Can ‘O’Neals’ Stand Out?

The Real O’Neals is a snug fit into ABC’s sitcom lineup.

ABC should consider renaming themselves ABC Family for all the family-centered comedies they have going on during the week. Sure, ABC Family recently changed their name to Freeform, but the presence of another half hour comedy focusing on familial dysfunction is enough to make the average viewer think that ABC is creating all this content to ensure they are covering every market possible. The Real O’Neals, which debuted two episodes on Wednesday night, feels a bit less squeaky clean than its ABC companions, and the writing and acting settles it snuggly into their family lineup.

Modern Family, black-ish, The Goldbergs, and Fresh Off the Boat all center on a different type of family experience. O’Neals wants to add Irish Catholic to the mix. Led by Martha Plimpton as an uptight and high-strung matriarch, the O’Neals suddenly find themselves at a crossroads when their perfect lifestyle is interrupted by a series of confessions. Plimpton’s Eileen and Jay R. Ferguson’s Pat announce they are getting a divorce (they got married to “do the right thing” after getting pregnant). Dim son Jimmy has an eating disorder and only daughter, Shannon, is a thief.

O’Neals unfolds through the eyes of middle child, Kenny, played by Noah Galvin. He forces himself to come out of the closet in order not to mess up his entire life 20 years from now (you know, a concept that a lot of closeted gay men don’t take into consideration before lying about their sexuality). Galvin’s guarded delivery and reserved comic timing make him an immediate star on the rise. He’s naturally funny–something that goes a long way in a show like this. One could easily see his Kenny transforming into Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s Mitchell on Modern Family.

While a lot of the introductions and insights into this conservative family are very amusing (Eileen keeps statues of the Virgin Mary over the toilet so they always know to put the seat down), it doesn’t go the Full House route and offer an immediate group hug or gooey conclusion. Eileen obviously struggles with her son’s sexuality, and she would rather he pretend to be “normal” than accept himself for who he is. There are plenty of gay teenagers out there whose perception of coming out might be misconstrued by how easily accepted gay people are. That’s not a knock at the series. Parents sometimes take a longer time to come around, and I applaud The Real O’Neals for showing this resistance.

There are jokes that are a bit lazy. When Kenny struggles to come out to his girlfriend Mimi, he thinks back to if he ever said anything obviously “gay.” In one quick moment he asks Mimi if a pair of capris make him look fat and there is another moment when he refers to Mimi’s haircut. It’s a tad easy, and I hope it strays away from such writing. Will & Grace (which the show overtly mentions) did this kind of stuff already.

It may not be the most original thing to debut this season, but The Real O’Neals has a real shot to stand out from its comedy brothers and sisters on ABC. They have an opportunity to bring comedy from a personal place.

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