In case you hadn’t heard, tonight brings the premiere of NBC’s The New Normal, about a gay couple in search of a surrogate mother to help them start a family and all the zaniness and controversy that ensues. And with Glee creator Ryan Murphy at the helm, controversy will probably feature very prominently, especially after critics see the episodes after the pilot (which is available now online). We’ve rounded up some critics’ takes on the pilot from around the web to find out why audiences might love The New Normal and why they might not.
Huffington Post critic Maureen Ryan wonders if The New Normal is another Ryan Murphy-hatched publicity-churning-scheme or a real vehicle for human emotion (and Atlanta Real Housewife Nene Leakes).
Why you’ll love it: Ryan seems to have bonded with what she calls the quieter of the show’s central gay couple, David (played by Justin Bartha) as well as Georgia King’s “Goldie” character, who plays the surrogate. She also calls Leakes “surprisingly good” and the show itself “a slickly made piece of entertainment.”
Why you might not: But “slickly made” doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement when the question is whether viewers will genuinely buy the couple as real human beings as opposed to caricatures of gay guys. The writer also points out that, in the one episode out thus far, there are references disparaging Jews, Chinese people, and the overweight.
Salon.com TV writer Willa Paskin seems to think the worst enemy of the show’s characters are the show’s writers, which is an interesting if unorthodox method of creating believable tension. But is it out of a desire to keep things real or just an excuse to be racy?
Why you’ll love it: Paskin gives few reasons to believe in Ryan Murphy as a harbinger of realness, even with—sorry to bully her—NeNe Leakes in the cast.
Why you might not: “Its characters,” Paskin says in what might generously be called a tirade, “spit out a near constant stream of bitchy, racist, homophobic, stereotypical comments” and attributes the shows brutal honesty as “pretext for behaving like an asshole.”
GQ felt pretty strongly about the show (so we’ll let you decide which side of the fence they are) but attributes the shows…attributes…to a larger trend in gay characters on television.
Why you’ll love it: The magazine’s culture blog gives The New Normal a few bonus points for the David character’s decidedly non-stereotypical persona (“David is a doctor. Who likes football. And doesn’t speak in jazz hands.”) and cites the almost universally adored Louie as a reason that racism can be acceptable comedy fodder.
Why you might not: Lazy racism, however, is apparently not okay. And though GQ lists other culprits like Sofia Vergera’s English-impaired Modern Family character and the cartoonishly Asian diner owner of 2 Broke Girl as other examples, they seem to place The New Normal most squarely into this subcategory.
The Hollywood Reporter’s focus is on the parallel between the show’s gay co-creators Ali Adler and Ryan Murphy and the show’s same-sex couple leads.
Why you’ll love it: Adler is a mother of two (along with famous ex-partner Sara Gilbert) and Murphy has a conspicuous parallel in the Bryan half of the couple, who is a successful showrunner for a Glee-esque series called Sing.
Why you might not: But does loosely basing it on their own lives make Adler and Murphy’s show the real deal? THR doesn’t come to any firm conclusions. Instead, it mostly relies on the actors and creators of the show to convince us The New Normal will be relatable.
The Boston Globe, like GQ, draws comparisons to 2 Broke Girls (which it calls “Vaudevillian,” and not in a good way) and fears the promises of premier season will quickly be broken but also gives cause for hope.
Why you’ll love it: The hope here lies mostly in the originality of the show’s premise, to which it attributes the refusal of a Utah NBC affiliate to air the show. “It’s Modern Family-esque,” says writer Matthew Gilbert, “in that the show will explore the intersection of extended family and family of choice.” What’s not to love?
Why you might not: The Globe seems to fear another trope-filled side show meant to generate buzz more than explore real relationships. Like all the other critics, this one cites the sassiness of NeNe Leakes’ character and Bryan, who he calls the classic “Bravo gay.” Gilbert also wonders if Murphy and Adler can resist making the show and its character little but a vehicle for making “Big Points,” which it calls “pulling a Glee.”
So what’s the consensus? Thought the critics seam universally fearful of all the terrible things The New Normal might become, they are also generally optimistic about what it is—a refreshing take on what family life with a talented cast and battle-tested writers. We’ll see tonight!
Joshua Gardner is an editorial intern for Logo.com.