hoping Modern Family might take them in. Goldie decides to drive from Ohio to Hawaii. That's an impressive car.
Bryan, the Obviously Gay Character, flounces in to see his partner, the Obviously Superior Gay Character Who Can Pass for Straight, drinking a brewski and watching football. You see, Bryan was shopping - trying to look like Mary Tyler Moore, for some odd reason - when he saw the cutest thing he'd ever seen. He just had to have one. It.... was a baby. Yes, the effeminate character drools over the cute baby with the same enthusiasm he'd try on a divine pair of shoes. He even went out and bought little baby outfits, and now he wants a baby. They could buy him a little doll for all the dignity they are giving him. They really do make him come off as being THAT shallow. David, being macho enough to pass for straight, gets to be the sensible one in this dialogue, of course, and Bryan finally wins the argument by telling his masculine partner what an amazing father he will be. Of course, David will do all the hard work. Bryan wants to be the "Fun Daddy." Because he's effeminate. Right.
If they ever start making Kurt Hummel this shallow about substantive things, I will... uh.... write a pissy review and sulk for three months, like I did after last spring's finale.
We now move this couple to the park, where David and Bryan continue to feed us PSAs at rapid fire pace.
- Is it responsible to bring a child into the world as part of a non-traditional family? Why, yes, of course, David; after all, there was once a black kid, raised by his grandmother, who came out all right, even though people are STILL badgering him about his birth certificate.
- The older woman chasing around two little boys? See how great it is to be an Untraditional Family because you had your eggs frozen. This character breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the camera. They aren't even trying to make this seem realistic anymore.
- The tiny adult walking with a child her own height? See how great it is to be an Untraditional Family because she took the medical risk to get pregnant despite her size. This little lady is also talking directly to the camera. She isn't even talking to David and Bryan. These scenes really do play exactly like PSAs. Although it was kind of cute to see mother and daughter driving off in a Barbie car.
"Abnormal IS the new normal" declares Bryan, and I wonder why he's telling this to David rather than to the fourth wall.
That being decided, the guys set up an appointment with a guy who advertises surrogate moms as if they were wallpaper samples. Femme Bryan agrees that they don't want a fatty; serious, dignified macho David is interested in getting a mother who is intelligent. Femme Bryan tries to order a "skinny blonde child who doesn't cry." The guy from the fertility service refers to the surrogate mother as an "easy bake oven." And who is going to be the biological father? Both David and Bryan want this job. However, David is the mature, sensible macho guy who can pass for straight, and Bryan is a flaming femme. Guess who is going to be declared worthy of procreating.
The guys put off this potential crisis and look at videotape about potential mothers. The first one is too fat to please Bryan; the second too geeky for David. One of the women has had nine abortions. Not... funny, Ryan. Gwyneth Paltrow comes gets a cameo, because it's been far, far, far, far, far too long since we've been inflicted with a Gwyneth overdose, and the guys grab the phone to order her.
Goldie and her daughter have made it to the ocean, and the little girl is dancing on the sand. She asks her mother awkwardly what her dreams were before she got accidentally knocked up, and as a response we get a weird, forced trial scene that doesn't make any sense. The child spouts sage advice to her mother that rings entirely false, and Goldie gets a phone call from Nana From Hell. Seriously. That's what she put on the caller ID. Forced, forced, forced. Nana bellows at Goldie for stealing her car (which is a legitimate thing to be upset about) and ruins the argument by making nasty comments about an armless man she met on the bus. Seriously, for a show to be satire, you have to make fun of things real people actually do. Oddly enough, Goldie decides she doesn't want to live with this nightmare anymore and decides not to come home. Of course, she still has Jane's car.
Bryan and David meet their first surrogate mother, a pretty blonde named Melissa. They've put their bun in her Easy Bake Oven, and now she's holding it hostage. Two minutes into the conversation, she demands a BMV, and when they hesitate to meet her demands she orders a gin and tonic and she lights up. Pity. Good surrogates are so hard to find these days.
Bryan and David are walking a dog in a baby stroller through the park, practicing their parenting skills, when the guy from Expanding Families calls them. He's apologetic about Melissa, who was recommended by Celine Dion. He has a new surrogate in mind...
It's Goldie. She's going to escape from her dead - end life by giving birth to their child. She'll get paid $35,000 for carrying the baby, and this is how she's going to make her own dreams come true. She's requested a gay couple so that she can spout more PSA's about how A Family Is A Family and Love is Love.
Bryan is so taken with Goldie, he decides that he no longer wants his sperm to be competitive with David's. The femme gay guy yields to the macho gay guy as the one more worthy of being a biological father. Yes, this damned well is the message, and it's becoming almost alarming. For a man who is so hell-bent on making us all become more tolerant of people and practices that are not mainstream, Ryan Murphy is sure dismissive of effeminate gay men. Combined with the depiction we have of the relationship between Blaine and Kurt on Glee, and it's really clear that his preference for manly men is consistent and deliberate. On the plus side, these two guys got to touch while lying in bed together, and they even kissed each other. Once Bryan has given up on the idea of being the biological father, David is suddenly sold on the idea of doing the job.
Goldie and the guys meet at the fertility clinic. It's the big day - she's going to be inseminated. David, the manly gay guy who is the biological father, wishes to observe the procedure. Bryan, the faggy gay guy who gave up on being the biological father, is too squeamish to observe the proceedings. Besides, he has to hang around making painful banter with Goldie's daughter. This allows Ryan Murphy to set up a scene that shows Goldie and David alone together as the "real" parents. David breaks down because he's so stressed at the idea of being strong for other people, and he makes a Simon and Garfunkle reference that half the audience probably don't understand. Goldie didn't. So why is David crying?
Because he's never actually held a baby more than four minutes old. They went through all those surrogate swatches to find the best shade of mom, but he didn't prepare himself mentally for his role as dad. Goldie, who has known David for about five minutes, tells him he's going to be an amazing dad as if she actually had a clue as to whether or not this were true. Clearly, she wants that $35,000.
Nana picks this exact moment to barge into their lives. The Asian girl who was screwing Clay used some cell phone Facebook and twitter messages to figure out where Goldie had gone; gratuitous joke about Asians and computer inserted. It is not less offensive if the offensive character says it. Jane starts howling about the giant homosexual element in the room; I am surprised she's not still mad about the car... or that Goldie abruptly disappeared without warning, scaring her grandmother to death... or about the fact that her granddaughter is having another person's baby for money... no, she's mad because the couple she's carrying this baby for are gay.
Roz... or whatever the secretary's name is... shows up to give her boss a lunchbox full of poached eggs so that Jane can make racist assumptions as well as homophobic slurs. Roz .... uh... the secretary... I swear I can't find her name in the press releases for this show, and it's becoming annoying... somehow manages to understand that Jane is squawking because she thinks the poached eggs are human embryos from Roz (I give up) fertilized by the gay macho guy to go inside her granddaughter. Never mind that the woman drove thousands of miles to find that granddaughter. Maybe they should be a little more honest about this dynamic. Nana rants about black and gay stew, which does not ring true. Nana has driven all this way; she's got to have something more on her mind. If not... this script is unusually poorly written, even for Ryan Murphy.
Goldie addresses her grandmother's concerns with another pat PSA about being who you want to be. We have a few more definitions of what "normal" should be, and then Nana reveals that her husband, Goldie's grandfather, was a closeted homosexual, and she caught him in the middle of a sexual act with another man.
Yeah, this is why she drove across the country to keep Goldie from becoming a surrogate. Sure. Goldie does not want to go home with Nana. She wants to make $35,000 while Making a Difference.
After Goldie and The Real Dad go back into the clinic to finish procreating, Jane reveals her real issue to Roz (I give up) and Bryan. Goldie's mom ran away and left Goldie with Nana at the age of eight. There's a real family tradition of unwise pregnancies in this family. Maybe, just maybe, that is the larger issue for Nana.
And now... we are up to speed. Bryan is once again talking to his unborn baby via Skype - that's a neat trick - while David paces at the bathroom door. Goldie is taking a pregnancy test. As they wait for the results, Bryan gives Goldie a gift; they have gotten her a suit, in hope that some day she may wear it as a lawyer. She is helping them with their dream; they wish to do the same for her. Goldie picks up the stick to check the results... and it all goes black.
Of course she's pregnant. Otherwise, they would not have a series. Of course, if the writing stays this forced and offensive, they might not have a series anyway. It's got all the worst parts of Glee and none of the awesome singing and dancing.