Earlier this week I had the opportunity to participate in the Paley Center for Media’s annual Preview Parties honoring the major networks. First up were NBC and CBS. What are these parties you may ask, though? Well, each year the five major networks take time to visit the Paley Center, bringing along with them pilots of some of their new fall shows, consisting of dramas and comedies both, as well as the talent and crew behind some of these new shows.
For NBC they started off the annual fete with the debut episode of the buzzed about sitcom from Ryan Murphy (the man behind the FOX musicomedy Glee and the horror-filled FX series American Horror Story) called The New Normal. After watching the pilot, cast members Andrew Rannells (Book of Mormon), Justin Bartha (the Hangover franchise), Georgia King (British newcomer), youngster Bebe Wood and NeNe Leaks (of reality and Glee “fame”) took the stage along with the show’s other Executive Producers Dante di Loreto and Ali Adler for a moderated panel overseen by Michael Schneider from TV Guide.
Before I launch into my thoughts on this new sitcom and the rest of what NBC has to offer this fall, I must first preface everything that I am about to say with this one fact: I am not a fan of modern-day sitcoms. In fact, I stopped watching TV comedies in the early 90’s and haven’t gone back since. I have my own thoughts – just as everyone else does – on what is truly funny; but what is included in The New Normal – while perhaps well-intentioned – is just plain awful. And, I’m pretty sure that the folks in that audience with me that night felt much the same way.
Here is the premise behind The New Normal: There is a gay couple in California (one an OBGYN and the other a showrunner of a popular TV series called – of all things – “Sing”) who decide they want a baby; but since they are a same sex couple (two guys), they need a surrogate. Enter a sweet Ohio transplant (and her precocious 9-year-old daughter), who escape from her dead-end job, unhappy marriage and her overbearing grandmother to become the couple’s baby mama.
Should be a funny show, right? Well, there are some laughs, but at the expense of far too many people’s sensibilities; and while I will freely admit there were a FEW genuine touching elements; the bad far outweighs the good. The show starts off badly (never a good thing), featuring Ellen Barkin as the aforementioned grandmother, who by the way, is obviously Ryan Murphy’s caricature of what all somewhat wealthy East Coast women are like: outrageously dressed and over-the-top racist. The horrible dialogue that spews out of that woman’s mouth throughout the entire episode – when she is featured, of course – would make any Klu Klux Klan member’s face turn red of embarrassment (if that were even possible). I would say for TV viewers to just skip this show altogether, as you will be so much the better for it.
The rest of the evening featured the NBC comedies Go On, which stars Matthew Perry as a radio personality who is forced into therapy after the tragic death of his wife, and Animal Practice, which stars Justin Kirk and JoAnna Garcia (who, I have to say, is utterly WASTED in this show – she deserves so much better), in a series about a world-renowned veterinarian who loves his patients but hates their owners [Think House but with animals]. Need I say more about those comedies? Well, I will say this: I disliked them as much as The New Normal. Moving on…
Sadly, the night didn’t get much better with the screenings of the new dramas Revolution and Chicago Fire. This was my third chance to see Revolution – now with the newly cast Elizabeth Mitchell of Lost fame (as the mother of the main character) – and while I liked the pilot well enough, I think Revolution still has a lot of work ahead of it in order to improve or else the audience is going to flock away very quickly. Then there is Chicago Fire – a TV series about firefighters and paramedics at (what else?) a Chicago firehouse. There is great eye candy (for both sexes) in this show; but none of the characters stand out – except for Taylor Kinney’s body – and the drama is filled with nothing but clichés. That just isn’t enough to keep viewers coming back for more.
NOTE: The new comedy Guys With Kids was also screened, but I left before that episode got started simply because I wasn’t interested; although a friend who remained behind did tell me this comedy was more entertaining than the other three we saw that night so there’s that.
The following night CBS was up to bat, starting off the night with the debut episode of their new comedy Partners from the creators of Will & Grace, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan. The screening was followed by a moderator panel led by TV Guide writer Will Keck that included cast members Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), David Krumholtz (Numb3rs), Sophia Bush (One Tree Hill) and Brandon Routh (Superman Returns and Chuck) as well as the series creators.
Again, remember I don’t really like comedies; but I have to say that Partners – which is about two long-time best friends (since at least the 3rd grade – one gay, one straight) who own a small architecture firm together; one has a handsome boyfriend who is a nurse and the other a beautiful girlfriend who is a jewelry designer – is a funny show. It is easy to see that the lead characters, much like the lead characters in The New Normal, are reminiscent of the men behind each sitcom; but that is where the similarities end. Partners was a fun, light-hearted look at how people work as partners in many different aspects of their lives. The creators themselves shared that the show is a “buddy comedy” that will not teach or preach unlike the almost in-your-face attitude taken by The New Normal. I would actually watch Partners if comedies were even on my radar; and that is really saying something.
Perhaps, the best thing I can say about the moderated panel was when the audience was given a chance to ask some questions. Sophia Bush gave one of the best pieces of advice to a young girl, who is an aspiring actress. The little girl asked for advice about getting into acting and making it a career with Sophia sharing this: “I know you’re young, but you’ve got to hear (this) now. The most valuable part about you is your brain. Get an education; don’t let anybody tell you that your body or the size that you wear or any of that “BS” matters because it doesn’t. Your brain matters. So be the smart girl in the room because, to be funny, you have to be smart to get the job”. Well said, Sophia, well said. And, the positive audience reaction to that comment said it all.
The rest of the evening featured the premiere episodes of the CBS dramas Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller as a modern day Sherlock Holmes forced to live in New York with his sober companion Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu); Vegas, the period piece drama starring Dennis Quaid as a rancher reluctantly-turned-sheriff of the city that never sleeps in its early days, fighting against the mob and Made In Jersey, the working-class, newly-minted lawyer working at a prestigious law firm in Manhattan, fighting for respect and the little guy.
As anyone who watches CBS is aware, the network is known for their procedurals; and Made In Jersey fits into that mold perfectly; but there isn’t enough in the pilot to make anyone to return for a second visit. In fact, a friend and I thought it was the network’s poor attempt at making a Fairly Legal type show but not getting even close. Elementary, on the other hand, could have potential; but with Sherlock already a hit via PBS, it just might be a bit too much – although it is great to hear Jonny Lee Miller using his real British accent, not having to hide it. And, Lucy Liu is interesting as a female Watson. I’m sure it’ll catch on with a certain faction of the viewers. Lastly, Vegas is a typical period piece with great costuming, hair and make-up. It’s based on real people – especially the sheriff – but it felt more like a movie or what should have been an extended mini-series. Given all that, I am not sure if Vegas will be able to sustain running as a weekly series; but I guess we shall see.
NEXT UP: The CW