In the 2012-2013 television season, NBC presented a different kind of family sitcom called The New Normal. From the mind of Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) and Allison Adler (Chuck, No Ordinary Family), it took what Modern Family does a step further, with an edgier, even less traditional clan, while still remaining thoroughly charming. Finally, the series, which ran only one year, comes to DVD, though the release is strangely subtitled The Complete First Season.
In 2014, we all know that not all families look the same, even less so than just a couple of decades ago, but while the television industry is getting better about portraying that, it still does not reflect the large diversity out there. The New Normal may be quite specific in the make-up of its clan, but the characters are earnest enough that most should find a way to relate, even if their circumstances don’t mirror exactly the mixture shown on screen.
The premise is simple enough: A young mother named Goldie (Georgia King, Little Dorrit), who gave birth to a daughter, Shania (Bebe Wood), as a teenager, is tired of putting her dreams on hold and relying on her bigoted grandmother Jane (Ellen Barkin, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Drop Dead Gorgeous). Jane raised Goldie after Goldie’s own mother, who also gave birth young, split. After Goldie catches her boyfriend cheating on her, she gets the courage needed to make a change. This leads her, with Shania in tow, to the strange land of California.
At the same time, a gay couple named Bryan (Andrew Rannells, Girls, The Book of Mormon) and David (Justin Bartha, The Hangover) are ready to start a family of their own. Armed with eggs provided by Abby (Gwyneth Paltrow, Glee, Iron Man), their first attempt is a misstep. But then they meet Goldie and decide she is perfect. After she agrees to serve as their surrogate, they offer to help her with her goals, much to the dismay of Jane, who has by now tracked them down.
Oh, and Bryan has an assistant named Rocky (NeNe Leakes, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Glee), whose love/hate relationship with Jane makes for some of the best material of the series.
Over the course of the year, there is actual growth among the characters, and lessons are learned. Yes, The New Normal can be slightly preachy at times, and the season finale, more so than any other episode, plays to conventional sitcom tropes. But maybe that’s a good thing, as the show needs to help people become more accepting, and by staging a half hour that feels like it could have been written for any other show, it feels ‘normal.’
Thankfully, the last episode ties up most of the major arcs pretty well, leaving us without a never-to-be-resolved cliffhanger.
The writers of this show clearly know what they’re talking about. Adler herself has gone through the surrogate process, and both creators are gay. The situations and characters they’ve created here feel only slightly exaggerated for television, avoiding stereotypes as much as possible, and are definitely well-defined enough to tug the heartstrings, with layers to various characters’ motivations. Bolstered by a terrific cast, The New Normal fully earned the People’s Choice Award it won for Favorite New TV Comedy, and more than a year after its cancellation, it is still missed.
This three-disc set contains all 22 episodes produced, but no special features at all. On the one hand, this is hugely disappointing because there is so much more I want to know about how the show came about and why it didn’t last. On the other hand, I guess fans should just be grateful we get the opportunity to relive the episodes at all, considering how quickly they came and went.
The New Normal – The Complete First Season is available now.