NBC’s freshman comedy The New Normal will continue to tackle different points of view beyond those of Democratic gay families starting with Tuesday’s episode, “Obama Mama,” which opens up the political dialogue to include the right wing.
During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Ryan Murphy said he and fellow co-creator/showrunner Ali Adler felt it was important to give equal time to Republicans, including candidate Mitt Romney.
New Normal revolves around a gay couple (Andrew Rannells, Justin Bartha) who turn to a surrogate (Goldie, played by Georgia King) to help expand their family. Ellen Barkin plays Jane, Goldie’s racist and homophobic grandmother who also happens to be a Republican and Mitt Romney supporter.
“We all collectively thought it would be great to an episode where you presented Ellen’s point of view, the conservative point of view, the Republican point of view that hopefully was eloquent and was given equal time,” Murphy said, noting he was inspired by All in the Family and the way in which Norman Lear brought politics to the dinner table with conversations between Archie (Carroll O’Connor) and Meathead (Rob Reiner).
Murphy noted that the network and studio 20th Television were supportive of the episode — 20th chairman Dana Walden was among those who attended the table read for it — only offering one caveat: “to be fair.”
“I didn’t want to do a 100 percent pro-Obama episode, even though that’s where my political interests lie,” said Murphy, who recently held a fundraiser for the president at his Beverly Hills home.
Barkin, he noted, was also instrumental in the episode. “Here you have with Ellen Barkin one of the world’s biggest liberals if you follow her Twitter account. She was passionate about her character standing up and telling the truth as her character would say them,” Murphy said of “Obama Mama,” which will also include dialogue about abortion.
The series will continue to explore topical and more traditional episodes starting with next week’s “Nanagasm,” which will tackle sexuality themes for women in their 50s and how society treats them and how they feel about it. Also not surprisingly on the table: gay marriage, which Murphy said will be explored when Goldie’s daughter, Shania (Bebe Wood) gets a playground proposal that inspires Rannells’ Bryan to plan a wedding “largely because he can’t throw one of his own.”
The series is loosely based on Murphy’s life. Rannells’ character is a showrunner on an Ohio-set musical show called Sing, which stars a lead character whose name is Clea (Glee‘s Lea Michele, Murphy said, loves it), with subsequent episodes also exploring that world. “We will be exploring that world and his other shows,” the American Horror Story and Glee showrunner said, noting that he’s enjoyed poking fun at himself.
Subsequent episodes will also explore the gay male stereotype and how both the LGBT and straight communities feel about it as well as gender roles and children, which will both be examined in the Halloween episode when the 5-year-old son of one of David’s (Bartha) colleagues wants to go trick or treating as a pink fairy despite enjoying playing with toy soldiers.
“It’s an interesting discussion about children, parenting, joys and embarrassment,” Murphy said of the episode, which will see Goldie’s estranged husband Clay (Jayson Blair) return and feature about 15 costumes, including Barkin’s Jane dressed as Bewitched‘s Endora.
Murphy said the Halloween episode will also pay homage to TLC’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo when the whole family goes dressed as the clan from the polarizing docuseries about a redneck family after Bryan learns Shania loves the show.
“We’re trying to mix it up, do episodes that don’t play in the political sandbox but because of what the show is about we’re going back and forth between them, which has been interesting,” he said.
Subsequent episodes will explore Bryan and David’s families, with Murphy noting he really wants to cast a character to play his mother and explore the emotional experience between a gay man and his mother. “It’s tough for me sometimes to write it and edit it; it’s really emotional,” he said of writing about his on-again, off-again relationship with his mother. “My partner and I are talking about surrogacy and family and I wanted to explore that.”
In addition, look for That Girl‘s Marlo Thomas to pop up around episode 10 as the mentor to Barkin’s character. “I want her to play the opposite of what she’s always played in her career,” he said of the character, who will run a real estate company.
With the recent addition of The L Word‘s Leisha Hailey and Entourage‘s Constance Zimmer, Murphy said the series will also explore a lesbian couple on a similar path to Bryan and David. “We thought it was important that all sides of the gay community have stakes in the show,” he said of the characters, who David and Bryan will ask to be the god parents to their unborn baby. Murphy noted the series would follow Hailey and Zimmer’s Victoria and Tiffany as they struggle with infertility.
“We’re writing about that in a moving way and we’re certainly going to bring them back and follow that couple as they go through the process and hopefully have happy news to report,” he said of the couple, who first appear in the fifth episode as Bryan and David explore spirituality.
While NBC has yet to make a decision on New Normal‘s back-nine order, Murphy said “Obama Mama” represents the “sweet spot” of the series: the right balance between topical and tender, pushing boundaries and pulling back.
“I’m writing about how I’m living now, how I’m feeling and how people are coping with the world we live in,” he said, noting he’s not overly concerned with the show feeling dated should it continue on in syndicated repeats 10 years down the line, noting that Lear’s material still stands up today as society grapples with many of the same issues.
The New Normal airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.