With two new gay-themed sitcoms this fall — Ryan Murphy’s “The New Normal,” which premiered on NBC last week, and David Kohan and Max Mutchnick’s “Partners,” which will debut on CBS on Sept. 24 — certain rituals must be obeyed: Gay rights groups have to laud such a show for making progress, while the show runners and stars must gratefully accept those lauds while wishing aloud that the show could be judged on its post-gay merit. (In fact, wouldn’t it be nice if all of life were like that? they muse in interviews, and so on.) Finally, a church-owned or otherwise conservative affiliate somewhere (often Salt Lake City, as in “The New Normal’s” case) must refuse to air it and hunt around for something else (“The Donna Reed Show”?) to plug into the time slot.
It isn’t really a gay show, after all, until somebody’s knickers are in a twist.
Murphy is the best knicker-twister making television right now. Having given audiences “Nip/Tuck,” “Glee” and “American Horror Story,” he masterfully launches a high-concept show in a kinetic burst, brazenly crossing lines of genre and decency and never looking back or second-guessing his instincts. When his shows debut, a viewer basks in the icy dialogue (remember how fanatically people used to tweet lines of “Glee” dialogue in real time?) and the thoroughly modern style. Eventually, though, the clamor cools and only hard-core fans remain.
“The New Normal” feels entirely like a Murphy show, with its spit-takingly funny lines as well as the worry that the show’s energy level isn’t sustainable. It pulls up in a very big bus and does you, the viewer, the favor of assuming you’re with-it enough to jump aboard. In Barneys, a well-to-do Los Angeles man named Bryan (Andrew Rannells, of Broadway’s “The Book of Mormon”) is shopping for Mary Tyler Moore-esque cropped pants and gets instant baby fever when the occupant of a passing stroller smiles at him:
“Oh my God, that is the cutest thing I have ever seen. I must have it,” he explains that night to his partner, David (“The Hangover’s” lost groom, Justin Bartha).
David, a gynecologist, has doubts: “You really think it’s such a good idea to bring a kid into the world with such a non-traditional family?”
To which Bryan points out: “Look around — your definition of ‘traditional’ might need a refresh. . . . I know somebody else who was raised in a non-traditional family — a Halfrican-American who was raised by a grandma. And that person seems to be doing just fine.”