The Realness of The Real O'Neals

To be honest, before the show aired I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about ABC's The Real O'Neals. Frankly, I expected that it might not escape the traps that too many movies and TV shows focusing on similar stories have fallen prey to: getting mired down in the melodramatic coming out of a teenager, or worse, featuring a main gay lead who was more aren't-gays-a-scream cartoon than a real boy. To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. As a gay man who grew up in a conservative family, I felt an immediate kinship to the character of Kenny -- brilliantly played by newcomer Noah Galvin -- who not only shared my sexuality, but also my first name.


The Real O'Neals was, created by internationally syndicated columnist, LGBT activist, and founder of the It Gets Better project Dan Savage. The show premiered on March 2nd, wrapping up it's first 13 episode season on Tuesday, May 24th. In that time, I found myself falling in love with Kenny's crazy family that often reminded me so much of my own that I felt like I should find a way to contact Dan Savage and demand the rights to my life back. Kenny's coming out speech to his parents and siblings was an almost verbatim retelling of my own, throwing me back to the days of being a 15-year-old kid trying to be the real me in rural Montana. The reaction of his Mother Eileen (played by the ever-fabulous Martha Plimpton, most recently from Fox's Raising Hope) and father Pat (Mad Men's Jay R. Ferguson) was also very similar to those of my own parents, my mother's almost eerily so. While my own brother is slightly more suave than Kenny's elder sibling Jimmy (Matthew Shively of Nickelodeon's True Jackson, VP), and my own sister's schemes were never quite so Machiavellian as Kenny's sister Shannon (hysterically played by Bebe Wood of last season's highly underrated The New Normal) the parallels hold true. I even have an aunt Jodi of my own (Kenny's played wonderfully by Mary Hollis Inboden). It often seemed as if Dan Savage and the other writers of the series had somehow broken into my memory banks and pulled out a highlight reel, using it to create something specifically geared toward me. Even Kenny's relationship with girlfriend Mimi (Hannah Marks from MTV's Awkward) was reminiscent of a seldom-mentioned and highly-embarrassing high school misstep of my own (don't worry, she agrees).

ABC has found itself the proud owner of a show that has a valuable and contemporary voice. It is incredibly funny, fun and unapologetically inclusive, so it was of no surprise when the anti-gay darlings of the right-wing, One Million Moms, started screaming for its cancellation. This isn't the first series that the Facebook-based group (which despite its lofty name, actually has just over 85,000 followers) has targeted with threats of boycotts that will ultimately fail, and thinly veiled bigotry wrapped up in supposed concern for America's children. However, it was the response by the network and the series' stars (most notably Galvin) that was wonderful. They categorically refused to bow to the pressure being applied by the social media bullies. Instead, they continued to create a world where Kenny's trials with his family and his sexuality were shown to be nothing particularly subversive. Certainly, his LGBTQ struggles add another layer of challenges to his life, but he also deals with the very same issues that every kid faces in the process of growing up: it's first dates, a closed-minded family, and teenage fashion faux pas (something I know all too much about), paired with the realities of being out in high school, the roll that religion plays in the life of gays, and almost more importantly the role that gays play in religion. The writers handled these topics with genuineness and respect, and most importantly humor. They refused to trip over that all-too-familiar line where humanity is pushed aside in favor of disingenuous camp and stereotypes, and for their efforts they receive the ultimate prize in television: a second season. I can't wait to see what happens next.

So, in closing, I want to say congratulations to the cast and crew of The Real O' Neals on your much-deserve success. I'm a little sad that there wasn't a show like this on television when I was coming out, but I'm very glad I get to enjoy it now. Also, a quick note to Mr. Savage: if you think my high school life was hysterical Dan, wait until you hear about my wacky college years.