TV Review - The Real O'Neals

Despite the title, little about this show is actually real. It has a similar aesthetic as other ABC sitcoms like The Middle and Fresh Off the Boat, mainly bright and cheery. The difference is that this series embraces fantasy elements more than the other ABC sitcoms. Out of nowhere, Jesus Christ will appear on screen to talk to the protagonist. Out of nowhere, Jimmy Kimmel will appear to do the same. Out of nowhere, the show will launch into a Will & Grace parody or a musical number set to The Weeknd's "I Can't Feel My Face." Obviously, those things are all in the protagonist's head, but they underscore this show's un-realness.

One of my all-time favorite series incorporated fantasy elements and that series was Ally McBeal. That show was a hour and had more time weekly to delve into its characters, but so far this series seems reticent to dive deep into its characters and have real pathos. Fresh Off the Boat doesn't have a lot of pathos either, but it's definitely more grounded, even when it's being ridiculous.

This series is less grounded because it doesn't seem to have the courage of its convictions. It's supposed to be about an Irish-Catholic family, led by a matriarch who is very much homophobic. The premise is that she along with her family learns her youngest son is gay. After four episodes though, the series hasn't had the kind of confrontations and conversations that realistically would be had.

Noah Galvin stars as Kenny O'Neal, the aforementioned son who is gay. He's a teenage boy who might be a sophomore in a Catholic school in Chicago. Of course, he has all the stereotypical characteristics of a white gay kid. He's slightly effeminate, which isn't a bad thing, but it's a bit lazy.

Matt Shively plays Jimmy O'Neal, the older brother to Kenny. He's probably a junior in the same school. He's the typical jock, dumb and girl crazy. He's sweet and a very nice as well as very protective, older brother, but it would have been more interesting if Jimmy had been the gay one and Kenny the straight one. Keep the personalities and affectations the same, but just swap sexual orientations.

As it stands, the series resorts to the easy stereotypes when it comes to these characters. Kenny and Jimmy are stereotypes. There's nothing unique or more to them that would make me want to follow them. As far as the other characters go, there's less involved with them too.

Bebe Wood plays Shannon O'Neal, the younger sister who also goes to the same school. She's reminiscent of Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine. She's sweet too, but she has a sinister and slightly, cynical side. She admittedly likes to steal but otherwise is a good girl.

Jay R. Ferguson (Mad Men and Evening Shade) plays Patrick O'Neal, the father of the family who is a Chicago cop. He like his other two children wants to be open and understanding of Kenny's sexuality, as well as just be a good dad.

Martha Plimpton (Raising Hope and The Good Wife) co-stars as Eileen O'Neal, the matriarch who is somewhat homophobic. Ironically, my problem is that she's not homophobic enough. She doesn't have to be mean or nasty, but she's mostly as tolerant and nice as everyone else.

As such, there's no real conflict or drama inherent. It's what makes the title disingenuous. Maybe that's the point, but it makes the show boring with no conflict or major drama. For example, at no point does Eileen invoke any Bible verses or discuss where her homophobia derives. At no point does anyone bring up what the family's politics are.

Even in the fourth episode when Kenny goes to school for the first time, he encounters no problem that comes externally. All the children are nice or non-engaging. It's boring. The third episode has Kenny go out on a date with another young teen named Ricky, played by Garrett Clayton, and this isn't boring or at least it has potential.

Last year, The Fosters had the youngest, male, same-sex kiss on television. Kenny and Ricky aren't that much older and seeing this young depiction of same-sex relations could be encouraging and bold, if the writers actually decide to allow Kenny to pursue relationships, which seems like the plan. My hope is that maybe the show will incorporate some diversity also.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-DL.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Tuesdays at 8:30PM on ABC.


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