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ellen barkin

the new normal

One of my favorite new shows this fall is The New Normal, NBC’s comedy about a gay couple (Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells) who hire a surrogate named Goldie (Georgia King) to carry a baby for them. I didn’t expect to like it, but it’s funny, sweet and heartfelt. Well, mostly.

Apparently, there’s a memo going around that you have to have an offensive female on comedies now — like Jane Lynch on Glee and Cloris Leachman on Raising Hope. I’m not sure why that is. Are offense females funny? Maybe I just need to embrace the concept.

In The New Normal, the part of the offensive female is played by Ellen Barkin, who plays Goldie’s grandmother. But in my family review of the show over at Orlando Family Magazine, I wondered if the Barkin character would be TOO offensive for viewers. She’s over-the-top racist, homophobic, politically incorrect, and insulting.

ellen barkinI guess she’s the type of character that people will talk about over the water cooler the next day, but you have to wonder if the writers will run out of crude epithets for her to lob at people. And whether The New Normal pushes the boundaries of what you can and cannot do on network TV too far. Remember, this is NBC, not FX or HBO. It’s rated TV-14, but too cringe-worthy for me to watch with my teens.

And I get what executive producer Ryan Murphy is trying to do here. He’s taking his other show Glee a step further by making a gay couple the focus and stepping up the offensive female character. He’s drawing awareness to the fact that a family doesn’t have to be a heterosexual married couple with 2.5 kids. And also to the fact that vile people exist, and instead of coping with it in silence, maybe it’s better to face it.

All good, but I just hope people won’t find The New Normal so in-your-face offensive that they won’t watch. It’s already been banned by a Mormon church-owned NBC affiliate in Utah, which, of course, gave it tons of press. But the show really does bring up some important issues and shake people out of their doldrums.

I have a feeling The New Normal will probably be around for a while. There may be people who won’t watch it, but more people who do. And the gifs and memes are already burning a hole in Tumblr’s server, so there’s that.

What do you think? Are offensive female characters funny? Does Ellen Barkin’s character on The New Normal make you cringe? Or does she make you think? 

And here’s what keeps me watching The New Normal:

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6 COMMENTS

  1. I haven’t seen The New Normal, but I did watch Glee. And then stopped because I got tired of Sue Sylvester lobbing negativity at everyone in the world. It felt too over the top to be real. And that’s saying something because the entire premise of Glee pretty much requires that you put reality on hold if you’ve ever had anything to do with high school. (The kids never go to class. The teachers never seem to teach. All the complaining about money is always miraculously resolved and they can cut away to spectacularly awesome song & dance numbers… )

  2. I’ve got to agree with you on this one – I’m not sure whether to laugh and just stare dumbly at the screen whenever her character opens her mouth (it’s usually latter).

  3. I thank you for writing this article. 

    First, let me share with you that I am a gay man over the age of 60, so my perspective on this may be somewhat different than what I can tell is portrayed in this show. I am also in a committed (not “married”) relationship to a wonderful man for the past 20 years.

    I have read about this show but I have never seen it (other than the two curious vidclips you posted with your article). I have seen Glee and find that show very refreshingly funny as well as original in the way they portray the gay couple in that series. The difference between the two is that the offensive female in Glee does her best to be offensive and abrasive to everyone, not just the young gay couple. From what I can tell, Barkin’s character seems to direct all her loathsome venom at the gay couple only. I agree with relyearerin’s comment about Sue Sylvester but I still like the show. Personally, neither my partner nor I would put up with anyone coming into our home and speaking to us so disrespectfully. They would be shown the door and told never to darken our doorstep again…even if it was a relative of either of ours. Fortunately for us, we both had parents who were loving and accepting and both called their respective son’s partner ‘son’. That is something we are both deeply grateful for. That does not appear to be the case here, but, then, I have very little [TNN] information to go on.

    After reading your article, I won’t be going out of my way to see TNN. In fact, in speaking to others about it, I would have to say I don’t care for it and describe it as an over the top distortion of gay men. That proposal scene was (how can I put this kindly) not something I would do or have seen demonstrated in other gay men of my acquaintance. Most of the men I know are in loving long term relationships but are not ‘married’. I live in California so I do know of some who did get married before Prop 8. Some gay men and women like the idea of the institution of marriage but some of us see it as just another attempt to blend in and be accepted along with ‘normal’ heterosexuals. Numerous legal avenues of protection can be just as effective (if not more so) than a heterosexually-based matrimonial ceremony. None of us human beings are ‘normal’. We cross an infinitely broad spectrum of interests, behaviours, mannerisms, and so on. Pigeonholing people does nothing to foster understanding and acceptance. This would appear to be nothing more than a mockery. And I don’t just speak of the gays in this show.

    Sexuality aside, I nearly went into apoplectic shock at the idea they only voted for Obama because he is black. How about, “we voted for him because he is, after weighing all the evidence and making our best informed and educated opinion, the best man for the job.” Skin color has nothing to do with it. Really an insulting remark to gays as well as blacks. They even portrayed Republicans as inflexible, rigid, stoic, cold, heartless. That again is a stereotype that just perpetuates the already bad will between the political parties fostering further contempt. But then not even television writers seem to be able to get past seeing and treating people with respect and dignity. What about just seeing people as people? Probably not good for the ratings, I suppose. It is because of this ‘appeal to the lowest common denominator mentality’ that I watch little television.

    I do apologize for my loquacity; this is a subject that has bothered me for some time and I had to speak my peace. I do mean it when I say I appreciate your writing this. I just so hope this does get more people to think and dialog about this subject that more may recognize this is show is just a fiction, a story. It is not a depiction of real life [gays]. These characters are not how most real gay people think and act.

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