“The New Normal” (premieres at 10 p.m., NBC; second episode airs Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.) Ryan Murphy’s relentlessly strong (and even hyperactive) instinct for TV concepts and characters is always a pleasure to watch at the start — think of those initial episodes of “Glee,” “American Horror Story” and “Nip/Tuck.” Then, soon enough, some viewers tend to peel off from his shows until only die-hard fans remain. (Raise your hand if you’re still willing to admit to being a Gleek.)
Murphy’s “The New Normal” is an ensemble comedy about a male couple, David and Bryan (“The Hangover’s” lost groom Justin Bartha and Broadway’s “Book of Mormon” star Andrew Rannells), who hire a down-on-her-luck, single-mom surrogate to carry their baby. It’s an idea whose time should have come a while back. Bartha and Rannells’s characters display yin/yang neuroses that keep their characters interesting, but as Goldie, the would-be surrogate, Georgia King is unfortunately bland.
Ellen Barkin saves the day with a deliciously acid standout performance as Goldie’s disapproving grandmother, Jane, who comes on like a cruel hybrid of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and “Absolutely Fabulous’s” Patsy Stone (with Callista Gingrich’s hairdo). Jane is a classic Murphy invention, giving the show a fresh twist without feeling too much like another item on the gay agenda. Grade: B+
Coming Sept. 16 in Sunday Style: A longer review of “The New Normal,” plus reviews of 22 new fall shows.