As my colleague Igor Volsky noted yesterday, one of NBC’s Utah affiliate has decided not to air Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s new sitcom, The New Normal, about a gay couple who decide to have a child by surrogate because, ““For our brand, this program simply feels inappropriate on several dimensions, especially during family viewing time.” This doesn’t actually strike me as particularly surprising. But I think the channel might have made the decision for different ones than we might expect.
I’ve only seen the pilot of The New Normal, but other than the fact that the show depicts a gay couple in a partnership who want to have a child, it’s not a particularly challenging depiction. The couple conform to butch-femme stereotypes. They don’t have much in the way of sexual chemistry. People who dislike gay couples will not enjoy a show that insists in the most obvious possible terms that they’re here, they’re conforming as quickly as possible, get used to it. But I think it’s less challenging, at least thus far, than something like Glee, which equated a gay teenaged couple losing their virginity with a straight one, or even The Wire, which gave a lesbian couple on the baby track an actual erotic life.
But what I think is narrowly effective about The New Normal, and that might make the affiliate’s audience most uncomfortable, is that it shows bigotry as directly hurtful to the people in range of it. For most of the pilot, Jane (Ellen Barkin), an older divorced woman, is an outrageous caricature of a biased person, who speaks aloud what for most people is subtext or subconscious fear, rather than having her anti-gay views and her racism subtly inflect her thinking, bubbling up in surprising ways that leave everyone around her on edge. But the people around her do a nice job of acting out the pain her outrageous statements cause them. She acts as a roadblock in her daughter Goldie’s (Georgia King) efforts to better herself the one way she believes she can — Goldie is a young single mother — by carrying another couple’s child for a large, one-time fee that would allow her to attend law school. Jane is mean to the gay couple (Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells) who choose Goldie to be their surrogate. Even when she doesn’t mean to, Jane inadvertently ends up coming across as racist to one of the men’s assistant (Nene Leakes). Jane’s views are more disruptive and hurtful than the act of two men building a family together.
And that, I think, is the real reason conservative viewers might be uncomfortable with The New Normal. It’s one thing to find gay couples distasteful or upsetting, but if you believe that gay people and the people who accept them are aberrant and easily confined to places that are far away from you, they don’t represent much threat. But if your views make you the dangerous, damaging, abnormal person, then it’s much more reasonable to feel threatened and upset.