TV Culture: “The New Normal” Is Hardly New

Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler’s new comedy series, The New Normal, aired its anticipated debut last week on NBC. In its attempt to redefine societal norms and family values, the pilot episode instead reinforces the modern familiar. Though the coincidental family depicted on The New Normal certainly doesn’t reflect traditional American values, it is in America’s best interest not to imitate these particular characters in search of a new norm.

Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha), make up a beautiful gay couple in deep desperation for a baby. While it is problematic that Bryan seems to want a baby for no apparent reason other than to dress him in designer sweaters, the stereotypical depictions of race were even more unsettling.

Georgia King plays Goldie, the young, unsophisticated blonde with an outspoken daughter. Ellen Barkin plays Goldie’s mother, Jane, the bigoted elderly White woman. Lastly, NeNe Leaks, the infamous reality turned television star from The Real Housewives of Atlanta, plays Rocky, Bryan’s loud and obnoxious African-American secretary.

The limitations of racial comedy have long been debated. While some feel that nothing should be off limits, others draw the line at “extreme” offense and disrespect. The boundaries remain uncertain and  The New Normal unashamedly takes advantage of this obscurity. In what could have been a hopeful parody, the show exploits every stereotype available in exchange for laughs.

Rather than utilizing comedic one-liners to explore race, the show relies heavily on outdated cultural expectations to achieve their misleading goal. The archetypes of the polarized gay couple, dumb blonde, conservative White woman, and the aggressive Black woman drive The New Normal.

Although the likelihood of true character development is slim, the deeper concern lies in the intention and creation behind such personas. Sadly, the tone and dialog of the first episode did not grant The New Normal with the golden pass of parody. The cast consists of legitimate characters with genuine motives. Rocky’s character, for example, does not  exist to mock or explain the plight of African-American women. Instead, her character seems to exist solely to scare off potential antagonists who think Bryan is too soft to defend himself, promoting the historical image of belligerent Black women that many storytellers are still fighting to dilute.

This prompts the question: Did the show creators knowingly perpetuate cultural stereotypes in the name of comedy?  Or do they honestly believe that they are establishing a new normal through the depiction of these characters?

It is no longer enough to merely cast racial minorities and representatives from other marginalized demographics in television shows. As Hollywood slowly, but surely continues to diversify the talent pool, the pressing issue has advanced from inclusive representation to comprehensive depiction.

Characters like Goldie can afford to exist due to the overwhelming presence and wide-ranging characterization of White female leads on primetime television. Before creating characters like Rocky, however, it is essential to consider how such limited imagery will affect American thought. It is also imperative that we hold show runners accountable for the deliberate exploitation of racial stereotypes, even in the name of comedy.

Read this article on Scribe.

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