ABC didn’t do “The Real O’Neals” any favors with its pre-launch on air promo campaign. I groaned every time I saw it and expected very little from a show that looked like it was desperately trying to use as many storylines possible to hook an audience. I begrudgingly watched the first episode and to my surprise, “The Real O’Neals” is so much better than the promos!
The series centers on an Irish Catholic family living in Chicago whose life from the outside looks perfect. Pat, the father played by “Mad Men’s” Jay R. Ferguson, is a Chicago police officer; Eileen, played by Martha Plimpton is a mom who will settle for nothing less than perfection from her husband and children. But the kids are anything but perfect. In the pilot this seemingly perfect family reveals shocking secrets: oldest son Jimmy, a high school wrestler is anorexic; middle son Kenny is gay; and their youngest, Shannon runs cons on the community. Meanwhile, Pat and Eileen have a secret of their own. Their marriage is in shambles and they plan on divorcing.
These revelations set up what is a very funny sitcom. While Kenny’s anorexia seems to disappear after episode 2 (good call), the family continues to deal with Pat and Eileen’s marital woes and Kenny’s homosexuality. While his siblings are immediately accepting of Kenny’s news, it’s not so easy for Pat and especially Eileen. The show does an excellent job exploring the conflicting feelings for devout Catholics regarding what they’ve been taught about homosexuality in the church but still loving their son and wanting what’s best for him and what makes him happy.
The show doesn’t get preachy, but excels at an honest portrayal of a sixteen year old boy who knows who he is, but struggles to understand what that means for his future. Because he is the only openly gay teenager at his private Catholic high school he often thinks he’ll be alone forever as he watches his classmates pair off. Newcomer Noah Galvin shines as Kenny. He plays Kenny’s angst, frustration and optimism for truth, never missing a beat. Galvin has such a strong grasp on who Kenny is, that I often forget that there’s an actor playing the character. Galvin is the heart of “The Real O’Neals.” For a young actor he has amazing comic timing and his line delivery against seasoned heavyweights Plimpton and Ferguson is stellar.
The whole cast is great. Martha Plimpton who is always amazing makes Eileen, a character you could easily hate, relatable and often fun. Ferguson who has shed the beard and some of the weight worn by his “Mad Men” character is charming as a forty-something who is realizing he’s a hot commodity on the singles scene. Unhappy in their marriage, both Pat and Eileen are realizing there’s so much more to them than what they’ve allowed society and their church to tell me they should be.
While much of the action does focus on Kenny, the entire cast is well serviced in each episode. While only a handful of episodes have aired, it will be interesting to see how far ABC allows Kenny to go in his search for love in season 1. The network is not shy about exploring the sexuality of adult characters on shows like “How To Get Away with Murder” and “Grey’s Anatomy” they might be a bit more restrictive when dealing with a teenage character. I hope Kenny gets to experience his first kiss by the season finale and continue his journey into season 2, if the show is renewed.
ABC should be applauded for adding this show to it’s lineup of inclusive family sitcoms. “The Real O’Neals” has become my go-to show when I need a laugh. I have some episodes saved on my DVR just for that purpose and so should you.
“The Real O’Neals” airs Tuesdays at 8:30pm ET. Watch an episode and let me know what you think in the comments. In the meantime, here’s a clip from the show: