“The New Normal” Isn’t That New

The story line of “The New Normal“ would probably not have been written before this year: a gay wealthy couple are paying $35,000 to have a surrogate mother have their baby. Created by an out writer and a lesbian mom who had success with “Glee,”(popular with both straights and gays alike), “The New Normal” aired in September. It can not air in Utah, home of the Mormon Church.
The Plot Thickens, but Not Enough

The gay couple are played by Andrew Rannells of “The Book of Mormon,” and Justin Bartha  from “The Hangover.” Living in Los Angeles, David Murray is the smarter of the two, a gynocologist, who likes to drink beer and watch football. Quieter and less emotional, he is a foil for Bryan Collins, a television producer, who shops at Barneys (the gays’s favorite store, of course) and is the flaming stereotype of a gay male. One day while shopping for “Mary Tyler Capris,” Bryan is taken by a baby in a stroller who smiles and coos at him. He announces to his partner David, “OMG, that is the cutest thing I’ve ever had, I must have it. I want us to have baby clothes and a baby to wear them.”
The surrogate mother is the sweet Goldie, played by Georgia King,who could use the $35,000 from surrogacy services to go to law school. Goldie leaves her philandering husband in Ohio and takes her precocious eight year-old daugher Shania, played by Bebe Wood, to Los Angeles. Shania, a misfit of sorts, is spot-on with her comments and does a hilarious rendition of Little Edith in “Grey Gardens.” Ellen Barkin plays Jane Forrest, Shania’s grandmother Nana, who makes habitual snarky, racist comments. She is Sue Sylvester of  Glee, only more so, and has some of the best lines, although they need to be more interspersed. Jane is the foil for the gays, and other minority groups who come into contact with her such as Nene Leakes, who plays Bryan’s personal assistant “Rocky.”  

“Same Old, Same Old”
While the storyline is modern, the treatment of characters is not fresh. Bryan and David are too stereotypically “butch” and “femme.” Bryan reminds me of  EmmyAward-winning Sean Hayes  who plays Jack McFarland in “Will and Grace,” the hit sitcom from 1998-2006. Jack is a sidekick designed for comic relief. He is vain and self-absorbed. Although Hayes was over-the-top gay,” campy gay,” with a stereotypical love of gay icons such as Cher.  He, too, served as a foil for Karen Walker,played by Megan Mulally, a drunken millionaire, and a bisexual, with a shrill, squeaky voice. Jack McFarland is treated by Karen as her Pet Homosexual. 

The other gay on the show Will Truman was an uptight lawyer who lived with a straight interior designer, Grace Adler, played by Debra Messing. Like David on The New Normal, he is smarter, and less flamboyant. Bryan, like McFarland, is fussy, annoying, and narcissistic. He turned off my gay son who is sick of gay stereotypes on television.
Hammers You Over the Head
“The New Normal” is not only less humorous than  “Will and Grace,” with the latter’s fast-paced dialogue, it buys into reinforcing stereotypes. This portrayal does nothing to foster better understanding among straight parents,,whose only reference about gays may be television, and gay children. If the show is supposed to be about how differences uniting us, it doesn’t work. It’s too contrived because it works too hard to comment on inclusiveness.
For example, when David and Bryan share a kiss at a department store, a father, mother, and young child take offense. It turns into an homophobic rant that is answered with a lecture about hate being taught and passed on from generation to generation by Bryan.When Bryan and David sit on a park bench with their Bernese Mountain Dog, they aren’t just in any park, but one for people who are different: an older mother, over-fertilized, with many children, and a midget mother riding in a toy car with her daughter. 

Modern Family More Successful In This Critic’s Eyes

In the Emmy-winning Modern Family, Jesse Tyler Ferguson (gay in real life) and two-time Emmy winner Eric Stonestreet play partners of five years. They are a liberal homosexual couple who hyphen the last name of their adopted Vietnamese daughter, Lily. 
  
They are a couple who are not unlike the straight couple, Claire Dunphy, played by Emmy-winning Julie Bowen, and her husband, Phil, played by Ty Burrell, an uptight real estate broker (reminds me of Will Truman and Grace). Mitchell Pritchett is a tightly-wound and nervous lawyer who is the opposite of a gay stereotype. Cameron Tucker, his partner, functioning as his foil, is bubbly, outgoing, and straight in real life.
The Men Rule The Roost

In this sitcom, the men have hierarchy. The sexy Sophia Loren-like Hispanic Gloria Pritchett, played by Sofia Vergara, is a non-working homemaker with a son Manny Delgadoand an older husband Jay (Mitchell’s and Claire’s father ). Just as she is a stay-at-home mother, so is Claire Dunphy. How modern is that?
Subtle, with Less Stereotyping

But the show works because the gay subplot is not so didactic. The couples’s relationships are basically alike, whether gay or straight. Like a good book, it shows you, rather than tells you (or shouts at you).
Even Ann Romney says Modern Family is one of her favorite programs.
Post your comment here about the credibility of the gay characters in “Modern Family” and “The New Normal.”  
 

When Your Child is Gay

When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know

For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting as well as gay and lesbian content. For the past two years, Wesley has concentrated almost exclusively on the lesbian and gay community, specifically on advising straight parents of gay children on how to be better parents and raise happy, well-adjusted adults

3 Comments

  1. Avatar Laura on October 2, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    You hit the nail on the head with "The New Normal" vs. "Modern Family." "New Normal" seems like a throwback show, with everything overdramatized and spelled out way too clearly for the audience (who has mostly moved way beyond the stereotypes shown there). The Glee creator needs to remember this broad show is aimed at adults not teens.

    "Modern Family" is much more nuanced and sophisticated, making the "gayness" of Mitchell and Cam secondary to all their various family interactions—from being an uncle and parent to sibling rivalry. Also, when father Jay makes his homophobic comments on the show, they seem like something a real person of his generation might say: a bit clueless, wrongheadedly candid, and not intentionally trying trying to be hurtful—unlike the intentionally rude and vicious remarks they put in mother Ellen Barkin's mouth in "The New Normal."

    Both shows have their funny moments, but the tone of "Modern Family" is better suited to 2012.

  2. Avatar Jason on October 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Really interesting post, I long for the day when gay people can be shown on television without the perceived need to use heavy stereotypes just for comic relief. True equality I believe will only be achieved when gay people are a visible on television as their straight counterparts without fanfare, exception and supposed stereotypical behaviours.

    It takes a while for American shows to make it over here on the main channels, so I'll have wait for The New Normal to fill my small screen.

  3. Avatar Wesley Cullen Davidson on October 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Jason, thank you for commenting. I wish American shows that portray gay people were representative of the entire population, not just a stereotypical few.

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