NBC finds a 'New Normal': Good comedy

(USA Today) -- Some shows are worth the fuss.

Pre- and post-show controversies are par for the TV course with Ryan Murphy, the man behind such shows as Nip/Tuck, Glee, American Horror Story and now NBC's The New Normal (* * * ½ out of four, Monday, 10 p.m.) - which gets a special preview behind The Voice before moving Tuesday to its regular 9:30p.m. time slot. (If you can find it: A Utah NBC affiliate is refusing to air the show because it depicts a gay couple using a surrogate to have a baby.)

Murphy's shows tend to provoke that kind of overheated response, in part because he loves to hit TV's hottest buttons and in part because he can't resist hitting a few of them harder than he should. But it's also because he's one of the few producers who has the courage to use his shows, not just to push TV's boundaries, but to push society in the direction he feels it needs to go. And that's guaranteed to provoke others to push back.

Yet the pity is, if you can push past the fuss, you'll find a very funny, frequently messy and yet surprisingly touching comedy that would be a welcome addition in any year. Everyone won't like it, but it's hard to see why everyone shouldn't be allowed to make that choice on his or her own.

The focus here is on two equally sympathetic and ideally performed pairs. On one hand, you have the gay couple: a sports-loving doctor, David, played by National Treasure's instantly likable Justin Bartha, and the more style-conscious Bryan, played by Book of Mormon's terrific Andrew Rannells. On the other: Goldie (a starmaking role for an irresistible Georgia King), a single mother who hires herself out as a surrogate so she can make a better life for her daughter - the also irresistible Bebe Wood. The four come together to add a baby to David and Bryan's family, and in doing so, they form a family of their own.

For the most part, Normal plays like a lovely, small movie, mixing humorous moments with sweet, gentle grace notes. At its best, it plays like a Woody Allen film, something you may notice most when secondary characters stop and explain themselves to the camera.

As is not unusual with pilots, however, Normal is not always at its best. The show throws in Ellen Barkin as Goldie's bigoted grandmother, a role designed to cut through the sweetness and provide a point of reference for the opposing point of view. Barkin is a great get for any TV show, and many of her lines are sure to provoke laughs - but a few of them cross over to crude.

That's a writing problem and should be easy to fix. The harder challenge for Normal is reality personality NeNe Leakes, blustering her way as a finger-snapping "sassy assistant."

Still, it's a small role - and as long as it stays that way, it will be a small distraction. As will, one hopes, the fuss being made over a show that has better ways to grab your attention.

Consider letting it.


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