Friday, September 7, 2012

Meet The New Normal

It’s going to be a tough season for the comedy department at NBC, with two of its most beloved (if not highly-rated) hits, bowing out.  After 30 Rock calls it quits after 13 episodes this fall, and The Office at the end of the year, the network once known as the home of “Must-See” comedy will need to find some laughs, fast.


The cast of The New Normal, left to right:
Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells, Georgia King,
Bebe Wood, Ellen Barkin, Nene Leakes
NBC does seem to be pinning its hopes on one new comedy.  From Ryan Murphy, the out gay creator of Glee and American Horror Story, and out lesbian writer Ali Adler, The New Normal is a politically incorrect yet warm look at a gay male couple and the (literally) surrogate family they build in an attempt to have a baby.

Just this week, it seemed like another sign of NBC’s faith in The New Normal when the network announced a special preview of the show’s pilot this coming Monday, September 10 at 10 PM/9 PM Central; they’re hoping to get the show sampled by the viewers of its lead-in that night, the season premiere of The Voice.  The very next night, September 11, The New Normal will settle into its regular timeslot, of Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30 Central.

(Of course, you don’t have to wait until Monday to see the New Normal pilot:  you can watch it right here.)





Back in July, at the semi-annual convention for TV critics in Beverly Hills, I sat down with the show’s male leads, The Hangover’s Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells, who made a huge splash with Broadway’s Book of Mormon and recently appeared on HBO’s Girls, to talk all about what it means to be Normal.


Must-Hear TV:  As we head into a presidential election where one of the divisive issues is gay rights, what attracted you to this show, with its unavoidable gay storyline and themes?

Justin Bartha:  The main thing was quality.  The quality of the script, and the quality of the people involved.  The show is relevant.  It seems timely and seems necessary, and it is hilarious.  Everything attracted me to this show.

Andrew Rannells:  I definitely echo that sentiment.  Also, I think that Ryan Murphy’s brand of comedy, the way that he handles topical material – in this case, this homosexual couple, that was very appealing to me.  As a homosexual, that I get to be a part of something like that is very exciting.  So there was a long list of reasons why this seemed to be a great thing to get involved in. And the show has definitely held up to all of those expectations as we’ve developed it.

with The New Normal's Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha
at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA
July 2012

MHTV:  You both have theater backgrounds – Andrew in Book of Mormon, and Justin, I saw you in 2010 in Lend Me a Tenor.  When you test for a TV pilot, you have to agree to sign away 7 years of your life if it gets picked up, which might not leave much time for Broadway.  This must have been some helluva script – enough to make you want to do TV?

JB:  It’s a similar answer to the first question – it’s all about quality.  For me, everything I was reading just wasn’t that interesting.  And it didn’t seem to matter.  This show seems to matter, and it’s something to be proud of.  And if I could be proud of something for seven years, I’m down with that.

AR:  Absolutely.  I think that television offers an interesting opportunity.  If you’re lucky enough to have some longevity, you get to cover a multitude of issues.  I think that Ryan and Ali Adler definitely are the people to do that.  To bring topical humor to a half-hour format is very exciting.


MHTV:  It’s amazing that we still have to talk about this in 2012, but is there ever any concern for either of you as an actor about playing a gay character?

JB:  Andrew and I both come at this question from very interesting perspectives.  Because I’m a straight man and he’s a gay man.  Both have a little bit of a stigma playing gay characters, or being “out” in a sense.  You, Andrew, obviously have more at stake, because it’s your personal life attached.


MHTV:  But you do, too, Justin, because people might be eager to nitpick the way a straight actor chooses to “play gay.”  Or maybe they think the actor himself must be secretly gay.

JB:  For me personally, I thrive off of those things.  I don’t give a shit what people think about me.  I think if everyone thinks I’m gay, I’m flattered.  And if people are so small-minded that they can’t see past sexuality in creativity, then I don’t want to work for them anyway.

So it’s as simple as that.  It is unfortunate that there hasn’t been portrayal of a homosexual couple in a realistic sense – and when I say that, I mean showing affection, and showing what real couples go through.  And I think Andrew and I, Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler, always wanted to show that.  Because there are some great shows that have been groundbreaking with gay characters, but I’ve never really seen a realistic portrayal of what goes on behind closed doors with interesting topics.


MHTV:  Like Will on Will & Grace had to be timid at first about kissing.  Will you guys?

JB:  I put my tongue in his mouth, and I will continue to put my tongue in his mouth, and I don’t care.


MHTV:  Andrew, any concern about playing a gay character?

AR:  No.  I'm excited to play a gay character who was this fully developed and fleshed out.  I think I would be a fool to not jump at the chance.  And then particularly as a homosexual… it speaks a lot to Will & Grace and I just mentioned Jim J. Bullock to someone before –

JB:  Oh, Jim J. Bullock.  I’m a big fan!

AR:  All of that happened on the rocky path to where we are right now.  And I’m very fortunate that I get to benefit from all of that hard work, personally and professionally.  That I get to be out and not penalized in any way, and to be offered this role, is amazing.

The New Normal
Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30 Central
Beginning September 11
NBC

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