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The New Normal Review: Making the Choir Cringe?

The New Normal S01E01 & S01E02: "Pilot" & "Sofa's Choice"

Credit where credit's due: Perhaps no current TV producer has found so much mainstream success by pursuing offbeat or fringe-appeal subject matter as Ryan Murphy. Starting with his perhaps too-clever-for-The WB teen show Popular and continuing with the disturbing psychosexual dramedy Nip/Tuck, the horror melodrama American Horror Story, and the primetime musical (!) after-school special Glee, few can argue that Murphy makes safe creative decisions. Regardless of how you feel about those shows (or, more pressingly, whether those shows actually remain good beyond their first seasons), Murphy deserves our respect for bringing something new to the table with each new project. That trend continues with The New Normal, his single-camera sitcom created with Ali Adler for NBC's rebooted comedy lineup. On paper, a show about two gay men who hire a surrogate to carry their baby simply could not have been greenlit on a major network before 2012 and probably by no producer with less clout than Murphy. But while The New Normal is certainly a watershed moment in television history, it also bears some unmistakable—and unfortunate—Murphy trademarks. Namely, it not only sings to the choir, it frequently makes us cringe.

At one point in the pilot, our heroine surrogate Goldie asks the two fathers-to-be Bryan and David (the fantastic Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha) if they'd like to be present when she gets inseminated. Bryan responds matter-of-factly that no, he'd rather not, since to him women's genitalia looks like "tarantula faces." Taken out of context, that's an awful-yet-hilarious thing to say to a woman, but in the context of The New Normal, we're supposed to like Bryan, not write him off as a woman-fearing cliché of a gay man. This, after at least three jokes in which Bryan objectifies an infant as simply an accessory and openly wishes for a child that is "blonde, skinny, and doesn't cry." Again, perfectly funny jokes for an unlikable buffoon in a Christopher Guest film, but this show asks us to be on Bryan's side, and more importantly, to sympathize with the plight of childless gay couples. It's an uncomfortable fit, particularly for a gay viewer like me who desires nothing more than for gay people to be featured in lead roles where their gayness is not (1) their defining personality trait, or (2) a tired cliché. So yeah, I'm in the choir, Ryan Murphy, but these portrayals of gay men are making me consider resigning.

After premiering the pilot online and then running it after The Voice on Monday, last night NBC debuted The New Normal's second episode, "Sofa's Choice," in the show's official timeslot of Tuesday at 9:30pm, billing it as the series' official premiere. We at TV.com love to talk about the differences between first and second episodes, since second episodes usually feature the new, permanent sets the show will be filming on, as well as a more locked-down cast and sensibility. In many ways, the second episode is the real indicator of a show's quality or longevity, so I'm pleased to say the second episode of The New Normal showed a marked improvement. Most of the things that bugged me in the pilot were improved upon in the second episode: Both Bryan and David got fleshed out; Goldie made more sense as a character; Goldie's wise-beyond-her-years daughter was made more weird-beyond-her years (via her truly funny obsession with Grey Gardens); and even Bryan sort of toned down his jokes that might make us doubt his ability to be a good father. It was a start.

Unfortunately, even with those improvements, some serious red flags remain. In particular Ellen Barkin's increasingly tiresome Nana character, who in the pilot could have gone either way, but is now officially one of TV's worst new characters. It's not even that she's a poor man's rip-off of Arrested Development's Lucille Bluth (down to the stolen joke about gay people doing her hair), it's that her hateful one-liners are so unfunny and uninspired, it makes Goldie less likable just for even putting up with her. (Seriously, lots of people have cut ties with family members for less hateful behavior.) I understand that Nana's a villain, but I guess it just rings false that she'd put her hate so front-and-center in every conversation she has. Women like this should be fakey, scheming, and manipulative—not loud, racist blowhards. If Nana isn't toned down soon, this show could become unwatchable quickly. Same goes for NeNe Leakes' Rocky character, who initially served as a charming counterpoint to Bryan's finicky ways, but in the second episode couldn't articulate a punchline to save her life. At one point Nana barged in on Rocky while she was on the toilet (this show does love its potty humor) and questioned whether the bathroom shouldn't be whites-only. Or something? I didn't even get it! What California resident in 2012 openly makes pre-segregation insults? And rather than fly into the righteous rage we as viewers thirsted for, Rocky just sort of muttered something and the scene was over. Ugh. Pointless.

Don't get me wrong, The New Normal has all the ingredients for a classic comedy series: An insanely talented cast, rewardingly clever dialogue, attempts at emotional depth, and especially a bravery in how it addresses certain political topics at a time when public opinion about them is still being formed. This could very well prove to be a television show—like All in the Family before it—that television historians will look back on as era-defining. That is, if it doesn't implode from lack of ideas. I'm not sure if the gestation and birth of a single baby is enough to hinge many seasons of a show on, and it's worrisome that BOTH of the first two episodes dealt with whether Goldie was even pregnant. (Spoiler: She is.) But as long as the characters continue to evolve into believable people (witty, intelligent, hilarious believable people), The New Normal's prospects look pretty good. I may currently be eying the exit, but for now, I suppose, my robes stay on.


What did YOU think of The New Normal's first two episodes?




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though some stuff is really cliche and stereotypical, as a person having a lot, quite a lot of gay friends, I have seen more than a couple of examples of both characters in real life with actions and lines that would make all of you roll eyes if you have seen or heard them on TV. While I agree that the Nana character is beyond tolerable -and is the only thing I would like to see changed in this show- the rest does not bother me at all..
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I am straight and I love this show. It has set the bar very high on par with HBO. Barkin is hot.

Great characters, and I especially love how they continually evlove.



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1st reaction,too many sterotypes. but that is how tv is. one gay man "more normal" the other a depiction of wacky disfunction wrapped in a plastic ken doll that thinks it is barbie..funny maybe,but this may only be what people on the coasts see. add the sit-com elavation and it seems like amos and andy(too sensitive?... maybe))i think it is offensive to gay men. look at thr logo network,nothing but drag and sex with a str8 woman,cute?obnoxious. it is not representative and reinforces sterotypes. a str8 female friend of mine liked it esp 2nd ep. so we had this discussion. most gay people walk down the street unnoticed. and the ones that fit the sterotype of a?sissy"take the abuse in large doses. does this help or hinder progress. all in the family was about sterotypes too and almost everybody loved it.if anyone can pull this off,ryan may be the guy. hopefully too early to tell for me anyhow.
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Sam Adama... from Caprica. Do they have to be killers to be good?
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I saw the third episode as well, and I can't say that I enjoy the show, Guys with babies are funnier. I actually was laughing out loud there, but here.. at most it is a smile on my lips but that disappears quickly.

I dislike Nana, the gay couple, the know-it-all teen, and can't say I love Goldie either. Everything is too fake and I do appreciate the message the show tries to send, but please then, be more like scrubs in the first three seasons, not only funny but add some sentimental thoughts and reflect more serioulsy on the topic here. Make the characters feel more real instead of this barbie-ken world, it is plastic.

The best gay character I have seen ever was Rubicons' Kale Ingram (Arliss Howard) which was prortrayed superbly. But of course that was a drama and not a comedy. All the characters just feels like it is something we all have seen over and over again and despite it is 2012 the same stereotypes that we always have had remains the same, so it doesnt even feels fresh anymore.
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I found the show annoying and not funny at all specially last night when they were referring to breast and condoms when talking about the children. Very inappropriate :/
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The gay community needs a resounding voice that will show us in a positive light and not make a mockery of our lives. If you want to see the REAL new normal, check out "The New American Family" on blog.com! There's a new story being told in a very real way!



http://angiecaptivatingcreations.blog.com/
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This show is a desperate rip-off of Modern Family, except without the clever writing, engaging character dynamic, and humor which doesn't rely on constant rapid-fire pop culture references.



Cam on Modern Family and Bryan on The New Normal are both effeminate gay characters on TV. But the difference is Cam's character on Modern Family was actually well-written, likable, and most importantly, FUNNY. Even though he initially came across as a "stereotypical queen," his character over time revealed aspects of his character which added depth and defied the viewers preconceptions. I'm skeptical that The New Normal will let it's own characters outgrow their stereotypical molds, considering how Ryan Murphy handles the lack of character continuity on Glee, having them go through heavy-handed life-changing "lessons" only to revert to one-dimensional twits in the next episode as if none of it mattered. It's tiresome, and even out of the gate, I get the same feeling with The New Normal.



I find Bryan on The New Normal incredibly unlikeable, but worst of all, just plain unfunny. And the rest of the ensemble, nor the mediocre writing does nothing to help balance that out to create a dynamic of a show that's enjoyable. This show would have been groundbreaking in the 90s, but we've gotta have more than just rapid-fire pop culture references and tired stereotypes about gay men being into fashion and antiques. Being gay myself, there's nothing about the gay-oriented humor on this show that is particularly fresh or funny. And you'd think a promising storyline of a gay couple + surrogacy would be prime comedic territory. What an absolute misfire.
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Yeah. Bad, bad show. Ironically, stuff like this is why we have so many negative gay stereotypes.
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pretty much horrible
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And can I just add that the "joke" about lesbians in last night's episode was completely inappropriate and Ryan Murphy, as a gay man, should be completely ashamed of himself for including such an ugly "joke."



By the way, Price - Love you "on" Teen Wolf - still loving you here! Thanks!
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Haven't seen the show (I'm fine with the concept, it just doesn't sound very funny). I do support the shout-out to Teen Wolf though.
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My thoughts...



- I fully agree that if this show had not come from Ryan Murphy, it never would've seen the light of day.



- Remember when Obama first got elected, and anyone who didn't like him was deemed racist, even if they had legitimate reasons? And then eventually, even the most hardcore supporters became jaded once the "new" concept got old? I feel like this show will have the same effect (no thanks to Salt Lake City), except replace "racist" with "homophobe."



- I've seen enough Glee to know that precocious children, dumb blondes, smart Asians, flamboyant homosexuals, sassy black women, and bigoted middle-aged white women aren't "The New Normal," they're Ryan Murphy's "Same Old Same Old."



- I was shocked to discover that "Nene Leakes" is an actress, and not a treasonous website as I originally thought. Upon viewing her work, I think I'd prefer the website...at least that would be useful to somebody.



- I'm not sure how long ago these episodes were filmed, but let's hope we never see Ellen Barkin looking like she did at the Roseanne Roast. Ew.



- I don't care how wise Shania is beyond her years (or every other character's years, for that matter), it's still illegal for a 9 year-old to engage in social networking.



- Didn't know Price was gay. Learn something new every day, I guess....+
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Shocker713 - I had more laughs reading your post than watching the last two episodes of The New Normal!
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boring
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The second episode was alright. Almost completely agree with the review.

Nana is just awfull, but maybe this discussion is what Rany Murphy is aiming for, or Murphy is under the impression that she has to that mean and hatefull for her eventual redemption to have an greater impact.

I wonder why this show hasn't peeked to ABCs Happy Endings for portrayal of gay characters. When describing Max there are so many adjectives that pop in my head before gay. That makes a character. For Bryan and David one would start with "Well, first of all they are gay......"
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I loved it. I agree that Nana is way too hateful of a character but I don't agree that Goldie should be expected to cut ties with her. At the end of the day, she is her family and Nana loves her. If she didn't, she wouldn't care what Goldie was doing with her body. Her hatefulness clearly isn't rubbing off on Goldie or her daughter and while I believe she should distance herself from Nana for her and the sake of her child, cutting her out of her life is extreme. You don't have to agree with all of your family's opinions to love them. My father is a racist (not a hateful one but he does say off-colour things). I don't agree with what he says and I love him in spite of it but at the end of the day, he loves me and would do anything for me. Should I cut him out of my life because we have different opinions on equality?
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They just need to make it funnier.
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This review is right on par with my own; while there are some good things in there, it tends to just be a little too much. Ryan Murphy needs to tone down a lot of the characters, and could full on get rid of NeNe Leakes' character without affecting the quality of the show. If they don't tone down Ellen Barkin's character substantially in the next 2 episodes, I'm not sure I'll be able to continue watching. Her one-liners aren't funny or original or clever; they're just hateful.
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I laughed a few times but I agree that this show is still finding its footing and could improve. I liked the flashback/present day club scenes the best, I thought those were the right amount of funny and accurate. Nana could be toned down but I think Ellen Barkin is still pretty funny. She was best when coaching Goldie's boyfriend Clay on how to win Goldie back. I like the little girl a lot too.
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I don't know, I think I like it, it seems to have a lot of heart to it and definitely has its funny moments, but particularly in the pilot the stereotypes were awful. I especially didn't like the way he spoke about a baby like it was a fashion accessory.
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I was excited for a new ryan murphy as i'm such a fan of all his previous works but this show is a fail. It just falls flat, the humour is contrived and too stereotypical. It feels like im watching a documentary on two gay dudes trying to get a baby, and for that melodrama I would rather go to TLC. Cam and Mitchel from modern family are far more entertaining to watch and have portrayed this storyline better already. It had promise on paper but fails to deliver anything special on tv, a whole season of this would be far too tedious. In the discard pile it goes
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The toilet joke refers to Rocky using the boss' (Bryan's) personal toilet.... not necessarily racist.... but I am sure it was put there to create that particular reaction all the same...
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I thought it was about Leakes' character being a transsexual and a dilemma about whether to use the men's room or ladies' room....maybe I missed something? Is she not a transsexual?
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This show is typical of way NBC is failing in the ratings. The has no appeal to the general audience. A small group may enjoy the one-lined humor; The vast audience will not relate. NBC go back to the drawing board.
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I get that everybody seems to think that one of the gay character is so STEREOTYPICAL...



But am I the only one that thinks that Justin Bartha's character is the perfect match to this stereotype? You have one guy who is everything that we expect... and then you have another guy who is a jock and a doctor and doesn't understand any of the "gay things" that his partner does... I think it's perfect.



The show is about throwing stereotypes into your face and then making you think about them. In this instance, "Oh, look, a flamboyant gay man!" and then "Oh, look, a really attractive sexy guy that girls probably would fawn over, but too bad, he's gay." At least, I would totally crush on Justin Bartha's character and then be totally let down to find out he's not into my gender.



Anywho, I'll continue watching this show for Justin Bartha and because there is NO LAUGH TRACK, THANK GOD. At least, until I lost interest.
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First, Nana isn't a California resident; I'm pretty sure they're from Ohio. Second, I completely disagree with your characterization of Nana as the villain. The bitch got out her gun when her granddaughter's husband was cheating; yes she's a bigot but she followed them all the way to California. She's lonely and I see a lot of potential.
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The joke makes no more sense with the person being from OH since that state didn't have segregation before the advent of civil rights. That said, I think Ellen Barkin completely pulls off her character. Like every other character on the show, she has a few human moments mixed in with being completely over the top. Nene Leakes, on the other hand, seems to have only one gear as an actress and it's really tiresome. Perhaps that's because she isn't really an actress.
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Yeah, because one of Ryan's no apologies stereotypes that he never subverts is that if you don't live in New York or California you are racist, homophobic, clueless, and scared of anything "different," they have no concept of fashion and they stopped watching television when it went color.
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I liked the premiere and am adding this new series to my favourites.
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Well its people like you that are making TV stupid and ignorant...
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And people like you think that any opinion that differs from yours is stupid. That makes you the real ignorant.

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LOL
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As a gay man I am flummoxed by all the gay stereotypes on TV. The way The New Normal puts gay characters and men in the role of being feminine and lady like. The clothes the attitudes of the characters is clumping a group of people together. I Don't Care for Ryan Murphy or his show's and this is another to add to the pile of garbage shows. He's gay doesn't he know he is adding to the problem when you make a show like this. The show shouldn't be "The New Normal" It should be called The Same Ignorance!
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It's similar to what Tyler Perry has found - if you play to stereotypes - oftentimes and unfortunately, you can make a great deal of money. Sad, but true.
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Far more troubling than Nana's idiotic racist jokes was Nene Leakes saying, "This is why my people spank." You can write Nana off as a caricature, but a black woman saying, "Hey, black people beat their children" is harder to justify. I'd say the worst part about it was that it wasn't even funny, but that would be a lie. Saying black people hit their kids is worse.
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It was pretty racist given the context, but believe me, "spank" is not synonymous with "beat your children."
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Whatever you say. The days when corporal punishment was the acceptable norm are long past.
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show: The New Normal



TOP 10 THINGS REQUIRED TO FIX THIS SHOW!



1) The couple wanting the kid is "too perfect." Their relationship lacks any sense of realness. There is no conflict. Where there is conflict, there is comedy. Right now, these two gay men are about as exciting as a new can of paint.



2) Nene Lekes: Her talent is being wasted. Her character lacks any sense of realness. Bless Ryan's heart for wanting to give a sister a chance. But he should have been bold with his choice and made one of the leads a Black guy and Nene his disapproving and oftentimes over-bearing sister. Nene would also be great as the BOSS of Bryan rather than his assistant - and the tension would be that she less interested in him being a daddy and more concerned about him helping her achieve some outrageous goal of hers.



3) Decide what kind of show you want to be. I fear the producers of this show are too caught in trying to present a message. Take a lesson from Will and Grace and just have FUN with it.



4) Ellen Barkin is awesome! Again, she is boring as the "voice of the Right" - a woman of her experience and talent should be the "crazy mom" of one of the gay guys! Perhaps the conflict would be that she wants the baby more than her son. Just bring some real tension to her role. Right now, every scene with her is predictable and therefore, boring.



5) Be Creative! Come on, Ryan! Come on, Allison! Give us something to talk about the next day. Televison should be fun!



6) I don't know about you, but I'm soooooo over the precocious female teen. How many shows have we seen this character? A million? It would have been tons more interesting if Goldie had a son she was trying to raise who was really against what his mom was doing - and each episode the audience would be tasked with trying to understand why. Again, add some real tension to Goldie's immediate family. Sometimes I feel like I'm just watching an old episode of Brothers and Sisters.



7) Sally Field needs to be a guest! But she so needs to play a comic version of herself! The New Normal needs to surprise us each week with someone playing against type. While this show doesn't need to be as zany as say a "Happy Endings" - it definitely needs to stop taking itself so serious. We got Anderson Cooper for that.



8) We need some "MESSY." Perhaps all this baby planning can be interrupted by a Hot new neighbor who catches one of the guy's eyes and brings into doubt the stability of their relationship? Again, what kind of show does The New Normal wish to be? I say if you're going to write the show like a gay version of Desperate Housewives, then GO FOR IT. If not, make it that zany comedy and turn Nene and Ellen loose! Show the awkward progression of these two wonderful women becoming "Besties!" See, I'm laughing already!



9) Stop trying to be "The New Normal" - just be a show about people living their lives in this day and age! Think about this - and you'll get what I'm saying. If not, call me. Maybe.



10) Go back and start at #1 until you get it right -- otherwise, this show won't be around much longer. And that would be just sad. Peace!

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good stuff.
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I thought they already had a show like this called Modern Family
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You're not at all clever.
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Yea but that stopped being funny like two seasons ago.
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Just to clarify I don't think the part with NeNe Leakes on the toilet is a segregation joke. Nana said "are you sure you're suppose to be using this one?" I think this is because Nene plays an employee of the Bryan, making her the help and most rich people make the people who work for them use separate bathroom. I'm not positive, but that's what I took from it...
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Loved the two episodes. I think the chemistry between Bryan and David comes across sincere and witty. For those of us (particularly, those living in the deep South) Nana, while offensive to OUR sensibilities, is not entirely unbelievable. It is easy to pick out some weak spots - particularly, stereotypically, members of the gay community make sport out of pointing out flaws. I am more concerned about the too sweet, almost saintly, portrayal of Goldie, which could spoil very quickly if not careful. From my initial taste, "The New Normal" is a wonderful comedy, and could make "Will and Grace" look like the "Amos and Andy" of gay television history!
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I haven't seen the 2nd premiere yet, but I cringed a lot in the first one. I cringed subtly for much of the "gay-er" character's (I'm bad with names), moments, but audibly groaned when his husband was watching football. I understand that this "balances" the show by showing opposing stereotypes, but I'd much rather that each character were balanced, rather than two opposite extremes.
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Yeah, the racist grandma (great grandma) thing was tiresome after a while. We get it, she's a horrible old lady. Be a bit more subtle about it!
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I like it for the cast sans Nana and Rocky. The little girl is hilarious. The rest of the cast is fantastic. But I have to agree, they need to do something about Nana and Rocky before they ruin the show. They can tone down Nana. Though I thought it was weird going right for the ex. That could have been done in a couple of episodes. And they can just kill off Rocky, or have her move. Or something. Note to casting directors. Reality TV stars do not belong on anything aside from reality tv.



The last issue is. I know they can't get rid of Nana. Because thus far she is the only conflict that they have in the story. But they need something more. Like a bigoted preacher moving next door. Some Prop 8 fools, or something, what is going to be the random thing that brings funny and makes us care about the characters.
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Nana and NeNe gotta go. Like, now.



I love the little girl. I just watched Grey Gardens w/ Drew Barrymore and the kid was dead on.
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I like this show! It really is very cool and there are constantly some great lines! LOVE Grandma!!!!!!

This is the new America, love it or leave it!
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