Previews Sept. 10, 10-10:30 p.m., NBC
Ryan Murphy’s trademark is creating buzzy television shows (see: Glee and American Horror Story) that are so outlandish they could only spring from his imagination (see: Glee and American Horror Story). The inspiration for the producer’s latest project, which is already buzzy but maybe not so outlandish, bubbles up from a much more personal place: his own life. Loosely based on Murphy’s current quest to have a child with husband David Miller, NBC’s The New Normal is a drama- filled comedy following the experiences of a gay couple — Bryan (The Book of Mormon‘s Andrew Rannells) and David (The Hangover‘s Justin Bartha) — as they attempt to start a family via down-on-her-luck surrogate Goldie (Scottish newcomer Georgia King). ”It’s like if Kurt and Blaine were grown-up and married and thinking about having a kid,” says Murphy, referring to Glee‘s beloved gay teen couple. Shows like Glee and Modern Family have teed up The New Normal to explore the next generation of gay story lines on television. ”I’d like to think they’ve allowed The New Normal to come to be,” says King, 25.
The rest of Normal‘s nontraditional family includes Bryan’s smart-mouthed assistant Rocky (The Real Housewives of Atlanta‘s NeNe Leakes), Goldie’s 8-year-old daughter Shania (Bebe Wood), and her homophobic, racist grandmother Jane (Emmy winner Ellen Barkin), whom Murphy calls ”the world’s worst in-law.” While the mix of personalities may not match your family portrait, the show is about ”everyone’s life,” says co-creator Ali Adler. ”In my family, there’s two moms and two houses and two kids.” (Adler’s ex is The Talk‘s Sara Gilbert.)
Of course, The New Normal (which previews on Monday, Sept. 10, following The Voice before moving to its regular Tuesday slot at 9:30 p.m.) wouldn’t be a Ryan Murphy creation without a little bit of controversy. Almost two months before the show was scheduled to debut, media watchdog group One Million Moms blasted it for exposing families ”to the decay of morals and values, and the sanctity of marriage,” while an NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City announced on Aug. 24 that they won’t be airing Normal because it’s ”inappropriate.” The cast and creators point out that this type of opposing viewpoint is actually part of Normal. ”Ellen’s character, Jane, she represents where a lot of the country is in terms of having resistance to gay marriage and gay parenting,” explains Rannells, 34, ”and we get to show all of that.” Jane is ”a throwback to Archie Bunker,” adds Bartha. ”We owe a lot to people like those in One Million Moms.”
Even so, Normal won’t try to be too political or heavy-handed. ”The New Normal couldn’t be a more preachy title,” admits Bartha, 34. ”But once you watch, your perspective about what that title means completely changes. It’s actually not preachy at all.” Murphy does promise story lines about things as benign as baby clothes, and Rannells hopes ”the gay stuff will eventually become an afterthought and not the main story.” Season 1 will follow Goldie’s pregnancy and the baby’s birth, and future seasons will delve into raising the baby…and possibly even more babies, if the show is lucky enough to have a long life. ”I hope we get to a place where we get to tell complicated, emotional stories that are as real and challenging as [stories about] straight couples,” says Adler. ”Straight couples get to cheat and lie and be bad parents. We should show them as an incredibly loving couple, but we’ll make more friends if they’re a little bit more flawed.”
—With additional reporting by Tim Stack