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The Real O'Neals Doesn't Mock Religion, Just Family Drama

Read about the family sitcom

Malcolm Venable

When ABC first announced The Real O'Neals, about a gay teen coming out in a Catholic family, backlash from religious groups was swift and somewhat expected.

Given that the story is based on the life of Dan Savage - the gay author and sex columnist who's been somewhat gleefully confrontational with conservatives - and the family is in the midst of a divorce too, groups like the American Family Association could, in theory at least, rightfully believe the show was trying to shred the traditional values they hold dear. That couldn't be further from the truth.

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"We're not making fun of religion at all," says Martha Plimpton, who plays Eileen O'Neal, a strict Catholic mom. In fact, she says, her character is a sympathetic treatment of what parents like her may be experiencing. "She's a deeply faithful woman who has a code for living. She has a real fear her son might go to hell, but it comes from a loving place."

In a bigger sense, The Real O'Neals is a sympathetic exploration of the conflicts virtually all parents experience when what they think their children should do rubs up against what they choose or who they are and, as Plimpton puts it, "how you learn to love them no matter what."

Indeed, Kenny (Noah Galvin) coming out is not exactly an earth-shattering, tumultuous event - not on the show, where his siblings embrace it with basically a shoulder shrug - nor in the real world, where gay people can get married and Caitlyn Jenner can transition with public support.

Kenny, in fact, becomes the more "normal" one as they all reveal their true selves: sister Shannon (Bebe Wood) is a kleptomaniac and grifter; older brother and jock Jimmy (Matt Shively) is anorexic. Dad (Jay R. Ferguson), a tough-guy cop, is coping with his separation and imminent divorce - having a mini mid-life crisis as everything unravels. But as the clan accepts one another and is united as they face the world, The Real O'Neals illuminates their love for each other and faith, which is as traditional as it gets.

The Real O'Neals premieres Tuesday March 8 at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.