Justin Bartha on The Power of 'The New Normal'

By JARETT WIESELMAN

January 15, 2013

Save for Burt and Kurt Hummel, creating empathetic families has never been Ryan Murphy's strong suit. In fact, he's built an incredibly successful empire on the backs of the dysfunctional McNamara, Harmon and McQueen/McPherson clans. But with The New Normal, Murphy and co-EP Ali Adler have presented one of the most adorable blending broods currently on TV, reminding the world that it truly does take a village.

In tonight's all-new episode, titled Stay-At-Home Dad, that fact is hammered home in both Brian and David as each believes he could trade in his career for a permanent position driving carpool. ETonline caught up with star Justin Bartha to talk about this episode (one of his favorites yet), what it means to be part of a show like The New Normal and why he signed up in the first place.

ETonline: The evolution of the show, and its characters, has been great to watch. What have you thought of the season so far?
Justin Bartha: The first season of a TV show is very hard, and in trying to speak objectively, I think we started off on a high note. It's very hard to get your footing so fast. There's a lot of early episodes that I think are really great television. As everyone gets to know these characters and how they relate to each other, we're settling into something that feels like a family, which I think every show tries to obtain.

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ETonline: What have you enjoyed learning about David as the season progresses?
Bartha: On a TV show, since you get a chance to sit with a character for a long slow burn, there's a certain point where you start thinking as the character, and your point of view changes as the character's point of view changes. The heart of our show is the way this group of people connect and how their points of views change as the characters get to know each other, so that's been the biggest enjoyment for me. David's evolution is such a living thing, and because the other actors are so talented, everything is changing week to week because of what the actors are doing with their characters.

ETonline: I've loved the flashbacks we've seen of Brian and David's pre-pilot lives. How helpful has it been to have a tangible reference point like that?
Bartha: Oh my god, it's absolutely invaluable. Those are some of the most fun things to shoot because the show is about how all these characters from different backgrounds and points of view relate to each other and evolve over this short amount of time. In the episodes coming up, you'll see snippets of them as children, which really helps the audience fill in the pieces of who these people are. And for the viewers stuck on the sexuality aspects, those moments really show how everyone is the same at their core.

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ETonline: There was so much controversy around the show before it actually premiered, now that The Million Moms have marched away, what kinds of reactions have you gotten from fans?
Bartha: The fans have been overwhelming generous and nice. Because of how strong the writing is and how talented this cast is, the material is handled with such respect, so I think the fans are responding because it's kind of a fresh take on what a half-hour comedy is. We didn't want to do the usual sitcom, obviously you can't get away from certain aspects of that, but we wanted to have a different vibe, and I think people are responding to that fresh take while also loving the characters.

ETonline: Would you have been interested in doing a more traditional sitcom?
Bartha: The one thing we all talked about before I even signed on to do the show is that we all [Ryan Murphy, Ali Adler, Andrew Rannells] very much wanted to portray a couple in the most realistic way possible. That includes intellectually, comically, sexually. Everything has to be on the table because the only way people will care about the characters is if they seem authentic. It was a concerted effort to do that, and that's part of the journey -- not everything is funny all the time, you can't always have characters hanging out and making quips. And if they are, they're probably hiding something. We wanted to be as real as possible, and if it's grounded in that reality, even if it's uncomfortable for some people, hopefully it will transcend the usually throwaway entertainment you see on other channels.

ETonline: What can you tease about tonight's episode?
Bartha: For me, this is very much the epitome of what our show is trying to say. I love this episode. You'll see a jumping off point to the guys as fathers, and for whatever fantasy you have about what it's like to be a parent, actually being a parent is nothing like that. It's not to be taken lightly, and they both feel they have what it takes, in different ways, to quit their lives and just be a dad. Brian and David both have these fantasies and they get a chance to practice with Shania. You'll see how they both take on the responsibility of actually being a father and if they have what it takes.

ETonline: Speaking of Bebe Wood [who plays Shania], I am astounded by her performance every week. How cool is it to see such a young actor bring so much to the table?
Bartha: What's interesting about Bebe is you forget she's a child. There are very rare moments on set where she acts like a little kid. Sometimes Andrew and I will turn to one another and say, "Oh yeah, she is a child!" You honestly forget because she's so fantastic -- she's my favorite actress right now. She's such a fun person to be in a scene with and she's genuinely funny. A lot of times, especially with kid actors, they're just reciting lines and those become funny because a kid is saying it. Bebe has the unique ability to actually make something funny. I don't even know how that works. It's so much fun to watch.

The New Normal airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.

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