Recap and review of The New Normal – Season 1 Episodes 21 and 22 – Season Finale:
The one-hour season finale of The New Normal features two separate, distinct episodes that are linked by a central, unifying theme: tradition. Both episodes have Bryan (Andrew Rannells) and David (Justin Bartha) having traditions thrust in their face, despite their best efforts to forge traditions of their own. Though this theme is most pronounced in the second episode, “The Big Day,” it eventually falls away in the face of the more monumental changes in Bryan and David’s lives, illustrating that traditions are only what you make of them. The first episode of the hour, “Finding Name-O”, also depicts the gradual, oncoming creep of change. Together, both episodes encapsulate the series as a whole: the comedy still misses as often as it hits, but the heart is there throughout. The hour-long finale proves to be genuinely touching, in many respects, and if this proves to be the final curtain for the series, it will have gone out on a high note.
“Finding Name-O” is the funnier of the two episodes, as it depicts Bryan and David’s frenzied attempts to plan their wedding — a process complicated by the presence of Bryan’s mother (Mary Kay Place), whom Bryan had no intention of inviting to the ceremony until David insists. The storyline is unique in how it’s structured, with Bryan’s complaints about his mother initially coming across as pretty legitimate, from how she seemed to love his siblings more, to how she has an obnoxious tendency of shoehorning herself into everything. This is exactly what she does when Bryan invites her to come along as he and David make their wedding decisions, to see that they present a unified front. However, Bryan’s mother goes out of her way to side with David on every decision, to the point where Bryan eventually decides it would be best to just put their decisions in a hat and draw them out at random. In one of the better comedy setpieces of the hour, every decision drawn out of the hat goes David’s way, from the choice of Segway scooters to carry the newlyweds off into the sunset, to the pick of “Only Wanna Be With You” by Hootie & The Blowfish for the couple’s first dance (prompting Bryan’s mother to amusingly state, “I hate rap music”). Yet it’s the last choice that serves as Bryan’s breaking point. Bryan hates David’s suggestion of naming their son “Julie” (a shortened version of “Julius”, the name of David’s late, beloved grandfather).
When Bryan pulls “Julie” out of the hat, he finally snaps, particularly when his mother bursts into joy at the choice. This is where the uniqueness of the story’s structure comes into play, as we get a bit of a reversal of sympathies. When Bryan confronts his mother about her parenting, the story depicts Bryan as being in the wrong. It’s not necessarily that Bryan’s gripes are unfounded, but simply that his unwillingness to let them go, and maybe meet his mother halfway, comes across as needlessly childish. Bryan’s mother explains to Bryan just how hard she tried with him, to do right by him, and how disappointed she is that he didn’t intend to invite her to his wedding. Bryan softens, and he and his mother make amends. It’s a fairly simplistic conclusion, but it helps deepen the narrative of the subsequent episode, as the issue between Bryan and his mother is resolved, allowing for more substantial issues to come to the surface. This also corresponds with the other big development of the episode, as Clay (Jayson Blair) re-proposes to Goldie (Georgia King) in what amounts to a cliffhanger that plays almost simultaneously with Bryan and David deciding on the name “Sawyer Collins” for their child. The characters cycle through past issues to arrive at a new beginning, of sorts. It’s a story that’s easily relatable, and well-told, in this instance.
The second episode, “The Big Day”, is easily the more emotionally-resonant of the two, to the degree that I could easily see this serving as the series finale, for how neatly it wraps up each of the major storylines. Maybe it’s just the cynic in me, but I kept expecting something terrible to happen. In fact, this entire season, I kept expecting some kind of hurdle to Bryan and David’s happiness, whether it was the threat of Goldie losing the child (not that it would actually happen, but simply that the threat would present itself) or whether it was the notion of somebody, whether Clay (back when he was still a villain) or Jane (Ellen Barkin) briefly convincing Goldie to renege on the deal and decide to keep the child. Yet everything goes off without a hitch, for the most part.
Most of “The Big Day” is focused on David and Bryan’s wedding, held at their home. There are some brief conflicts, such as David’s mother (Jackie Hoffman) wanting to walk him down the aisle once she sees that Bryan’s mother is going to get to walk him down the aisle, due to the absence of Bryan’s father, who passed away. It’s a family tradition that the Collins clan intends to keep; however, David’s mother plans on keeping traditions of her own, namely, forcing David to wear his grandfather’s wedding tux, a suit of questionable fashion that has Bryan aghast. Bryan, of course, isn’t made aware of this wardrobe change until the last minute, because his own mother has gone out of her way to reinforce the tradition of the fiancees not being allowed to see one another before the wedding, despite the fact that this is a tradition neither David nor Bryan believe in. By the time the wedding rolls around, both men are understandably fed-up with having traditions shoved down their throats, and simply want to be able to have the ceremony they wanted to have. Unfortunately, not everything goes as planned. Besides having the awkward, eccentric Gary (Michael Hitchcock) officiating their wedding in lieu of Father Michael (John Benjamin Hickey), who is bound by his vows to refuse, Goldie’s water breaks before the ceremony can begin. This leads to a panicked rush to the hospital. Clay, Shania (Bebe Wood) and Rocky (NeNe Leakes) wait in the waiting room while David, Bryan, and Jane pile into the delivery room for the big moment.
The entire delivery sequence, set to John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy”, is pretty much the best thing the show has done in its entire run. It’s eminently emotional, being filmed with a poignantly sunny, hopeful touch, as David clutches Goldie’s hand, Bryan cuts the umbilical cord, and both men, with tears in their eyes, beam at the sight of their son. It’s just such a terrific piece of visual storytelling, delivering on the moment that’s been building for an entire season. I can’t think of any way for the show to have done this any better.
However, this isn’t the end of the episode. Two weeks later, Goldie is in the midst of celebrating the lack of a baby bump when Jane arrives. She had been in the middle of telling her some big news about Brice (John Stamos) during David and Bryan’s wedding two weeks earlier, but was briefly distracted, resulting in Brice, surprisingly, taking Goldie aside and telling her what a wonderful woman she is, and how she shouldn’t settle for her ex. Goldie suspects that Jane is going to announce that she and Brice are engaged, but this isn’t the case at all. She announces that she and Brice have successfully sold a previously unsellable house, and she simply wanted to thank Goldie for showing her how to be an independent woman. It’s actually a beautiful little moment between Barkin and King, as Goldie fights back tears while Jane tells her that she’s a strong woman, and she shouldn’t sacrifice her independence for any man. If the episode had ended here, it still would have been a uniformly strong effort, but hey, we still have another five minutes, so Shania runs away and Goldie, panicked, sets out to find her. Using Rocky’s computer to track Shania’s cell phone, they trace her to the beach, where she sits alone looking out on the tide. Goldie reveals that she’s not going to accept Clay’s proposal, but that nothing will change, and they’ll still be a family. While on the beach, David and Bryan realize this is just the kind of low-key setting they wanted for their wedding, and the two new dads decide to have an impromptu wedding ceremony. In one of the most poignant moments of the episode, Father Michael arrives to officiate, having received a phone call from David about how much it would mean to Bryan if he officiated. The priest explains that he can’t ask anyone to change if he isn’t willing to affect the same change in himself. He officiates the ceremony, and it’s immensely emotional for how brief it is, with the two men exchanging rings and sharing a kiss, and Father Michael declaring, “Look. No lightning bolts.”
The New Normal hasn’t exactly reinvented the modern sitcom, but it’s a show that found a remarkable balance between comedy and heart. If the series doesn’t return for a second season, it will have left a legacy of one of the more consistent first seasons for a TV comedy in recent history. If nothing else, that’s something worth lauding.