Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NBC show "The New Normal" takes on theme of different is the new normal

By BA Haller
© Media dis&dat

"Abnormal IS the new normal" - that's the theme Ryan Murphy's new NBC show "The New Normal," which is about a gay couple wanting to become Dads and their surrogate and her family. 

Murphy, creator of “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee,” always represents some disability or physical difference in his shows and this one follows that structure.  On the one hand, "Nip/Tuck" had a story arc starring the talented LP actor Peter Dinklage as a manny (male nanny), who discusses acceptance when  a baby on the show was born with a physical difference. On the other hand, Murphy is responsible for "Glee," where a non-disabled actor plays wheelchair user Artie, much to the dislike of many people in the disability community.

A little person (played by Debbie Lee Carrington) appears 6 minutes into the pilot episode of "The New Normal." When the gay couple on the show utters that quote above, it is after a playground scene featuring a mother who is a little person with her non-LP daughter. Her statements have a taint of self-hatred, and her husband, who isn’t a little person, comes off as the “good guy.”

She says, “My husband’s regular sized, so there’s a 50 percent chance my daughter would be a part-time Christmas elf like me. I told my husband, we didn’t have to have kids. We didn’t have to risk it. My husband says he loves me, so why wouldn’t she be loved in this world. 

As she and her daughter climb into a child’s Barbie car, she says with a smile: “She’s going to be taller than me this year.” 

Cut to the gay couple, David, played by Justin Bartha, and Bryan, played by Andrew Rannells, who says: “Face it, honey. Abnormal IS the new normal.”

Did the LP mom and her daughter really have to drive away in a pink Barbie car? This doesn’t bode well for how other characters with disabilities or physical differences will fare.

That scene pretty much sums up how a Ryan Murphy show goes - sometimes it makes a great point about acceptance and other times it plays on horrible stereotypes.

The show has been attacked already by some conservatives, and a Mormon-affiliated station in Utah, KSL, says it won’t air it. 

NBC responded to that censorship saying the show makes "a statement about the changing definition of the nuclear family."

"The show is against bigotry and hatred in every form and will make that point whenever characters say outrageous or unacceptable things about race, religion, sexual identity, disability, or tolerance of people outside the definitions of `normal,'" the network said in a statement Sept. 10.

The other cast members are Georgia King, who plays single mom, surrogate hopeful Goldie, and her young daughter Shania is played by Bebe Wood. To ramp up more stereotypes, NeNe Leakes plays an over-the-top sassy assistant to the Bryan character, and Ellen Barkin plays Goldie’s grandmother, who spews bigoted remarks in every line of dialogue.

My biggest fear about the show is that in trying to satirize people who make bigoted statements, it lends a kind of back-handed acceptability to people who actually are racist, homophobic, ableist, sizeist, etc. That is a “new normal” we can all do without.