Normal, Ohio

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Normal, Ohio TV Poster Image
Tepid, short-lived sitcom upends some gay stereotypes.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

A mixed bag. On one hand, the show goes to great lengths to challenge stereotypes about homosexuality in general and gay men specifically. Butch is a "typical" American guy who loves sports, drinks beer, and just happens to be gay, but he doesn't let that define him or change how he relates to people. On the other hand, it plays up some clichés (he does his sister's hair and sings Broadway tunes) for laughs. His family's reactions to his lifestyle run the gamut from embarrassment and denial to indifference, and their relationships touch on some of the prejudice that exists with reference to this issue. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Butch walked out on his responsibilities to his family, but he saw it as his only option to be true to himself. Now he's back to make amends and repair some of those relationships, but it's not always easy. Some people hold grudges and judge him on his lifestyle; others are more forgiving of the past and try to start fresh.

Violence
Sex

Lots of innuendo and double entendres of both homosexual and heterosexual nature. Adults talk about partners they've had, they call each other names like "gutter slut," and there are lighthearted references to bedroom romps.

Language

Occasional instances of "son of a bitch," "ass," "jackass," and "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Beer is a staple at meals and recreation, but it's kept among adults and isn't troublesome.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Normal, Ohio deals comically with emotionally charged issues surrounding the main character's midlife revelation of homosexuality and its impact on his marriage and family. The short-lived show shuns some of the stereotypes of flamboyant gay men in John Goodman's macho-type character, but it still calls on a few familiar clichés for cheap laughs. Expect plenty of sexual innuendo, references to bedroom conquests, and some salty language ("son of a bitch," "ass," and "hell" fly freely), but also a dose of heartwarming –- if dysfunctional –- family affection.

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What's the story?

NORMAL, OHIO is the story of Butch Gamble (John Goodman), a middle-aged, all-American guy returning to his hometown for the first time since revealing that he was gay and relocating to Los Angeles four years ago. Butch's foremost goal is to patch things up with his now-adult son, Charlie (Greg Pitts), who's still reeling from the shock, but slowly softens toward his dad. Reconciliation is harder with his parents, Bill (Orson Bean) and Joan (Anita Gillette), one of whom blames herself for her son's alternative lifestyle while the other doesn't mince words of criticism. Fortunately Butch's sister, Pamela (Joely Fisher), is in his camp, happy to have him home again and supportive of his coming out. But is this Midwestern town ready for open homosexuality from one of its own?

Is it any good?

Two years after Will & Grace burst onto the screen to rave reviews came Normal, Ohio, another comedy about a gay man, but one that takes an altogether different approach in its presentation of him and his situation. One need only look at Goodman to know that this show isn't steeped in flamboyant clichés; in fact, it strives for the opposite, casting him as a beer-drinking, sports-loving guy who doesn't really fit the stereotypical bill for a gay TV front man. Yes, some clichés do make the cut (his nephew fears homosexuality is hereditary; Butch sings show tunes now and then), but its primary focus is on how coming out affected his loved ones rather than on setting a record for double entendres.

Because of the subject matter and the lightness with which it treats some realistically weighty issues, Normal, Ohio isn't appropriate for tweens, but it raises some talking points that have value for teens and parents. Homosexuality aside, it's a story about forgiveness, rebuilding relationships, and accepting differences, and while the characters' actions aren't always great examples of how to implement these virtues, they do give viewers a lot to talk about. That said, the show's stale comedy likely accounts for its very short life span.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the media's portrayal of homosexuality. What are this show's messages about tolerance? How do the characters' varied responses to Butch's lifestyle reflect those of our society?

  • Are stereotypes ever appropriate in comedy? How does their impact change related to the person delivering the punch lines? Is a joke about race more acceptable if the teller is of color? Does the same hold true for homosexuality? Is this OK or not?

  • Why do you think John Goodman was tapped for this role? Did his portrayal change your impression of him? Was he believable? How might the effect have been different with an actor who wasn't heterosexual?

TV details

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