Two new NBC sitcoms, Go On and The New Normal, address some big events in life — the death of a spouse, the birth and adoption of a child — with a mixture of sarcasm and sentimentality that isn’t remotely realistic, but can be funny.
In The New Normal, committed couple Bryan (The Book of Mormon’s Andrew Rannells) and David (The Hangover’s Justin Bartha) want a baby, and enlist struggling single mom Goldie (Georgia King) as their surrogate. Normal does a good job of sketching in the men’s contrasted-for-comedy traits — Bryan is fussy and emotional; doctor David is pragmatic and serene. Creator Ryan Murphy (Glee) adds frothy dollops of extreme by tossing in two valuable players who could not be more different: Ellen Barkin is Goldie’s genially homophobic grandmother, while reality TV vet NeNe Leakes proves a finely aggressive comic actress as Bryan’s office assistant.
Personalities pinball off each other in Go On as well. Matthew Perry plays Ryan King, a wise-guy sports-talk-radio host whose wife died in a recent car accident. Agreeing to do 10 therapy sessions before returning to his job, Ryan arrives at the ”Transitions” group, which is stocked with a roomful of neurotic eccentrics and led by the charming Laura Benanti (The Playboy Club, but don’t hold that against her). For a widower, Perry is less glum than he was in his short-lived Mr. Sunshine, and the cast of Go On, created by Friends’ Scott Silveri (who also brought us the underrated Perfect Couples), is loaded with fine performers. These include the great Bill Cobbs as a cranky blind man, and Everybody Hates Chris star Tyler James Williams as a guy whose brother is in a coma. Perhaps best of all is Julie White, an uncommonly skilled theater/film/TV actress, playing Anne, a woman who just lost her female partner.
White’s character in Go On is as much an example of ”the new normal” as Bryan and David are in Ryan Murphy’s show: Their sexuality is duly noted (and, in the case of The New Normal, deplored by Barkin’s Jane, whom we’re supposed to deplore in turn), but it doesn’t define them. Both shows tweak stereotypes without succumbing to them, which is a relief. Both could use funnier punchlines, which is not. For two shows crammed with talent (Perry is in top form, and Rannells, post-Mormon, is one of the hottest young talents around), they are going to rise or fall based on their material. So far, I’d give The New Normal a slight edge because it’s tighter and more assured, but the bigger, odder Go On ensemble bears watching too — for a few more episodes, at least. B-