Beyond the TV Grave: The Real O’Neals (2016-17)

'Beyond The TV Grave' shells out our thoughts on shows that were canceled after airing no less than 5 episodes and no more than 50.

The Real O'Neals enjoyed a fleeting run of primetime exposure over two seasons.  Saddled most of its run in ABC's shittiest timeslot (Tuesdays at 9:30), the show never missed a mark with original humor.  Largely centered on a gay teen coming out to his family, The Real O'Neals succeeded in cultivating the proper character development to his remaining four families who delivered some quirky laughs.  Nearly any show debuting in springtime in the 2010's has the deck stacked against them as the networks have already deemed them inferior.  And during its 29 episodes on the air, The Real O'Neals made the best of every appetizer of space ABC offered them.


Kenny O'Neal (Noah Galvin) is the middle child in a traditional Irish family.  The O'Neals look like the perfect Catholic representation from afar but are imploding in the pilot.  Parents Pat and Eileen (Jay Ferguson, Martha Plimpton) are on the verge of splitting up.  Kenny is also ready to come out as gay in a traditional family.  Elder brother Jimmy (Matthew Shively) is hiding an eating disorder, and youngest Shannon (Bebe Wood) is a clever, manipulative truant.  After the family's dirty laundry is aired out for the church to hear in the pilot, there's no returning to their facade of perfection, and they just decide to be themselves.  Though divorcing, Pat and Eileen still reside under the same roof while they civilly work out dissolving their marriage.  Kenny begins to out himself during the first season, and Jimmy and Shannon express their desires while being overshadowed with having a gay brother.

What Worked

Noah Galvin was indeed the central focus, but Martha Plimpton commanded as cold and stern Eileen.  Plimpton and the writers defined the character well as she openly admitted she wanted the traditional experience mother go through like disliking their girlfriends and pushing them in directions.  Where she knocked it out of the park was when Eileen boldly and publicly cut off her mother due to disapproving of Kenny's changed lifestyle.  She may have merely tolerated he was gay but demonstrated her love overpowered all.  Jay Ferguson proved to be the grounding wire for the O'Neal clan as police officer Pat, wanting the best for his children, even if it meant arresting them to set an example.

Jimmy and Shannon also layered and progressed deeper into the run as they demonstrated they wanted to protect their brother from the belittlement he suffered after he came out.  The ensemble had energy, the backdrops were executed to perfection and the cast proved all were talents to be reckoned with and could convey the material they had to play.  And best of all, Ferguson and Plimpton possessed chemistry and held the team together.  Even when Pat and Eileen fell out of love, the were pulling double duty to keep their family a unit.

What Didn't Work

Mary Hollis Inboden proved more than capable of portraying the material handed to her as Pat's ex-sister-in-law Jodi, but the role could have been pared to recurring.  It appeared Jodi was born from typecast sitcom formulas of "add a whacky sister or family member" and couldn't outshine the visually prominent cast she costarred with.  Beyond that, central focus Kenny was the liveliest part of the pilot, then turned to a typical teenager.  Needy, self centered and believing the world was supposed to go his way, Kenny's stories often centered on being a gay teenager wanting to experience life.  This sounds ripe for story, but became a predictable bore as nearly every episode's driving story was he was a gay teen.  The questions which we would have loved to explore was what was Kenny's personality and driving force before coming out?  His dating life paled and was anticlimatic as approximately 10 years earlier, Desperate Housewives' Andrew Van De Camp already told this this same story with more bite.  The fantasies may have been welcome in sparing doses, but became nauseating as they were saturated like a Goldbergs sendup to a movie.

Why The Series Failed

The Real O'Neal's suffered from poor timing.  Both when ABC elected to schedule and air it, and when the showrunners presented it to the American public.  A shocker about a character coming out as gay perhaps would have been better suited for the early-mid 2000's.  The Real O'Neals came long after Cam and Mitchell were successful mainstays on Modern Family since 2009.  Characters coming out as gay was old hat as out characters living mainstreamed lives were prevalent in 2016.  Beyond that factor, future plotting seemed limited with the family already embracing candid vs. misrepresented lives.  Showrunners could have mined at least two seasons if the family secretly revealed their dirt and Eileen worked against and forced them to continue to keep up appearances out of fear of the community discovering their dirt.

That premise could have mined comic gold between Ferguson and Plimpton as they were forced to work together while wanting to be apart.  Or Wood's Shannon rebelling and passive aggressively leaving hints of her family's conflicts to spite her mother.  Either way, ABC condemned the series with scheduling, as 9:30 proved to be a difficult sell.  Its lead-in Fresh Off The Boat performed slightly higher and earned its post-American Housewife timeslot, so reversing the two would have damaged a far-more marketable FOTB.  The Real O'Neals managed to wrangle 29 episodes, more than fair to a show who performed low even when ABC was working to bolster it.

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