My favorite episode of the NBC sitcom The New Normal is about the two gay-dads-to-be learning that the baby they’re going to have, with the help of a surrogate, is a boy.
The more masculine—but not as cute—of the two dads, David, is thrilled that he’ll someday be able to play sports with his son.
By contrast, the more feminine—but way prettier—of the men is distraught. Bryan was distant from his father when he was growing up because Dad wanted him to be an athlete but the boy was more interested in musical theater.
David initially pooh-poohs his partner’s concerns, but Bryan persists. “This is very real for me,” he says, getting all pouty. “I want to have the same connection to our son that you have, but I’m afraid. I don’t want to be the odd man out again—not with our own child.”
It’s one of the more serious storylines in the comedy series. I like the segment because it deals with a reality that many gay male viewers can relate to—at least the millions of us who couldn’t throw a baseball more than three feet.
Beyond creating a poignant scenario that has the ring of truth to it, the episode also moves along to a happy ending. (That’s what sitcoms do!)
In this instance, David gives Bryan only an hour’s notice that he’s bringing the team of pee wee football players he coaches home for lunch. But the resourceful partner saves the day by putting together an impromptu make-your-own-pizza party that the little boys love, love, love.
The upbeat ending just keeps getting upper and upper when one of the boys calls Bryan “fun and cool” and David praises his ho-ho honey by saying, “This isn’t the work of a man who doesn’t know how to connect to boys. You’re already a better dad than your dad was—because you’re trying.”
I like that the plot allows the more effeminate of the two men to shine by being true to who he is. (Yay for the sissies of the world!)
This factor also is significant to me because my initial reaction to the show, when it premiered last September, wasn’t positive. In fact, after watching the pilot episode, I cringed.
My takeaway was that NBC had created a prime-time comedy that pairs a cute milquetoast gay man with a cute fun and flighty gay man. So I said to myself, “Didn’t we have this same scenario fifteen years ago when Will and Jack entered the America living room on Will & Grace?”
Now that I’ve watched half a season of The New Normal, though, I’m pleased to say that the Peacock Network has, in fact, moved network TV into new territory in a bunch of ways.
For starters, the lead characters in the new show—David is played by Justin Bartha (AKA Mr. Mr. Milquetoast), and Bryan is played by Andrew Rannells (Mr. Fun and Flighty)—are life partners. That’s a big shift from Will and Jack, who were merely good friends.
(Yes, the gay guys on ABC’s Modern Family, now in its fourth season, are in a long-term relationship, too. But they’re not the leads on their program that features three different households.)
Another big difference between Will & Grace and The New Normal involves the professional lives of the ho hos. Will was a lawyer, and Jack had no consistent means of support. On Normal, David is a gynecologist, and Bryan is a TV producer who runs a hit series titled Sing (a thinly veiled spoof of New Normal creator Ryan Murphy’s real-life series Glee).
A third distinction between the queer boys on Will and their counterparts on Normal involves what I’ll call “the P word.” That is, Jack was highly promiscuous, having a new boyfriend pretty much every week. By contrast, David and Bryan are faithful to each other, neither man having either a roving eye or a roving any-other-body-part.
The hands-down biggest difference of all between Will and Normal is that the two gay men on the new show are having a baby together. Indeed, the recurring characters include not only the surrogate who’s carrying the couple’s son but also her daughter, her mother and her estranged husband . . . who, incidentally, is another pretty boy—no wonder I like this show!
For me, one final plus of The New Normal is that it sometimes showcases a gay sensibility that’s rare to see on network TV. One storyline, for example, has the surrogate’s daughter channeling the eccentric Little Edie from Grey Gardens—headscarf and all.
(If you don’t know Grey Gardens, stop reading this article immediately and go add it to your Netflix queue. The documentary depicts the everyday lives of two reclusive socialites, a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, who lived in a decrepit mansion in the Hamptons. It’s the definition of “camp” and you’ll love it, I promise!)
The film’s a favorite of pretty much every gay man I know, though I’m guessing neither Will from Will & Grace nor David from The New Normal had ever seen it before the episode aired.
By Rodger Streitmatter
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