Recap and review of The New Normal – Season 1 Episode 14 – Gaydar:
The New Normal can occasionally feel preachy, and episodes like tonight’s “Gaydar” will do nothing to disabuse anyone of that impression. But the difference is in the relevance of the message the show is trying to convey. As Bryce, a metrosexual real estate agent played by John Stamos, tells Jane (Ellen Barkin), the world is changing – and you can either stick to the old ways of thinking and be proven right, or you can embrace change and be happy. The crux of the argument centers around what signifiers identify homosexuality. In a conference call promoting the episode, Stamos compared the character of Bryce to his own experiences, explaining how he’d been mistaken for gay before, but didn’t particularly care, since the trend of identifying someone as gay simply by their fashion sense or their likes and dislikes is ridiculous. And that’s more or less the message of the episode. Pre-judgment is every bit as harmful as judgment after the fact, and it does a disservice to us, as a species capable of rational thought, to be so reductively ignorant. It’s probably the strongest straight-up “message” episode of the series yet, although the overt, anvil-to-the-head nature of the message might irritate some viewers who appreciate a little more subtlety. But then, subtlety was never Ryan Murphy’s stock-in-trade – not that this is a bad thing, particularly for a sitcom.
The episode sees Jane discovering her attraction to Bryce after he gives her a head-to-toe makeover as a means of attracting prospective buyers to her drab open house events. However, Bryce’s impeccable taste in fashion raises Jane’s suspicion, even though Bryce flat-out tells her that she shouldn’t judge a person by how they dress (of course, being Jane, she’s fairly short-sighted about her own narrow viewpoints, although she is making progress). Meanwhile, Rocky (NeNe Leakes) is crushing hard on Chris (Mark Consuelos), a Grip on the set of Sing. When Goldie (Georgia King) and Shania (Bebe Wood) stop by the set, the young girl’s “gaydar” goes off, and she pegs Chris as a figurative friend of Dorothy. In an effort to prove Shania wrong, and as a means of sussing out the sexuality of these respective studs once and for all, Shania and Bryan (Andrew Rannells) organize a dinner party where they will observe the actions of Bryce and Chris, and ascertain their sexuality from a strict set of criteria.
The dinner party is the episode’s strongest setpiece, naturally, as both Bryce and Chris give conflicting answers that don’t really identify their sexuality as well as Shania and co. would have hoped (Bryce comments on the tackiness of Diablo Cody’s Oscar dress, while simultaneously making a reference to Guns N’ Roses that goes completely over Bryan’s head; Chris, meanwhile, identifies Rihanna as “hot”, but also shows his extensive knowledge of the singer by identifying her song “Diamonds” during a “Name That Tune” game, after only two notes from Shania’s recorder). The game show culminates in the final, last resort test: a DVD viewing of Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball. Bryan rationalizes that only a gay man could successfully sit through the entire thing, adding that no straight man has ever managed to do so. As it turns out, Bryce is the one who needs scotch to get through the brief portion they sit down to watch, while Chris is enraptured all the way through. Unfortunately, the real purpose of the dinner meeting slips out, and both men storm off, offended at the cruel game (which Bryce identified as a “Bitch Hunt”).
This leads to two solid scenes that wrap up the story into a neat, tidy bow, while also conveying the message of the episode. Jane confronts Bryce in the office and explains that her concerns about his sexuality stem from the heartbreak she experienced when her ex-husband, whom she loved, came out of the closet. This is the point in which Bryce delivers the speech about the necessity of changing with the times, and the entire monologue is expertly delivered by Stamos, exuding a sense of effortless cool that is completely in tone with the character of a suave, unflappable rogue – the kind of man who could hold, and keep, Jane’s attention. I also appreciated the portrayal of Bryce as a straight man so completely in command of his sexuality that he could say the things he says without once worrying that his enthusiasm for haircare might be misinterpreted. Bryce is a character who I hope returns at some point, as Stamos and Barkin show genuine chemistry, particularly in the kiss he lays on her before parting – a smooch so intense that Jane ultimately decides she doesn’t care if Bryce is gay or not.
As for the simultaneous resolution, Rocky tracks down Chris on the set and apologizes for staging the dinner party, at which point Chris confesses that he is, indeed, gay. “That’s not something I say out loud a lot,” he says, before rationalizing that he keeps it hush-hush because he doesn’t believe his fellow macho crew members would accept him. This line is delivered relatively lightly, but it’s strikingly poignant to consider that Chris has to put on a public face, even in a time of unprecedented acceptance (though the level of acceptance in society today is still far from ideal). Rocky, not missing a beat, tells Chris that she has authority around the set, and that if anyone dares to give him trouble for being who he is, he should come straight to her. Between this moment, and her entire arc last week, Rocky is quickly becoming my favorite character on the show, and NeNe Leakes is skilled at imbuing what she’s given with a greater sense of emotional resonance (as she did last week, tearing up at the sight of the producer’s chair with her name on it). It’s a win all-around for Rocky, who maintains her friendship with Chris, keeping things mature where lesser shows would have had her awash with grief that a hot guy turned out to be gay. I can certainly appreciate that she not only apologizes to Chris, but states that she badly wants him to remain a part of her life, as a friend.
Of course, these solid arcs ignore the third plotline of the episode, that of David (Justin Bartha) and Bryan arguing over Bryan’s choice of christening outfit for their baby, a white gown that David detests for its effeminate connotations. Both men make good points in the arguments, with David rationalizing that not everyone is as tolerant as the people in their lives, and that people lash out against what they don’t understand – and they’re not going to understand why a little boy is suddenly wearing a dress. As for Bryan, he feels that they can’t change who they are to satisfy the ignorance of others. It’s a well-structured plot that earns its resolution after the dinner, when David relates to Bryan the story of a kid he picked on in school for being gay, as a way of deflecting attention from the fact that he was gay himself. He decides to embrace Bryan’s choice of outfit for the christening photo, since he doesn’t want to be that person who lets himself be cowed by the fear of others’ judgments. Like the other aspects of the episode, the storyline conveys a message, but with similar grace. It’s an effective bit of storytelling.
“Gaydar” is a well-plotted half-hour, and the guest turns by Stamos and Consuelos round out the already-strong ensemble. It wasn’t as funny as last week, but it told a better story, speaking to a relevant issue in society today, and doing so with considerable poise.