In countless stage, screen, and television productions, the “pray for pay” nuns of The Sound of Music have pondered the musical question, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
At ABC-TV, the Disney owned and operated American broadcast television network, the brass are rolling their troubled eyes heavenward, pondering this inharmonious dilemma: How do you solve a problem like The Real O’Neals?
For the uninitiated, The Real O’Neals is an ABC-TV weekly, primetime situation comedy series. It is loosely based on the early years of LGBT activist, journalist, and sex pundit, Dan Savage. Savage receives an onscreen credit as Executive Producer, but he has remained uncharacteristically hands off and silent about the controversies and other problems swirling around the show.
The network promos for the series claim, “The O’Neal’s are your typical Irish Catholic family.”
No such thing. The O’Neals are atypical of any ethnicity and religion: Daughter Shannon has eating disorders and pockets what she collects for Catholic charities. The older son, Jimmy, is a clueless dunce. Even the O’Neal’s parish priest is an anomaly. His vow of poverty doesn’t extend to his pricey luxury automobile.
And then there is the O’Neal’s youngest son, Kenny, the character based upon the teenage Dan Savage. He is anxious, confused, conflicted, and coming out as gay.
As if the O’Neal children do not come with dysfunction enough to propel at least two sitcoms, the parents, Eileen and Pat O’Neal, are divorcing, and awkwardly attempting to reenter the dating pool.
Quite simply, there is something about The Real O’Neals to offend almost everyone. And it does.
Most vociferously outraged is the Media Research Center, America’s self-proclaimed Media Watchdog.
The MRC, along with many other conservative and religious groups have protested the series, writing en masse to Ben Sherwood, president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, demanding cancellation of The Real O’Neals.
Catholic groups, among them the Catholic League, despise the series, and the cheap shots it takes at theology and Roman Catholic iconography.
One example: While still closeted, gay son Kenny, played to perfection by Noah Galvin, explains, “I can’t come out. Have you ever met my mom? She put a statue of the Virgin Mary on the toilet so we’d remember to put the seat down.”
A conservative protest similar to the one now being waged against The Real O’Neals sank a 2012 ABC-TV primetime dramedy, GCB, or Good Christian Bitches, as the Kristin Chenoweth vehicle was more commonly known.
But instead of giving The Real O’Neals the ax, Disney-ABC has ignored the right wing outcry and given it a second season renewal, one launching in September.
But conservative outrage about the series characters and content is not the only problem plaguing The Real O’Neals. Its first season was no ratings winner. The show was regularly trounced in the all-important TV Numbers Game: consistently losing its time period to NBC-TV’s The Voice, and on CBS, to NCIS.
And then there is this: While our community all but deifies Dan Savage, a larger segment of the American population see him as a bigoted, anti-Catholic bully. As one conservative publication put it, “Anything remotely having to do with Dan Savage would have to be bad. Savage is a hateful anti-Christian bigot who publishes filth under the guise of sex advice.”
Making matters worse, Martha Plimpton, the actress who plays mom, Eileen O’Neal, has also estranged conservative America.
Plimpton has been publicly outspoken about her two abortions, telling the press, “The abortions made it possible for me to live out my dreams and do what I really wanted to do with my life.”
Her detractors add: “Too bad her babies weren’t given the same chance.”
Can The Real O’Neal’s survive its ongoing controversies and lackluster ratings, or will Disney’s gay problem child perish with Season Two?
In this writer’s opinion, survival is possible only if ratings improve and conservatives find some new series to demonize. Or better yet. Maybe conservatives will just put their hate where it belongs: on their beloved political party: you know, the one that has nominated a racist and bigot as its Presidential candidate.
If not, look for The Real O’Neals to become sitcom history even before the next American President is sworn in, Friday, January 20, 2017.