NBC’s most promising new half-hour, “The New Normal” exhibits some of the excesses audiences have come to expect from “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck” creator Ryan Murphy, but also contains heart and a message. More unabashedly political than most network fare, the show — about a gay couple and the woman who becomes their surrogate mother — expands the non-nuclear family, thus providing its title. There’s much to like in the pilot, along with warning flags as to where the series could easily skid into the Pacific Ocean.
NBC is seemingly hoping the breakout character will be Ellen Barkin, who plays a bigoted grandma with nary a kind word for gays or minorities. She’s the straw woman set up to be knocked over, as well as to introduce elements of outrageous humor.
By contrast, her granddaughter Goldie (Georgia King) — who had a baby as a teen — is sweet and vulnerable. When she walks out on her cheating boyfriend, her young kid (Bebe Wood) innocently tells mom she’d like to drive to Hawaii. Leaving Ohio, they do the next best thing: Point the car west and don’t stop until they hit the beach in L.A.
There they meet Bryan (“The Book of Mormon’s” Andrew Rannells) and David (“The Hangover’s” Justin Bartha, this time actually getting to hang around throughout the festivities), who decide they want a child despite being reminded “you can’t return a baby to Barneys.”
Cash strapped, Goldie agrees to become their surrogate — or as the process is colorfully described, “like an Easy Bake Oven, with no legal rights to the cupcake.”
Written by Murphy and Ali Adler, the pilot races through a whole lot of character beats, and manages to quickly establish the central quartet as slightly wacky but lovable, while making the case that family is wherever you find it.
Those sentiments, naturally, will be polarizing in today’s climate — especially with the conspicuous jabs the show takes at conservatives — though the acceptance of gay parents is clearly less of an issue among the younger audience NBC covets most.
As for the aforementioned caution signs, it’s not hard to see “New Normal” veering into caricature, especially with Barkin as a sort of latter-day Archie Bunker; and one-time “Real Housewives” player NeNe Leakes, who Murphy has featured on “Glee,” as Bryan’s assistant. The show also will seek a mix between screwball comedy and heart, which is considerably harder to master than “Modern Family” has made it look.
In a sense, this series actually seems like the spiritual companion to “Modern Family” that ABC has fruitlessly sought. Instead, it’s going to be asked to find an audience on NBC, which — even with “The Voice” kicking off the night — ought to temper expectations.
“New Normal” won’t be for everybody, but there’s enough here to suggest it can connect with a loyal core, enticing some to stick around and see what develops.
Beyond that the Ultrasound gets fuzzy, and the series will have to survive in what’s been pretty barren primetime real estate. Then again, for NBC that’s the old normal.