E4, Thursdays, 9pm
The New Normal is the latest American sitcom to come speeding across the Atlantic. Before you run for cover saying 'no more' and grasp tightly to your worn out box set of Friends, the New Normal (we are told) is different, fresh and let's be honest very camp.
This sitcom, brought to use by Ryan Murphy (co-creator of Glee) and Allison Alder, can be seen as a no holds barred comedy with a modern twist on the American dream. Set in Los Angles it follows the trials and tribulations of gay couple David (played by Justin Bartha) and Bryan (Andrew Rannells). The couple meet single mother Goldie (Georgia King) who is escaping Ohio and her cheating husband. She decides to become their surrogate to help her save for law school and to raise her daughter. Goldie's quirky daughter Shannon (Bebe Woods) and larger than life racist, homophobic, anti- Semitic, Republican grandmother Jane (played by Ellen Barkin) also feature.
Sure gay parenting has been in sitcom for decades; Carol and Susan in Friends and more recently Cameron and Mitchell in Modern Family but The New Normal goes further by making it the central storyline.
The show hit the headlines in America even before it aired with outspoken criticism from right wing organisations such as One Million Moms (OMM) asking Americans to boycott NBC. OMM's statement declared:
'NBC is using public airwaves to continue to subject families to the decay of morals and values, and the sanctity of marriage in attempting to redefine marriage. These things are harmful to our society, and this program is damaging to our culture... Millions of Americans strongly believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman. NBC's "The New Normal" is attempting to desensitize America and our children. It is the opposite of how families are designed and created. You cannot recreate the biological wheel'.
However it seems despite the hype such protest has had no effect on the show and it continues to have a loyal fan base in the US.
The show does an excellent job showing the process of surrogacy and the difficulty prospective parents go through in an after school special style. I particularly enjoyed David and Bryan choosing an egg donor because she looked like Gwyneth Paltrow, and who was actually played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Moreover the reactions of David's straight male buddies is pure comic gold and the line 'David, you're gay, you could have avoided this whole parenting mess,' honestly had me in stitches.
The real comedy value however comes from grandmother Jane. Her torrid rants of abuse are excellently delivered by Barkin, employing a 'you're either with us or against' mentality - you're either in favour of gay parenting or you're a right-wing homophobe. With such lines as 'don't worry we aren't staying long enough to catch anything' when entering David and Bryan's home, you will spend most of the early episodes in a state of open-mouthed shock. The plot development seems to be that Jane is slowly becoming less judgmental of alternative lifestyles but without these rants I fear the comedy which is left may not be enough to sustain audience figures.
The show does go on to make wider social comments on single parenting, race and age, all of which are well made and I support but it does feel like a Peter Tatchell campaign video for equality and not light entertainment. I do not see it changing attitudes or having any wider social implications, as it will simply be ignored by those on the right.
My problem with the New Normal, while easy viewing, is that it isn't the best comedy out there. Despite the quality acting and cast, once you've heard Barkin rant you can switch over to be brutally honest. Its apparently 'ground breaking' theme sadly will be the only thing it is remembered for and not much else.