[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]
Show:"The New Normal" (NBC)
The Pitch: "Do you wanna be in the Ryan Murphy business?" "OK."
Quick Response: "The New Normal" comes from Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler, who both have ample experience writing funny stuff, but have mostly done comedy in an hour-long format (Adler has a number of sitcom credits from Back in the Day, but Murphy does not). It probably isn't surprising, then, that the single-cam half-hour "The New Normal" doesn't exactly seem to know what it wants to be. The tone almost varies character-by-character, beat-by-beat. Tony
Winner Nominee Andrew Rannells, for example, is really grating and verging on unwatchable at times when he's supposed to be playing beats for comedic purposes. His character has been written so that his only notable trait is self-absorption and, like Michael Urie's character in "Partners," you wonder how quickly they're going to have to soften the character in order to salvage the show around him. In semi-dramatic or emotional moments, though, Rannells' Bryan is far better, but you're left debating whether or not those moments have been earned by a character who's basically adopting a baby as an accessory. As Bryan's partner David, Justin Bartha isn't funny at all, but he has a believable and natural chemistry with Rannells. As possible future surrogate mom Goldie and her daughter Shania, Georgia King and Bebe Wood have a very pleasant rapport, though their dynamic -- flighty mom, seemingly preternaturally wise daughter -- is one of this season's most popular tropes and I preferred what FOX's "Ben & Kate" tried to do with the same relationship (less of a fan of the same relationship in ABC's "How To Live With Your Parents Etc"). And then you have the loud, shrill people who will be audience favorites in some demos and will have other viewers flipping off the TV in haste. Ellen Barkin plays the politically incorrect mother/grandmother-from-hell, a character so unguarded and generally noxious that she makes Sue Sylvester seem as lovable as Betty White. As that character's racist and homophobic ranting progressed, I became numb and when we get hints of relatability towards the end, it's hard to buy. The character is too much of a caricature for anybody to be offended by her and the excess mutes her audacity. As the antidote to Barkin's character, NeNe Leakes is dialed up to 11 at all times. I was surprised by how much I liked NeNe on "Glee" last season, but the lesson here is that you need NeNe as a precision tactical weapon and the more scenes she's allowed to dominate, the less effective she is. Perhaps proving it's more Murphy than Adler, the "New Normal" pilot packs an impressive amount of whiplash into 22 minutes and I was laughing and really annoyed in nearly equal measures. I think there are versions of "The New Normal" that I would really like, versions that would make me laugh, but would also have the ability to pack an emotional punch. There are also versions of "The New Normal" that could have me changing the channel in real frustration.
Desire To Watch Again: I'll watch to find out which one it's going to be. I'm not going to give "The New Normal" infinite time to find itself, to figure out the balance of tones and character, but this is yet another pilot that's a reminder of how tough it is to judge a comedy after one episode. If they tweak Rannells' character in the right way, if they figure out exactly the correct amount to use Barkin and Leakes, if they figure out the weekly structuring of the show, I'll stick around. In the pilot, those things aren't there yet.
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Guys with Kids'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'The Mindy Project'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Partners'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Nashville'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Made in Jersey'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Emily Owens, M.D.'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Mob Doctor'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Animal Practice'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'Last Resort'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Vegas'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Beauty & The Beast'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's '666 Park Avenue'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Chicago Fire'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: FOX's 'Ben and Kate'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: CBS' 'Elementary'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: The CW's 'Arrow'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: ABC's 'The Neighbors'
Take Me To The Pilots '12: NBC's 'Revolution'
All of last year's Take Me To The Pilots entries