"Record Number of Gay Characters on TV," read a headline on the Onion last week. "4.4 percent of all scripted TV characters on the five major networks are either gay, bisexual, or transgender this season." While the Onion is an infamously satirical news publication, the information is quite true. There are in fact more gay characters on network television this fall than ever before.
The New Normal, which premiered on NBC September 10th, stars Justin Bartha and Andrew Rannells as David and Bryan, a gay couple living in Los Angeles and expecting their first child via a surrogate, the young single mother Goldie Clemmons (Georgia King). The modernity of their situation is highlighted by Goldie's blatantly intolerant grandmother (Ellen Barkin) who often refers to the couple by using homophobic (albeit hilarious) slurs such as "salami smokers."
As is accurately depicted in the show's title, there are many characteristics of a traditional situational comedy, but with a contemporary spin. There are lover's quarrels, the imposing mother-in-law, and the apprehension of first time parents. The only difference is that it centers on the relationship between two men.
The New Normal is of course not the first sitcom we've seen where two gay men embark on the adventure of parenthood together. Modern Family's third season premiered on ABC last week, with Mitch and Cam recovering from their disappointment in attempting to adopt a second child.
CBS has a new show centering on gay characters as well. Partners, from the creators of Will & Grace, premiered on September 24th. While the show focuses mainly on the friendship and business partnership of one gay and one straight man, the two gay characters make up half of this ensemble cast. Michael Urie's character Louis leans far towards the flamboyant side, reminiscent of one Mr. Jack McFarland. It's hard to take him seriously, but are we really suppose to? His eccentricity and celebrity obsession certainly makes for a good laugh, which after all is kind of the point of a sitcom.
From Lucy and Ricky sleeping in separate twin beds on I Love Lucy, to David and Bryan sleeping in the same bed on The New Normal, family sitcoms have come a long way in only a few decades. It was once common thought that a man and woman shouldn't be shown together in bed on television, yet eventually Americans began to accept it as appropriate. That are many Americans today that believe two people of the same sex shouldn't be shown together in bed (or shouldn't be romantically together at all).
But will showing this type of family unit as "normal" on TV eventually make everyone believe that it really is? If shows like Will & Grace are any indication, gay characters have been received well by TV audiences in the past. So do these sitcoms have a hidden agenda to help rid America of homophobia? Or are these gay characters simply just funny to watch?
It might make for good entertainment, but I do hope that evolving what is portrayed as a normal lifestyle on TV will aid it evolving what seems normal in everyday life