The fall season of TV shows is getting a staggered start this year, with new shows premiering each week for the next month or so.
If you're aware of any of these new shows, the one you're most likely to have heard of is the sitcom "The New Normal." That's because the One Million Moms organization raised a ruckus trying to get it kicked off the air. They were spectacularly unsuccessful. Only one NBC affiliate dumped the show - Salt Lake City.
What the "Moms" were so upset about is the show's premise - a gay couple hires a surrogate to have a baby for them. As the somewhat heavy-handed show title indicates, this is the new normal.
So, how does the show explain why would a young woman who already has a grade school-age kid would want to go through with this?
"I want to go to law school some day. $35,000 is a huge chunk of money," says the female character. When asked if she has a problem doing this for two men, she says, "A family is a family. And love is love."
Love is love. To make sure this show doesn't get too schmaltzy, it's balanced by two very broadly drawn secondary characters - one is the outrageously bigoted grandmother of the surrogate, played by Ellen Barkin, and the other, an outrageously sassy black secretary of one of the gay fathers-to-be, played by Real Housewife NeNe Leakes.The clashes between those two are anything but sentimental.
First episodes, especially of comedy shows, are tricky propositions - it's tough to find just the right comic pitch and this premiere episode felt comically uneven. It may take a few shows or even a full season before it eases into a comfortable, relaxed space. It's still searching for the right balance between snark and sentimentality.
That's also the case for the new Matthew Perry sitcom, "Go On." Perry plays a man who's forced into group therapy before he can return to work as a radio sports talk show host. You see, his wife died just a month earlier and his bosses want him to work through his grief first.
Perry begrudgingly goes to his first group therapy session and almost immediately hijacks his group with his manic personality, turning the therapy into a contest.
"When you sit here listening to someone else's problem, a big part of you is thinking my thing is worse than your thing," says Perry's character.
This is funny in a very broad, sitcom-y way, but how is a show going to sustain itself by simply mocking therapy week in and week out?
Well, by also including scenes like this:
"Janie, that's her name. It was a car accident. She was texting. She needed to tell me to buy a bag of coffee, so at least it was important. She was the only girl I ever loved," Perry's character reveals.
As with "The New Normal," "Go On" will have to find the right balance between comedy and pathos. Personally, "The New Normal" seems a riskier proposition and for that reason, the more interesting project. But only time will tell whether either of these shows make it to season two.
By TOM TANGNEY