Have you heard about The Real O’Neals? It’s ABC’s new sitcom, debuting tonight–loosely based on the upbringing of gay columnist Dan Savage–about a seemingly perfect Irish-Catholic family in the Chicago area whose awkward secrets start to spill out…not least that their seemingly perfect teen son is gay. News of the show was controversial, with the antigay Catholic League trying to shame ABC into canceling it.
But according to early reviews, it just ain’t that edgy. The New York Times review sets the tone: “‘The Real O’Neals‘ wants desperately to be the brash new sitcom that talks forthrightly about subjects that had been taboo,” it begins. “And a decade or two ago it might have been. Now, though, it’s just the guest who arrives late to the party, blundering in loudly and clumsily.”
Early critics seem to think it’s a little too late for a show to try to wrest shock value out of the fact that a child comes out as gay. And they say that the show too much relies on tired sitcom tropes like well-meaningly clueless parents, smart-aleck teens and the requisite few minutes set aside for family bonding and breakthroughs.
Not all the reviews are so harsh. The Hollywood Reporter seems to think that the show starts to find its feet by about the fourth episode (the show will debut tonight, then air weekly on Tuesdays), while The Chicago Tribune calls the show “moderately engaging” so far and bets that if it succeeds, it’ll be because of Martha Plimpton, who plays the mom and whom everyone loves. (Jay R. Ferguson, who ended up with Peggy on Mad Men, plays the dad.)
Over time, The Real O’Neals could surprise us. Everyone thought that the name alone of Black-ish, one of ABC’s other family sitcoms, signaled how bad it was going to be, but the show has gotten high critical acclaim for blending comedy with real issues, especially in an episode last week that took on police brutality against African Americans.