Why ‘The New Normal’ Has TV’s Best Gay Characters

Look! We’re gay AND we like each other!

The last two episodes of The New Normal have convinced me it’s the best gay sitcom on television. Give it a few weeks to develop, and it might be one of the best shows on television, period.

[Read our recap of the latest episode]

And why do I love it so? Because The New Normal does the following things:

(1) Presents a functional, adult gay couple that actually seems to dig each other.

David and Bryan, the lead couple on the series, kiss each other all the time. They say “I love you,” and they actually seem like they would sleep together. You know… like real couples do.

Plus, they seem like teammates. They may have arguments about little things, but so far, they have been really supportive of each other in tough situations. When David (Justin Bartha), the type-A doctor, worries about the health of the baby that he and Bryan are having (via a surrogate), he gets neurotic to a sitcom-ish level. But the show doesn’t push the humor by letting Bryan (Andrew Rannells) mock him about his insecurities. Instead, we see Bryan trying to understand and support David’s emotions… while also getting him to chill out and just buy fun baby clothes. The comedy comes out of their mutually ridiculous attempt to make everything perfect, not out of the mean-spirited glee that one partner takes in tearing down the other.

And that’s incredibly refreshing, since the other adult gay couples on major network sitcoms just tear each other down. Mitch and Cam on Modern Family almost never show physical affection, and their storylines almost always revolve around how mean they are to each other. One of them is always snarking on the other or rolling his eyes about his partner’s stupidity or subtly shaming his partner for being too feminine. But unlike every other couple on the show, that nastiness rarely transforms into love or kindness or gentleness by the end of the episode. I don’t even get the sense that Mitch and Cam like each other, let alone that they sleep together.

The same thing happens in the pilot episode of Partners, the new CBS sitcom from the creators of Will & Grace. In the first ten minutes alone, the gay character played by Michael Urie tells his boyfriend (Brandon Routh) that his profession and attitude are both embarrassing and/or shameful. Um… thanks? I love you, too? (And if you remember, this was pretty much the stank attitude on Will & Grace, too.)

By contract, I love watching David and Bryan. They aren’t saints, and they act like goofy TV characters all the time. But it’s also obvious they care about each other. That they’re in love. That they treat each other like mutually affectionate gay adults instead of emotionally stunted gay children.

(2) Handles complex political issues in an intelligent, entertaining way.

This week’s episode features an over-the-top set-up: Bryan and David host a dinner party to prove to their surrogate’s racist grandmother that they have black friends. That way, Grandma can’t accuse them of being hypocritical liberals. Only… oops. They don’t have any black friends. So they invite Bryan’s African-American secretary over. And then they hire their African-American cater-waiter to pretend he’s actually their bestie.

In that set-up, you get about a hundred delicate issues: The Republican-Democrat divide. The segregation in the gay and liberal communities. The weird pressure to seem “ideal” all the time. And as the episode progresses, things get even more interesting. Racist Grandma (or Jane, played by the glorious Ellen Barkin) articulately defends her Republican ideals in front of a roomful of liberals. Bryan and David get scouted by a mixed-race couple that is actively seeking gay friends. A black man reveals he’s voting for Romney. And it’s all funny.

Very few shows can present so many sides of so many political issues and still make them hilarious. But so far, The New Normal has done it over and over. Add this intelligence to the emotionally mature gay male characters—and, again, the really funny jokes—and you get a show that’s pushing gay culture forward in a fantastic new way.

Mark Blankenship thinks this is the best series Ryan Murphy has ever helped created. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship