I am absolutely the wrongest person in Homolandia to review the new Ryan Murphy show on NBC. This isn’t made with me in mind, meaning you can be sure the show’s creators don’t give a Chihuahua’s sneeze about my opinion, which is based solely on the pre-premiere show that aired on August 30. (I had no idea there was such a thing as a pre-premiere show, but the mysteries of network television are revealing themselves to me gradually, like secrets to an initiate in a Freemason’s lodge.) New episodes kick off tomorrow, September 11, but I won’t be watching any more—what I have seen will have to do for this piece.
Picture, if you will, Homolandia as a quaint county on the borders of the mighty Empire of Normalcy, a pastoral landscape quilted with neatly tended fields, speckled with dozens of tight-knit communities of people with vastly different behaviors and preferences. Over there, farthest away from the border with Normalcy, you have Trannytown, a garish, hissing locale that comes alive mainly at night, a place noted for its high suicide-attempt rate. Very close to that is Twinksburg, which is packed with Peter Pan-like effete younger men, most of them thin, many of them preyed on at night by men from St. Mary Muscleton or Bearsville down the road, where a number of the residents of Twinksburg move after they have become fat, bald and old, and can no longer stand the “ewwws” that lick at them when they walk by. The Lesbotrons live as far away as possible on the other end of the county, and only communicate with the gay communities when its time to band together for protection against the relentless onslaught of the barbarian bigots.
Guys like me live in a remote, rural area outside of AlternaQueer City, and we often live alone, occasionally socializing with the denizens of the various gay communities, but more often we venture out beyond the foggy marshes that obscure Homolandia from Normalcy so we can fraternize with the Str8s, with whom we share more in common socially that those with whom we share a preference sexually.
All the more reason why I’m so wrong to review this show: The New Normal is my true American horror story.
Creator Ryan Murphy has chosen a particularly annoying stereotype with which to dress the gay couple at the heart of the show, who might be autobiographical (he is engaged to feature film writer-director Bill Condon—total Velvet Mafia, if there is such a thing). Or I should say one half is annoying: the screamin’-at-ya-gay, fashion-and-body-conscious former twink, who is now a classic, lisping full-blown queen named Brian, played by Andrew Rannells. As we all know, a Brian is just a Ryan with a B for “bottom” in the front, and he would appear to be a producer of some type, which reinforces my assumption that Brian is some abstraction of Murphy himself. His partner is the more “masc” stereotype played by Justin Bartha, who watches football while petting the purebred retriever, and is a gynecologist, a brave profession indeed for the congenitally vagina-averse.
Luckily for us, but unluckily for this show, the more realistic parenting gay couple is already firmly owned by Modern Family, to far more hilarious effect, so I suppose Murphy was left with this other shallower and prettier variety. There aren’t many of us in Homolandia who can or want to live in the Parent ‘Hood; you must be far wealthier and be better established than the vast majority of heterosexual couples who opt to have children. Just paying for a surrogate—in this show it is put at $35,000 for the fee alone, forget the extras—or passing the rigorous “home study” review process for adoption is enough to turn most Gheys away from it, even if they were inclined to disrupt their lifestyles so drastically in the first place, or were able to sustain a relationship for that long.
The new normal in network single-camera comedies has for a long time been the frenetic, ADHD-paced script and editing established by shows like Arrested Development and Murphy’s own Glee, which at least has the benefit of pausing for the musical numbers. The New Normal tap dances so fast through the set-up scenes that it feels like you’re watching a hopping child who desperately needs to pee. The requirements of a pilot are that the main characters and their dynamics need to be established up front—they can be fleshed out at leisure later on—so it would be unfair of me to judge the tone and pacing of the remainder of the series based on what I saw. Suffice to say it left me no time to engage on any level with the characters, even if I were to put my prejudices about some of them aside.
There seems to be a spiteful, aging harridan at the center of every Murphy show I’ve seen, a character that perhaps represents his own mother: Jane Lynch’s dykey coach from Glee; Jessica Lange’s evil, controlling next-door neighbor from American Horror Story. In this show, Ellen Barkin plays a young grandmother, a gratuitously, implausibly bigoted card-carrying member of the hateful gay-hating group One Million Moms. Barkin performs it as a right-wing version of herself in real life, or my experience of her, at any rate: a vulgar brassy broad in Chanel-ish suits and perfectly coiffed and colored hair, way too stylish and sophisticated for someone from Bumfuck, Ohio, where the show kicks off. When her granddaughter, Goldie, played delightfully by Georgia King, catches her husband cheating, Goldie takes off with her own daughter to L.A., where she agrees to become the surrogate mother for the child of the annoying gay cliché couple.
Time being of the essence, there are two rapid-cut montages within the first eleven minutes of the pilot. In the first, the gay couple sits outside a playground contemplating parenthood, while a middle-aged hooker, a deaf couple and a female dwarf all give customer testimonials about misfits/the physically challenged being great parents, a ludicrous sequence bookended by a rather sanctimonious speech by the queen about how “Abnormal is the new normal,” which is, of course, the theme of the show, and the overarching signature of all Murphy creations.
The most original and touching moment in the episode is when the queen agrees that his more masc partner should be the father; he doesn’t want his sperm competing for dominance, so might as well let the dom be the biological father. (Yes, they call us “doms” as well—I am referred to on gay hookup sites as a “masc dom top,” all of which might seem redundant, but a lot of doms only roleplay masc in bed and are really quite fem themselves, as is the dom in this show.) The queen says something to the effect of not wanting more Nellies like him out there, to which I shamelessly felt myself responding, “Hear, hear.” Acute self-awareness is one of the better qualities screaming queens tend to have; like the trannies they are so closely related to, they are performing gay, just as so many ‘normal’ men perform masculine stereotypes.
To make the show even more saccharine and unbearable, the music track throughout is this plucked-violin-and-tinkling-glockenspiel brand of canned candy floss you expect from Christmas comedies you wouldn’t watch even when forced to babysit your nieces and nephews during a family emergency. Oh, and the queen’s assistant, played by the six-foot NeNe Leakes from some Housewives reality show I’ve never seen, a character thrown in there for no other reason than extra quirk, who describes herself as “half giraffe, half drag queen,” isn’t in the least bit funny. Well, look at what I just quoted. Nary a word is my brand of funny.
Maybe fans of Glee will like this, I don’t claim to know or identify with the dizzy network-watching mind, but I think The New Normal is too lame and a beat behind the times to hit the ratings it would need to sustain momentum. Modern Family is so much more palatable and fun, not to mention so much less grating to Gheys like me.