Ann Romney or no Ann Romney, Modern Family‘s Cam and Mitch better watch out — there’s another couple vying to become America’s favorite same-sex pairing. The New Normal premieres on NBC on September 11, but the pilot is already streaming on Hulu — and, much like the first episode of The Mindy Project, it proves that Normal is a promising new series with a few minor wrinkles. Here’s what I took away from Episode 1:
1. If you like Ryan Murphy, you’ll love The New Normal
NBC’s new series bears its creator’s unmistakeable stamp: it moves at a lighting-quick pace, features gleefully over-the-top characters and dialogue, and tries to strike a balance between light humor and real pathos. The show also features appearances by Murphy’s evolving stable of repertory players; NeNe Leakes has ditched Glee‘s McKinley High for a spot as Bryan’s (Andrew Rannells) assistant, and a very special Murphy pal pops up for a cameo I won’t spoil here. Popular fans — there are still Popular fans, right? — will also recognize bad surrogate Melissa as Leslie Grossman, who played southern-fried cheerleader Mary Cherry on the late WB dramedy.
2. But it’s not just for Murphy fans
Despite its potentially sensitive subject matter — gay couple (Rannells and Justin Bartha, as David) hires young unwed mother (Georgia King, as Goldie) to be their surrogate — Normal may have a wider appeal than any other Murphy project. It’s neither as grotesque as American Horror Story or Nip/Tuck nor as frenetic as Glee or Popular. Plus, there’s no singing — at least yet. (Though if there’s any justice, that’ll change in a future episode; Rannells is the Tony-nominated former star of The Book of Mormon.)
3. Ellen Barkin is the new Sue Sylvester
Barkin plays Nana, an icy lady of a certain age with a “Callista Gingrich hairdo” and a mean racist streak. Try not to gasp when she calls an Asian character “Hello Kitty” or dubs Bryan and David “salami smokers” — and watch out for a final scene that attempts to humanize her by explaining why she’s prejudiced. The Madonna tribute video is coming any day now.
4. But Bryan and David also dish it out
Even though gay couple Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) are angry when confronted by Nana’s frank homophobia, the two of them aren’t really any more P.C. than she is. When looking through videos made by potential surrogates, the two laugh and roll their eyes at an overweight woman and one who’s into sci-fi. David also jokingly asks Goldie if she’s a Republican before allowing her to carry his and Bryan’s child. Tolerance!
5. Still, the actors’ chemistry make it work
When Bryan and David show physical affection — which, for the record, they do much more often than Mitch and Cam — they’re not making any sort of statement; they look and feel natural together, like a couple should. And though neither spends very much time with Goldie in the pilot, a scene between her and David indicates that King can hold her own against other members of the ensemble.
Have you watched The New Normal yet? If so, think it’ll make it onto your “Season Pass” list?