Justin Bartha has been paid to portray plenty of things he's not -- a historical treasure hunter, a lost-in-Las Vegas bachelor, a New Jersey high school teacher and, most recently, a gay doctor expecting a baby with a surrogate on NBC's "The New Normal." Last week, together with his onscreen partner Andrew Rannells, he took on the challenge of playing tour guide to a collection of reporters, showing off his elegantly rustic TV spread with the relish and pride of a real homeowner.
"Just don't look up. It ruins the magic," Bartha, who plays Dr. David, joked.
And it did. Because before your glance rises upward to notice the lighting rigs, wires, and unfinished ceilings, it is, at eye level, the kind of house most people dream about owning, especially if they're a fan of California history, a romantic modern Western vibe, desert imagery, saturated color, Fiestaware, the Restoration Hardware catalog, and the Craftsman style. Considering the luxuries a fictional TV producer and a doctor could afford, like a set of orange Le Creuset cookware, one could probably learn to live with phony "natural" light (the house is built in a sound stage on the Paramount lot that once housed other nontraditional TV clans like "Laverne & Shirley" and "Webster"), incomplete master bath ("They only finish to the point you might see on TV," explained Bebe Wood, who plays Shania), and a porch surrounded by AstroTurf. You wouldn't be the only one. "Our bedroom is bigger than my apartment in New York," Rannells (Bryan) lamented. "It is based on this beautiful Beverly Hills house designed and flipped by Diane Keaton where we shot the pilot. It is a gorgeous place to fake live."
"It's exactly the same as the pilot house. It was trippy the first few days we were on set," added Georgia King (Goldie).
Not that it is without its faults. "The bed is extremely uncomfortable given how much time we spend in it," Bartha lamented, "I think we'd develop scoliosis if we actually had to sleep there." When someone suggested getting a Sleep Number mattress if they get a Season 2, Bartha joked that that could be the plot of an episode. Rannells disagrees, saying, "Brian and David go mattress shopping sounds more like a Season 5 episode when we have run out of anything else to do."
Also, both actors agree that the Barack Obama body double used for their bedside photo was "scary, unhinged, and took his impersonating too seriously." The vibrant Malibu and fireplace tile, over which Goldie first showed the boys her positive pregnancy test, is a DIY knockoff. Rannells said, "It is actually printed on wood. Doesn't that sound like some trick you'd see them do on TLC?"
After pointing out the amazing couch Shania drew on, the giant metal letters that spell "SING," the title of the show within the show, and the wine appropriately procured from Justin Vineyards, everyone gathered in the courtyard for a Q&A with the cast. Panel highlights include:
- Goldie's due date is set, although executive producer Allison Adler didn't think she was "contractually allowed to disclose it. There will be a baby next season if there is a next season." She said upcoming episodes will cover "babymoons," baby showers, breast-feeding, which is "pretty hard for two men to accomplish," and their engagement. Adler said they "hope to visit and explore" their wedding as well.
- John Stamos was already filming his second episode and could possibly return for more. His first appearance as a sexually ambiguous colleague of Ellen Barkin's character, Jane, aired this week. Stamos said, "[I'll do] as many as they want. I've always been a huge fan of Ryan [Murphy], there's really great writing and acting, and the show is positive and important. And my second day I got to kiss Ellen. I thought I'd surprise her so I jammed my tongue down her throat, and she didn't even flinch."
Watch the kiss:
- They are building toward meeting Goldie's mom, who abandoned Goldie when she was 8. Adler said, "That is in the air. Dream casting [is] Cameron Diaz, although we haven't talked to her." King looked nervous and quipped, "Perfect. I look just like her, same figure."
- Bebe Wood, who has already impersonated Cher and Little Edie on the series, will channel another celebrity in an episode filming this week as a way to deal with a particular parenting issue. Although they would not reveal the identity, she told producers it is her "dream to be this person." It also turns out she brought the Little Edie idea to the table. She became obsessed with "Grey Gardens" after seeing a local Kansas production of the play and "went to a PTA meeting in costume." Adler added, "On the pilot, she was regaling Ryan and myself with this impression. And Ryan said, 'If we go to series, that's the second episode.' We're finding people's strengths and playing to them."
- Jane will continue to be a work in progress. Barkin explained, "She is slowly being affected by her environment and the positive nature of her environment. She sees her granddaughter blossoming and her great-granddaughter gaining strength because of those two men. So little by little, she's dipping her feet. It's nice to explore that fear. I get one of those cool Rocky haircuts, some new clothes, and a job. She's thrown out in the world. Let's see what she does."
- Rannells claimed he didn't do much advance prep to play lovers, although Bartha did admit there was a steak and martini dinner date for which he footed the bill. "We just jumped on board. He's very easy to be in love with. There's not a lot of awkwardness, not even in bedroom scenes," Rannells said. "We have fairly similar comic sensibilities so there wasn't much discussion," Bartha added. "We wanted to make it as real as possible, and the only way that these characters would be indelible and interesting is if you saw every part of their lives the way you would a straight [TV] couple."
"The New Normal" airs Tuesdays at 9:30 PM on NBC.