September 13, 2012 at 10:08 am EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Gay is ‘The New Normal’

‘The New Normal’
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Andrew Rannells as Bryan (left) and Justin Bartha as David in the controversial new NBC comedy ‘The New Normal.’ (Photo courtesy NBC)

Now that “The New Normal” is off and running — an online pilot teased the series while its first two regular broadcasts were Monday and Tuesday this week before settling into its regular Tuesday night time slot — most TV fans know the premise.

This latest creation from gay TV mastermind Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “Nip/Tuck,” “American Horror Story”), it tells of a happy young gay Los Angeles couple, Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha), who convince new-in-town Goldie (Georgia King) to be a surrogate so they can start a family.

The show’s off to a decent-enough start. Monday night’s network debut found it winning its time slot drawing about 6.9 million viewers, though about 45 percent of those who’d tuned in for lead-in hit “The Voice,” cut out for “Normal.” Some critics are calling the performances a “triumph over content.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker calls Rannells — best known for his Broadway turn in “The Book of Mormon” — “one of the hottest young talents around and he does as much as he can with a role that co-creators Murphy and Ali Adler seem to have conceived as a cross between Charles Nelson Reilly and Rip Taylor; all Bryan is missing is a bag of confetti to throw at his costars after deliving a punchline. It’s to Rannells’ credit that he made the premiere’s attempts at heart tugging, wuch as a home video made for the future baby professing ‘how desperately you are wanted,’ seem heartfelt.”

The San Francisco Chronicle praised its “humor, solid performances” and “snappily written script.” The Los Angeles Times said the pilot “felt flat or programmatic … but much was likable as well, especially the nonchalant tenderness between the male leads.”

During a conference call last week, Rannells, Bartha and King fielded questions on everything from where the show is headed, to working with Murphy to what they think about the controversy the show has generated (Salt Lake City, Utah-based NBC affiliate KSL has refused to air the show though it claimed it was more for the “sexually explicit content, demeaning dialogue and inciting stereotypes” than its “gay characters or LGBT families; Two Utah pro-gay groups in a partnership with GLAAD are screening the show for Utah residents).

“I actually do hope people are offended by it,” Bartha says. “I think hopefully it will get conversations started in family homes and that families who love it will love it for what it is, a compassionate and loving family with many positive aspects. And the ones who are offended by it or find that it strikes them as offensive, hopefully they will maybe realize that they’re bigots and they’re ignorant and possibly our show can usher in a little more acceptance. I don’t expect it to change anyone’s life, but I do think one of the wonderful things about television is its ability to start a conversation, to inspire people to have those watercooler chats maybe the next day. It starts that discourse.”

King, a British actress with extensive film and TV credits, says realizing the show was drawing controversy was “the biggest thrill.”

“It’s bringing up topics and questions and ideas that maybe people haven’t had to consider before,” she says. “It’s a privilege to be doing something that’s starting a great conversation.”

But if the show takes off, where could it possibly go once the pregnancy storyline is played out? Some have questioned whether there’s enough meat to the setting to warrant a long-running series.

Rannells says all early signs are great as far as he’s concerned.

“We’re shooting the fifth episode so far and we’ve read six scripts so far and I have to say, the shows just keep getting better and better. If you’re asking what the second season, the third season and so on will look like, we don’t think of it that way. The main reason we all signed up was because of Ryan and Ali and I think when you see the rest of these episodes, you’ll see that it’s not only a great set up, but in the following episodes, it really does explore the depth of each character and make them each indelible.”

“Ryan’s just been extraordinary,” King says. “He’s got such a wonderful reputation for not being too kind of plucky and fake. He’s very to the point and personally, I absolutely love that. He’s so candid and so clear in his ideas in what he wants and I’m very happy to be there when he’s directing.”

And though he hasn’t said much about his personal life, Bartha admits playing gay with Rannells has been easy.

“From the first time I looked into Andrew’s eyes, I knew I could fall in love,” Bartha says. “I have such a respect for him as an actor and as a person that it was immediately apparent to me that this could work. I just thought he was a funny, good looking, talented guy and he’s easy to be around, so that was the basis of it. … I really wanted to play it as a real couple who love each other and have struggles just like everyone else. Ryan keeps reminding us of that all the time. He’s always saying, ‘Let’s keep this as real as possible.’ It’s funny, but it’s also very, very real. It’s not a sitcom in the classic sense.”

And while it’s ultimately meant to be light hearted and comical, the cast says they hope viewers will take away something deeper.

“What we’re ultimately saying is that what we’re creating is perhaps no different from your family,” Rannells says. “All families basically start as unlikely folks coming together to create this family. Initially it might seem like this is awfully different, but the story we’re telling is really universal.”


Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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