You Had Me at “Mother Darling”
There’s just no pleasing some people.
The most anticipated new TV show of the season—and not just for the gay community—is the NBC sitcom The New Normal. Long before it first aired, the show was already getting a lot of press. But maybe anticipation was the problem. Maybe the show would have benefited more from the element of surprise. As soon as you condition people to look forward to something, their expectations go through the roof, and when reality (as it is wont to do) doesn’t quite match their imaginations, they get disappointed. Instead of noting that what they got is way better than what they had before, all they notice is that it falls short of their dreams.
The criticism of The New Normal seems to be coming as much from the gay community as the homophobes. The latter, of course, think a show about baby-raising homos is a sign of the apocalypse. What’s more disturbing is the fact that the show’s gay critics seem to playing right into the Bible-thumpers’ hands. The characters in The New Normal, they say, are too stereotypical: wealthy professionals who work out, appreciate the fine arts, and know a good wine when they taste it. Horrors! Who wouldn’t be offended?!
Maybe, in the minds of the politically correct, it would be better if the show instead focused on gay people who are just like stereotypical straight people (as some no doubt are, though few I’ve ever met; then again, I live in San Francisco, so what do I know about “real” gay people?). Maybe someone should make a show that does for gay people what The Cosby Show did for blacks: prove that they can be every bit as boring as white folks. In the few episodes of that megahit that I could stand to watch, I saw plots that had been recycled from Leave It to Beaver and I Love Lucy. So not only were the Huxtables boring, but they were also about 30 years behind the times. (And don’t get me started on those sweaters!)
In contrast, The New Normal has already taken on major issues, and done it courageously. In one episode, the boys are verbally bashed when they dare to kiss in public. In another, they come face to face with their own racism.
That episode seems to have anticipated the show’s critics. When the boys label the evil grandmother played by Ellen Barkin a racist, she throws it right back at them, accusing them of hypocrisy—talking the talk, but not walking the walk. They try to prove their P.C. cred by having a party to show off their black friends—only they have no black friends.
What I love about The New Normal is right there in the title: the show is not about gays assimilating into the mainstream; it’s about gays asserting their rights—to be married, to have children—while maintaining their own cultural identity. We don’t have to subscribe to the “norms” of society in order to live our lives; as with every social movement, we help those norms to evolve. For example, I appreciate the fact that the Andrew Rannells character is rather fey—just as I appreciated Sean Hayes’s promiscuous character on Will and Grace. This show is emphasizing that you don’t have to “act straight” (whatever that means) in order to be accorded respect.
The greatest irony for me is that many of the people I hear complaining about the show’s stereotypical depiction of gays are … well, let’s just say they’re not football players and beer-guzzling men in wifebeaters. For heaven’s sake, they’re obsessing over a sitcom. How much gayer can you get?
Besides, any TV show in which a 9-year-old girl does a Little Edie impression immediately steals my heart. It’s staunch, I tell you, S-T-A-U-N-C-H, staunch.