At first I wasn’t going to watch. My broadcast television viewing — beyond the 6:30 newscasts — is limited to a couple of sitcoms which are basically time to de-stress. Besides, I have to justify owning the monster in the living room. Then I decided I’d give it a couple of episodes after all.
Billed as “an Irish-Catholic comedy,” The Real O’Neals is a mid-season replacement that joins a rather huge stable of ABC family-centered sitcoms such as Last Man Standing, Blackish, Fresh of the Boat, The Middle, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, etc. Only Dr. Ken is primarily workplace-centered.
Make no mistake, there is an Irish element and a Roman Catholic element to each episode. As a religion writer, that’s what drew me in. How would they portray the family? The mom, played by Martha Plimpton — who is somewhat of a carbon copy of the mother in The Goldbergs — had a bit of rant at the beginning of the episode broadcast Tuesday that sounded more Evangelical than anything. And the cross — definitely not a crucifix — in the background of one scene looked like someone in set design missed a detail. At least they got the Bingo Night part right.
Oh, and Jesus appears in each episode, but only one family member can see him.
But make no mistake, The Real O’Neals is the story of gay teenager’s coming out as gay to his family, to his girlfriend, and then to the community at large. Noah Galvin plays Kenneth “Kenny” O’Neal and his character is, in my view, the central one of the show. If anything, Kenny is a role model for gay teens and the program is thereby a “How To” manual for youth in a similar position.
Some in the gay community may feel the show kept a safe distance from some issues, but I’m sure that high school students, gay or straight, would give this a more positive review.
In a way, the show parallels the British/American co-production, You, Me and the Apocalypse. Despite the presence of a priest or two and a nun, and frequent scripture citations from Revelation in the first few episodes, any religious elements in the plot generally take a backseat to the action, adventure, suspense and intrigue.
There is the element of people claiming that the impending impact on earth of a giant meteor is actually the second coming of Jesus Christ but the key priest, Father Jude, played by a chain-smoking Rob Lowe, who must deal with Messiahs and rumors of Messiahs, is really part of a larger purpose and his clergy status is almost incidental as the series progresses. The show is really about the convergence of four very disparate people and plot-lines
Full disclosure: I bailed after four episodes. My wife watched the whole series — it has already aired in the UK — and filled me on the six scripts I am missing. I found the show terribly dark and have no idea why it aired at 8:00 PM in the U.S.
…With both The O’Neals and Apocalypse, I think the producers are playing on the American interest in all things spiritual while in fact furthering a different agenda. It’s not that Christians are misrepresented, but that the religious element is almost secondary to the larger plot.