ABC-TV sitcoms have recently tackled a diverse Los Angeles family, including a gay couple, in “Modern Family;” a black and mixed race LA family in “Black-ish;” a Jenkintown, Pennsylvania Jewish family in “The Goldbergs;” a Chinese family, relocated to Orlando, Florida, from Washington D.C., in “Fresh off the Boat;” a Korean family—location not specified—in “Dr. Ken;” and now a Chicago Irish Catholic family, including a gay son, in “The Real O’Neals,” introduced this month. On March 10, the LGBT Community Center and NewFest New York LGBT Film Festival promoted the new show with a screening, Q & A, and reception at the Center, with “Project Runway” mentor Tim Gunn moderating a discussion featuring “Real O’Neals” stars Martha Plimpton, who plays Eileen O’Neal, matriarch of the family, and Noah Galvin, who portrays Kenny, her gay son, and David Windsor, an executive producer and co-writer of the show, who offered, “I have two gay dads.”
Windsor introduced a screening here of the pilot, which on March 2, and the yet-to-be-aired fourth episode, slated for March 15, and discussion and Q & A followed. Galvin said, “This was my first foray into TV … I’m an Off-Broadway theater kid.” In the wake of some of the controversy over the show, Gunn pointed out, however, “You’re response has been positive,” and Galvin commented, “Only two hate mails!” Windsor continued, “The Catholic League [for Religious and Civil Rights] has come out against us,” as has One Million Moms, and Gunn quipped, “That’s a compliment!”
In the first episode, teenage Kenny surprises his family by coming out to them, and his mother has a particularly strong reaction. On playing Eileen O’Neal, Plimpton said, “For me it was an interesting opportunity … I’ve never played a homophobe before … a religious mother, a Catholic mother”—loosely based on writer and It Gets Better Project founder Dan Savage’s mother—“relearning who her son is.” If Galvin’s Kenny could encourage and inspire young gay viewers, mothers similar to Eileen, Plimpton pointed out, could also be helped by finding that “If they change their life a little bit, the world’s not going to end.”
“The Real O’Neals” aims to prove that “us[ing] comedy, you can approach subjects that are difficult for some people.” Gunn will appear in a scene with Galvin in a future episode—“I’m there as his fashion guy,” Gunn said. Windsor noted that “Up until the moment when Kenny comes out, [the O’Neals] have been functionally dysfunctional … One of the things we wanted to get into [was] what is under that fake façade.”
Asked about favorite scenes in the show, Galvin mentioned that the shows’ beginnings, with “breakfast scenes, with all of the family in them, are my favorites,” and Plimpton said, “My scenes with Noah,” but added, “all three [children] are phenomenal.” The rest of the family consists of Jay R. Ferguson as Pat, the father, and Matt Shively and Bebe Wood, as Jimmy and Shannon, the other children. Plimpton also observed, “The weird thing about our cast is that we’ve all been child actors,” which aids in their professional relationship with each other.
To counteract opponents’ attacks on the show’s sponsors, Plimpton urged, “Make sure people are watching … use social media to tell ABC” that you’re watching. She declared, “[The] wonderful response to the show so outweighs” the charges by “100 Mothers, or however many they are, and the Catholic League,” which may also speak for relatively few, and concluded, “They’re like a tiny mouse in the kitchen that shits all over everything, [but] you can kill it!” Windsor added, “The show speaks for itself.”
On showing Kenny in romantic situations, Windsor said, “ABC has been very encouraging.” In the third episode, Kenny had a first flirtation with another young man, though it didn’t pan out, but he has a date and a kiss in the upcoming high school prom episode, Windsor revealed. In “The Real O’Neals,” in contrast with some prior shows featuring gay characters, “Kenny’s not the one with the problem about being gay,” said Plimpton. “The source of the humor is how the other people feel about it.” “It’s just a coming-of-age show,” Galvin interjected.
Windsor said, “The conflict between [Plimpton and Galvin’s] two characters is the emotional center of the show,” but “we didn’t want to overwrite it [and] they never overplayed it.” Plimpton stressed that,” “She didn’t kick him out, but she was not happy … you don’t have to lose your mind … the love is still there,” and mother and son learn to take “one step at a time, one day at a time.”
Thirteen episodes have been prepared for this season and, said Plimpton, “We’re hoping for a second season” so “Tell all your friends!”