by David-Elijah Nahmod
On Tues., Sept. 11, NBC unveils a show that might just change the TV landscape. Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee, Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story, offers a show not only with gay characters, but a series that's about its gay characters. Murphy, who's openly gay, co-created The New Normal with Glee writer Ali Adler, who's a lesbian.
A series that's as gay as this is bound to stir up a little controversy. Last week, word surfaced that KSL-TV, the NBC affiliate for Salt Lake City, would not air The New Normal. KSL management said that the show was "inappropriate." KSL, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has refused to air other NBC programs over the years, including Saturday Night Live. Fortunately, KUCW, Salt Lake's CW station, will be airing The New Normal on weekends.
Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha head the cast as Bryan and David, a gay couple starting a family with the help of surrogate mom Goldie (Georgia King). A short preview clip at NBC's website promises a show that will be topical, deal with real issues, and make us laugh.
Rannells is an openly gay actor who's made his mark on Broadway. Appearances on the Great White Way include Hairspray, Jersey Boys, and The Book of Mormon, for which he received a Tony nomination.
"I immediately jumped on board," said Rannells, "because, as a gay man, it's hard to find projects where you can play a gay man as a fully developed character, not just the best friend or the bitchy boss. This is a fully developed person that I get to play. Certainly the gay is a big part of it, but the gay is also just a fraction of what I get to do in the show."
Bartha is best-known for his roles in "straight guy" films such as The Hangover and National Treasure. The actor, who's been romantically linked with several women, jumped at the chance to play Rannell's onscreen partner.
"I just look to do quality," he said. "I was sent some television stuff that I didn't think was quality or relevant. I had read about Ryan doing a show with Andrew. I'd also seen The Book of Mormon, and thought he was brilliant. So I called, I kind of initiated it. It just seemed like the best-quality project out there. It talks about love, and it talks about real issues in a non-trite way that is also entertaining. So it's a show that I'd want to watch, and I wanted to be a part of it."
The cast also includes big-screen character actress Ellen Barkin as a conservative character who's not all that comfortable with the sea change taking place in society. She's not unlike the infamous Million Moms who protest everything that's even remotely gay.
"I think every person in a group has a right to protest and not like something," said Ryan Murphy. "I always find it to be interesting when people take that position before they've seen it. I think if they [the Million Moms] watched the show, they would love it, because for the first time they're represented."
But Barkin is no Million Mom. "As an actor, when I read the script, I just thought, 'Oh, Ryan Murphy, with his big beautiful brain,'" she said. "Along with Ali Adler, he came up with a way to reach out to a very divisive country about some important issues. I guess the big overriding issue is, what makes a family? They've done it with love and sensitivity, and it's more fun than a barrel of monkeys!"
Barkin describes her character as an "uninformed lunatic." "It's a very open show in terms of how it approaches very different characters on opposite ends of the spectrum," she observed, "and my guess is that they will all learn from each other."
For Andrew Rannells, the series is also a chance to lighten his workload. "I love musical theater, and I love Broadway, but I don't miss that schedule. I'll be honest, it's nice to have weekends again."
The New Normal premieres on Tues., Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m. on NBC.