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Hooker Nanny Rules ‘Petal’; Barkin’s Snarky ‘Normal’: TV

September 04, 2012

'The New Normal'

Ellen Barkin, Andrew Rannells, Justin Bartha and Georgia King in "The New Normal." Barkin plays Nana, an overprotective (and bigoted) grandmother in the series. Photographer: Trae Patton/NBC via Bloomberg

“There is a giant homosexual elephant in the room,” says the snidely bigoted grandmother played by Ellen Barkin in NBC’s fall sitcom “The New Normal.”

She could be talking about “Modern Family.”

As tart quips do battle with teary-eyed earnestness -- captured by zooming, home-movie-style camerawork and occasional direct-to-audience dialogue -- much of “The New Normal” feels commonplace in the post-“Modern” world.

Co-created by Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Horror Story”) and “Glee” writer Allison Adler, “The New Normal” blends two families into one sitcom unit when gay couple David and Bryan (Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells) hires surrogate Goldie (Georgia King) to carry their child.

Recently separated and looking for a new start (and money to raise her precocious eight-year-old daughter Shania, played by Bebe Wood), the sweet-natured Goldie instantly bonds with the two hopeful dads.

“Love is love,” she says in one of the pilot episode’s treacly bits. (Earlier, Goldie walks out on her cheating husband after pronouncing, “I forgot to dream.”)

If the hugginess can be written off as a new kid’s attempt to ingratiate, the hit-and-miss zingers are more troublesome.

With Murphy’s pedigree and a cast this good, “The New Normal” should do better than the second-rate Archie Bunkerisms dished out by a game Barkin as Goldie’s narrow-minded grandmother.

“I happen to love the gays,” says her well-tailored Cruella de Vil-type. “My hair would never look this good without them.”

“The New Normal” airs Sept. 11 on NBC at 9:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2

‘Crimson Petal’

Jack the Ripper would appear 14 years later, but the back alleys and gaslit brothels of “The Crimson Petal and the White” couldn’t look more foreboding if the Victorian killer was crouching in the shadows.

Handsomely filmed in russets and velvet reds, “Crimson Petal,” a two-part British miniseries making its U.S. debut on Encore, gives the working girls of ye olde London their due, and a memorable voice.

Adapted by British playwright Lucinda Coxon from Michael Faber’s 2002 bestseller, “Crimson” is the story of Sugar (Romola Garai), a prostitute in 1874 who dreams of escaping the brothel and, in writings that would get a smile from Pirate Jenny, exacting bloody revenge.

“Eternal Adam,” she writes, “I indict you!” She may be a fallen woman but, she assures us, she was pushed.

Wealthy Beau

Sugar’s life, and her opinion of men, begins to soften when wealthy gentleman William Rackham (Chris O’Dowd) falls smitten. His mentally fragile wife has been driven mad by barbaric treatments for “hysteria.” Rackham installs quick-study Sugar into his well-appointed household as governess for his young daughter.

Faber’s tale spins on modern notions of sexism and exploitation in a world just past Dickens, and if Coxon’s four- hour adaptation sometimes drags, “Crimson” nonetheless draws us in as the power play between man and mistress shifts back, forth and back again.

Garai (“Atonement”) gives a nicely shaded performance as Sugar, a woman too bright for her era, and O’Dowd, as the businessman with more money than brains, might astound anyone who recognizes him as the doofus cop in “Bridesmaids.”

Gillian Anderson

And Gillian Anderson, topping her own performance as Miss Havisham in the BBC’s 2011 “Great Expectations,” is deliciously creepy as the cold-hearted, face-powdered brothel madam who raised Sugar.

Reminiscing with her newly independent charge, she recalls cold winter nights when she’d sneak into the little girl’s room and snatch away the blanket.

“And I’d say, ’That’s what God does,’” she coos. “’That’s what God does.’”

“The Crimson Petal and the White” airs Sept. 10 and 11 on Encore at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2


What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Very Good
**     Good
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include John Mariani on wine and Andrew Dunn on books.

To contact the writer of this column: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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