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Test Pilot: The New Normal

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Robert Trachtenberg/NBC

Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next season’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: The New Normal, NBC

The Premise: Bryan and David (Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha) are a gay couple in L.A. who want a baby. Goldie (Georgia King) is a single mom, just run off from the Midwest, who wants the fresh start that the payday of being a surrogate mom could give her. The complication: Goldie has been followed West by her grandmother (Ellen Barkin), who does not care for the arrangement or for the gays in general. (Yes, Ellen Barkin, at age 58, is playing a great-grandmother, according to the TV laws of young motherhood.) Created by Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler (a writer on Murphy’s Glee), the show aims to be a culture-clash comedy of alternative-family life.

First Impressions: God, is this pilot trying hard. Besides the title, the “times are changing” theme is underscored with pop-culture references aplenty and an especially conspicuous scene in which several untraditional parents (a little person, an elderly mom, a deaf couple) step up on a playground and tell their stories. There are a few acerbic insights into the world of high-income modern baby-seeking, but also a high miss-to-hit ratio in the jokes. And the Glee-isms abound: Barkin’s grandma is like a WASPier Sue Sylvester, rattling off un-PC comments machine-gun-style. Sunshiny, nervous Goldie reads a bit like a slightly less neurotic Emma. Nene Leakes (who plays Bryan’s assistant) is, well, Nene Leakes, and her ability to brassily declaim Murphy-esque dialogue is the best thing about this pilot in the same way that she’s often now the best thing on Glee. Mind you, I’m a fan of Glee—at least at its high points—but the adult relationships have never been the strong point of that show.

Do I Want to Watch Another Episode? Only in the hope that this will somehow have the opposite arc of most Ryan Murphy shows (which tend to start with an impressive pilot and fall into erratic crazytown). So far, The New Normal is the new ho-hum.