TV Critics Root for NBC's Gay-com With Cruel Callista-Schlafly Villain

Media liberals are rooting for NBC’s two-gay-dads sitcom The New Normal. USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco made it number two on his favorite new shows: “For the most part, Normal plays like a lovely, small movie, mixing humorous moments with sweet, gentle grace notes.” Alessandra Stanley at The New York Times tries to make the bold statement: "Gay is the new straight."

Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever is less impressed, given that its producer (Glee creator Ryan Murphy) tends to lose creative steam. But Stuever loves the “deliciously acid” Phyllis Schlafly character with Callista Gingrich hair:

Ellen Barkin saves the day with a deliciously acid standout performance as Goldie’s disapproving grandmother, Jane, who comes on like a cruel hybrid of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and “Absolutely Fabulous’s” Patsy Stone (with Callista Gingrich’s hairdo). Jane is a classic Murphy invention, giving the show a fresh twist without feeling too much like another item on the gay agenda.

Just like on Glee, the only conservative viewpoint is a villainously stupid one.

Post TV writer Lisa de Moraes was even less impressed, because it airs on flailing NBC. She expects all their new shows to suffer. “Everything on NBC (because its track record the past couple seasons has been pretty bad, and because I've seen The New Normal and even Ryan Murphy has stopped talking about it).”

Stanley at The New York Times began:

GAY is the new straight.

Gay marriage may not be the law of the land, but it has become a cornerstone of network television. NBC calls its new comedy about a homosexual couple adopting a baby ''The New Normal,'' and that kind of understates it. There is nothing particularly new about gay characters on sitcoms. This season they are not only normal, they seem de rigueur...

Last season was the year of women, a fall rich with comedies by female writers, most notably HBO's Girls, created by Lena Dunham. This is the season when shows about gays are set to compete not just with mainstream fare but against one another.

Stanley touted the NBC gay-com’s “wit and charm,” and “It probably also helps The New Normal that a few fringe groups have targeted the show, adding a small frisson of controversy to a sitcom that doesn't explore new ground but just digs a little deeper.”

There is a preachy sidebar in the pilot that is perhaps inevitable, a pious reminder that families come in all sizes and formations. The episode is funniest when sending up the lifestyles of the rich and gay. In one amusing scene the would-be fathers consult an unctuous agent from a four-star agency that specializes in finding the most desirable egg donors and surrogates. A Gwyneth Paltrow look-alike is at the top of the list.

Ms. Barkin should be a selling point for the series, but she is the rare false note: Nana's Archie Bunker-style bigotry -- against gays, blacks, Jews and the disabled -- is written so broadly, and crudely, that it clashes with the knowing sophistication animating the rest of the script. That lapse is interesting; either the writers are unfamiliar with what modern homophobia really sounds like or they fear that any effort at making it plausible or contemporary would somehow make it acceptable.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis