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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/29/13

NBC's "The New Normal" is abnormally unfunny

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(Article changed on March 29, 2013 at 10:46)

(Article changed on March 29, 2013 at 10:38)

If this is the new normal, let me revel in my abnormalities...

The New Normal by NBC Television

Patrice Greanville

If you like to wallow in the most absurd and actually offensively stupid form of escapist television, not merely sprinkled but crammed with cliches; if you think an affluent, self-centered, insular gay couple's tediously trivial bourgeois concerns are the stuff of great comedy (or drama); if you think clueless direction can salvage SNL type tasteless repartee...then NBC's "The New Normal" (TNN) may just be the ticket for you. 

Frankly, I came to this much ballyhooed NBC outing expecting a bit more, not a great deal, of course, knowing full well that great television is rare these days, a medium where the bankruptcy of our pasteurized version of reality dominates all channels.  I watch Bravo's "Real" Atlanta Housewives, and I do get a fair share of laughs--especially now that the "Booty Video War" between the alternatively naive and unjustifiably insecure Kenya Moore and wily, capitalistic Phaedra Parks has taken off...and where Nene Leakes and her outsize personality constitute one of the main draws.  RHoA has some redemptive value. If nothing else, it is an unwitting window for amateur political anthropologists into an unknown territory for whites, the vapidity of an emergent Black bourgeoisie, indistinguishable in all major disgusting aspects from its similarly revolting white model.

Since Nene, never shy of superlatives about her own progress, has been proclaiming for a while that "she has arrived," that she's now "rich" (her innocence in this regard is touching) and a "star", we were a bit concerned. We like Nene, she's frank, and would not want her to fall flat on her face.  But what we saw on The New Normal did not give us much hope for the longevity of this show...unless the incomprehensible taste of American audiences once again proves us wrong and the show becomes a phenomenal success. Nene can act, or, rather, she can play Nene rather well, but then again not much is required from a show that prefers base histrionics to actual performance. And her character, Rocky, is clearly still in development.

But the crucial flaw is TNN's sheer mediocrity. From the word go  The New Normal  rings brutally insincere, again, hardly surprising for American television, so often willing to portray the American hoi polloi as living an insouciant, pampered existence. Not to mention that, deeply woven into its conceptual fabric, TNN is terminally  unfunny. Yes, folks. Contrary to what many PC critics adduce to justify their dislike, TNN is not so much offensive as it is boring .  In its present configuration--promotional noise aside-- The New Normal doesn't even cut it as defensible escapism.

Are we being too nasty? Other critics share our doubts. Ross Bonaime, of Pastemagazine.com, observes:

When these characters on The New Normal get large, they don't become funnier, they become irritating to an almost unbearable level. This week it was the trio of Jane, Rocky and Shania in "The Goldie Rush." In their story this week, Shania is getting picked on at school, so Jane and Rocky's solution is that she should take on some tips the two of them learned from a pair of drag queens. If you outdo the other kid's insults and win, you'll become the queen bee of the school. Great lesson to teach a kid.

It just seems like the writers of The New Normal decided the best thing to do was team up its two weakest characters with the hopes that this will increase their likeability. There's no real reason for Rocky and Jane to be BFFs, but here we are, watching them going on their own misadventures and befriending drag queens. It's such a weird combination of characters, but just throwing them together doesn't make them any more interesting. 

In the final analysis our core disgust with TNN is largely anchored in the fact that it presents gay people --the same demographic that Hollywood liberals promoted so heavily as a wedge issue, as preternaturally devoid of serious concerns, a harmful stereotype gays have been fighting hard to shake off for a long time. Unfortunately this is something of a natural choice for the creative vermin that permeates so much imperial television these days.  
Have we lost our sense of humour? No. Must everything be weighted down with topical heviosity? Categorically no. But an expensive collective production like a television show, expecting to capture some of the ever scarcer mental focus in a dislocated public mind, should at least work hard to justify its existence.  This in an age --need I remind you--that can be fairly categorized as the end of the line for humanity and planet earth. Squandering mass communications time--something American television does with alacrity--is simply criminal--and the fact that this is almost the norm does not make it any less criminal. 
Martini, anyone?

--Patrice Greanville is The Greanville Post's editor in chief.

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Media critic and former economist P. Greanville is The Greanville Post's founding editor (http://www.greanvillepost.com/). He also serves as publisher for Cyrano's Journal Today. He has a lifelong interest in the triumph of justice and (more...)
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