Wednesday, April 06, 2016

5 Reasons Why You Should Be Watching The Real O'Neals

I'll be the first person to admit that when the trailers for The Real O'Neals started rolling out, I thought nothing of it.  I am not what you'd consider a sitcom person, after all, and yet another family show on ABC wasn't up my alley.  Like every other person in Middle America I watch Modern Family, but the rest of the lineup felt somewhat interchangeable to me (I've been told on more than one occasion I need to try The Goldbergs-sound off in the comments if this is the case).  So despite the fact that The Real O'Neals was that rare sitcom to put a gay character smack-dab in the center, rather than lounging asexually at the side, I didn't think it was the show for me.

However, after catching a random clip of it and a high recommendation from my brother, I indulged, and man if I'm not totally smitten.  The show, protested initially for its views on the Catholic religion (which are, despite what the protests may say, relatively tame and hardly worth spouting vitriol over), is a great family comedy, feeling as cohesive as any show and featuring enough fresh angles to make you want to tune in each week.  Since the show seems to be a "bubble" show (it's not clear whether or not it will be renewed for a full season, though my fingers are crossed), I figured it was my civic TV duty to let you know five reasons why this should be added to your DVR on the double:

1. Martha Plimpton is a Treasure

What, you already knew that?  Well, you aren't showing your appreciation enough then.  The Emmy-winning and Tony-nominated actress, who has been on the national radar since The Goonies is a wonderful comedic actress, and plays her Eileen with a lot of flare.  It's interesting to see Plimpton, outspoken in her liberal beliefs in real life (particularly on abortion), play a character that is in many ways her antithesis, but she fills the character up with aplomb, not necessarily judging her along the way (as I worried would happen), but playing her as someone whose need to be thought of as normal and to seek approval is part of what drives her to such strong conservative beliefs, as they serve in many ways as a benchmark.  Last night's episode illustrated this plainly when the show had her mother (played by Frances Conroy), show up and show how truly awful she was to her daughter, constantly reminding her what a disappointment she was.  It shed a light upon Eileen's desperate need for affection and approval from strangers, and gave her character some depth as she realizes a life she didn't anticipate in the coming weeks (she's getting divorced, has a gay son, is restarting her identity).  Plimpton has mined sitcom gold before, but it's fascinating to see her take on such a character as Eileen, whose world is crumbling and she's stuck-in-the-middle trying to find some normalcy.

2. Noah Galvin is a Treasure

Here I bet you didn't know it, but it's worth mentioning because Noah Galvin is the imaginary gay boyfriend you had in high school you didn't even realize you wanted.  His Kenny is a delight, frequently finding ways to be both petrified of boys (the Pornado episode is perhaps the most realistic reaction I've seen in some time to a newly-out guy reacting to sex on television) and secretly curious about them (the first date dance was perfection).  Galvin is actually a very fine actor (look at him handle this musical number with a casual grace from a stage musical I've admittedly never heard of), and his comedic skills are impeccable on the show.  Part of why I want the show to get a second season is because Galvin seems to be just stretching his legs, and I want to see how he handles Kenny, naturally ambitious like his mother, take on aspects of the character not just in regard to his coming out, but dating and the acrimony of high school.  Plus, he's genuinely funny, which is true of the entire show...

3. The Show is Hilarious

It's so rare lately that you watch a sitcom and it actually makes you laugh.  Most sitcoms are funny in theory, not in practice, and we spend the entire episode randomly watching the same trope over and over and over again, and keep tuning in because it's familiar and you grow fond of the characters and they're not a lot of work after a long day on the job.  The Real O'Neals is genuinely funny-I have laughed out loud literally every episode (I'm a tough judge on that front, so it's worth saying something), and gets both witty humor (my personal favorite moment so far being Kenny explaining to his dim-witted older brother that they can't watch fifty hours of television in a single night) and visual wisecracks (this week's Camp Nohomo being a particularly choice moment).  A show with heart and laughs is how literally every family sitcom is billed, but generally they rely on too many harsh stereotypes and easy laughs right out the gate, and this show just doesn't go there-it's sometimes predictable, but even then it does it with a clever angle on the subject (like Jimmy being dumb, but clever like a fox in defending his brother at school).

4. It's Unapologetically Gay

I mentioned up-top that the show is one of those rare sitcoms that actually stars a gay guy, but unlike other sitcoms, here we have a character who isn't shy about being gay.  We're not just talking about him actually discussing the topic (he does, of course, but that's not really the point), but his character isn't a monk or trying to be "not just gay," instead organically just proving he isn't "just gay."  This is a departure both from shows like Modern Family (where Mitch and Cameron, by-and-large, could just be really co-dependent roommates for the amount of sexual chemistry between the two of them), and series like New Girl or The Big Bang Theory, where they have clearly gay characters who have the cover of being "straight" in their dating lives.  There are scenes where Kenny, say, flirts with a cologne model in the mirror or imagines the benefits of a conversion camp, that you wouldn't see in Modern Family in anything other than a throwaway gag (sorry to bag on that show, which I have liked in the past, but it has become downright offensive how every Valentine's Day Claire and Phil have a sexy rendezvous at a hotel while Mitch and Cam get stuck babysitting).  That's refreshing for network television, and relatively groundbreaking for a sitcom, as even a show like Will and Grace made Will and Jack focus more on Broadway and fashion in their flirting rather than actually liking another dude.  I have generally not sided with my community on the topic of pinkface (I think that straight people can convincingly play gay people just as well as gay people can convincingly play straight people-it's called acting), but Galvin actually being gay does add a level of, let's go with authenticity, to the show that is undeniable in this department.

5. Sitcoms Need Love Too

I've name-checked a few shows up-top and mentioned how they aren't succeeding like they used to, but honestly-there are very few quality sitcoms on the air, and most of them are relics of their former grand selves.  Admittedly a few sitcoms have emerged in recent years that have caught critical and commercial love (Blackish and The Goldbergs come to mind), but they're rare, and considering this format is the life-blood of both cable and of your week night TV rerun watching, it's important to try and ensure the networks know when they have a keeper.  Here ABC has a sitcom that is funny, has a fresh angle, and feels authentic in its own universe.  It would be a crime to let that slip through the hands of the ratings fairy because it was a midseason replacement and got its night moved to quickly.  So please-catch up on (what, like you're solving the refugee crisis-you have time), and give this show the love it deserves.

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