'The New Normal' Is Less New Than Normal

A cartoonish confirmation of every liberal's worst suspicions of conservatives, Jane is a racist, sexist, homophobic gun-toting harridan in a skirt suit.

The New Normal

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: Andrew Rannells, Georgia King, Ellen Barkin, Bebe Wood, Jayson Blair, NeNe Leakes
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: NBC
Creator: Ryan Murphy
Air date: 2012-09-11

The New Normal risks sinking under the weight of its good intentions. "Good intentions" can be relative, of course, and in the case of a family sitcom created by Ryan Murphy, they come with some obvious caveats, for example, some jabs at social and formal conventions as well as some energetic redefinitions of "normal."

The show -- which sneak-previews on 10 September after The Voice before it takes up its regular slot on Tuesday nights -- owes much to Modern Family, specifically, the idea that the nuclear family is no longer the only or even the primary model. Previous challenges to this norm have been offered on TV before, by The Simpsons, Family Guy or Malcolm in the Middle, all showcasing "abnormal" characters who behave as badly or as well as anyone else.

This premise is established as soon as The New Normal opens on a new adoptive father, Bryan (Andrew Rannell), as he's recording an emotional video message for his new baby. Tearful but not too sentimental, Bryan appears enthusiastic and also terrified, a familiar range of emotions that solicit our good will. From here, The New Normal flashes back in time to introduce that baby's mother, before the baby's birth. If Bryan is generally familiar, Goldie (Georgia King) is a cliché in almost every way, a downtrodden, plucky single mother and waitress (in this she recalls all those films and TV shows I watched as a child, when I wondered why American single mothers were always waitresses). Goldie's eight-year-old daughter, Shania (Bebe Wood), is, of course, lovely and precocious, as well as helpfully inspiring to her mother, who is making a change in her life after she catches her husband (Jayson Blair) cheating on her.

And so Goldie moves with Shania from Ohio to LA, where she answers an ad placed by Bryan and his partner, a sports-loving gynecologist named David (Justin Bartha). They're looking for a surrogate mother, and she wants to pay for law school. The couple leads an affluent lifestyle with few apparent worries, channeling their frustrated paternal feelings into spoiling their puppy. Much like Goldie, Bryan and David are also stereotypes, namely, the privileged couple who can afford to buy whatever they want. At first, we're inclined to suspect Bryan and David's intentions, guessing they might be looking for another adorable object to spoil, a status symbol to dress in designer baby clothes. But their intentions are better than that, much like the show's.

Bryan and David might seem obvious targets for satire of the sort Murphy, who cut his teeth on nip/tuck, created Glee, and still runs American Horror Story. But they're not nearly so obvious as Goldie's bigoted grandmother Jane (played with a raspy relish by Ellen Burstyn). A cartoonish confirmation of every liberal's worst suspicions of conservatives, Jane a racist, sexist, homophobic gun-toting harridan in a skirt suit. Still, Jane can be very funny, whatever your politics. I could have done without her being given a rather neat justification for her prejudices, a convenient means to soften her general harshness. Jane's past doesn't automatically make her likeable, but it does make her more seem slightly less predictable.

At the same time, jokes concerning Bryan and David tend to be tender and domestic, as in their vague talk of dreams coming true and references to Mary Tyler Moore suggest the show isn't quite cynical enough for political satire. Unless this gentleness is an elaborate set-up for a later joke, the lack of cynicism is at least a bit unusual in the current sitcom universe, conferring novelty and a genuine, rather than confected, sweetness.

Even if The New Normal's mix of mocking and moralizing is not so unusual, it has incited mild controversy. One Million Moms have declared a boycott of the show and a Mormon-owned Utah NBC affiliate has refused to air it. But at this point in time, such expressions of outrage are so expected that they only provide a minimal publicity, rather than any effective threat to a show's existence. In the case of The New Normal, that threat will be more banal, having to do with ratings. It will depend on the new normal being less mundane and more unexpected.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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