Q&A: Ali Adler, Co-Creator of ‘The New Normal’, on Casting the Show

NBC’s freshman comedy, The New Normal, has been such a bright point for the struggling network that it was just given a full-season order.

The show, from Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler and starring Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells and Ellen Barkin follows Bryan (Rannells) and David (Bartha) who find a surrogate in midwestern Mom, Goldie (Georgia King). Along with her small-minded grandmother (Barkin), they all form a surrogate family.

I recently talked with series creator and writer Ali Adler about the show, casting and the chemistry of the cast.

The New Normal airs on Tuesdays at 9:30 on NBC

How involved were you in the casting?

Ali Adler: Oh the casting process? Very much so. Ryan and myself were tremendous collaborators. We both had amazing, and varied, and we both contributed to the process. Andrew Rannells of The Book of Mormon, our Bryan Collins, came to us actually before we had a script. His vote of confidence in us was amazing.

Every show you’ve worked on, one way or another, involves people who are either like a workplace family or a family-family. What do you think that makes people connect with these TV families?

Ali Adler: Well I just think we’re trying to make relatable characters. And if you’re at home and you’re watching and you see something in yourself. I know when I watch TV I look for sort of my own experience.

And hopefully these stories are just relatable and, you know, we feel something for these characters and we want to watch them grow, and root for them. And root for them not to make mistakes and, you know, cheer as they find out their pregnant. Because we’ve experienced the same thing.

I love Ellen Barkin. Her character is absolutely hilarious. Do you ever find that you worry a little bit that you’re pushing the envelope? Or do you ever find yourself having to tone her down a little bit? Or is it just anything is game?

Ali Adler: I mean, I think all our – she’s obviously, you know, an explosive character. But all of our characters, I hope, have a point of view that’s equally outrageous. Just maybe not to that degree, so I don’t think we generally do tone her down. And we’ve been very privileged to be supported by NBC and 20th in trying to explore – I mean, I think we’ve all seen safe television.

And Ryan and myself really, you know, we want to make people laugh, we want to make people feel too. And I think it’s a privilege in a half hour to make people feel something other than laughter. So we’re looking at, you know, to push the boundaries to just get away from what we traditionally see on television.

With a character like Ellen Barkin’s, since she is so set in her ways, how much room is there to become more tolerant and accepting? Or do you need her to be the same?

Ali Adler: Well, I mean, hopefully we’re trying to create characters that are people. And as much as people change, I think all these characters can change. No one is ever going to, you know, be something that they’re not. But hopefully she can learn and grow from her experience in small ways. I would never want to like, I mean, not like I can compare her to Archie Bunker – many people have.

But, you know, I think the best moments are when we keep characters, you know, who they are at their roots. So, yes I’m sure we will definitely see different sides of Jane. And not this week, but next week, you see an amazing side of Jane. But I don’t think she’s ever going to become a cuddly Nana.

Regarding casting, did you guys have a list of people you wanted to talk with?

Ali Adler: We, I mean, we started with the blessing of Andrew Rannells and we went from there. And, you know, finding Justin Bartha was, you know, we didn’t know that he would agree to do television. We were so thrilled when he agreed to.

And Ellen Barkin, obviously, is just like the most tremendously talented woman. And NeNe Leakes – Georgia King was this international talent search for this innocent, sweet, wise, character that we found in her. And she’s just been really a gift in every episode. Her perspective, you know, gives you a way in and without judgment or condemnation she’s looking at this world in a new and pure way and we just love her. She’s a tremendous talent.

How did you guys go about building the chemistry between everyone?

Ali Adler: Well it’s been really interesting and I hate to sound trite, but immediately upon meeting these people there was really like a chemical connection between us. And I’m saying that for our crew and my co-creator Ryan Murphy. It’s just been really interesting that, you know, we very quickly became this New Normal family. So, you know, if you see that chemistry that’s our privilege.

There’s going to be a lesbian couple on the show. How are they going to fit in and have you looked at casting yet?

Ali Adler: We’re just trying to represent all different kinds of families, and parents, and friends, and certainly that’s an area we would explore. We’re actually currently casting that couple and hope to see them soon. And, you know, as an ongoing part of the show.

Currently I don’t know how much I’m allowed to talk about it, currently one of the couple is the business manager of Bryan and David. So they’re friends and also working, have a working relationship. But we’ll see them coming up down the line.

I was going to ask about the two camera. Like obviously in the office it’s literally a documentary film crew that follows people around and that’s why they’re talking. But it seems like more and more there is a shorthand in comedies where there really is just like that two camera expression. What is – do you feel like that needs to be quote unquote explained? Or do you feel like the TV audience just sort of accepts that happens sometimes?

Ali Adler: I just think we’re giving people, you know, comedic privilege into a voice that you wouldn’t normally notice or see. And you’ll see in upcoming episodes that it’s, you know, it’s strangers, it’s friends of our couple. And you’ll just get their internal point of view that you wouldn’t normally get to be privileged to hear. So it just provides a new way to explore comedy.

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