Tonight on ABC, The Real O’Neals will make its grand debut, a comedy about an Irish Catholic family and all their foibles.
At its center is – Gasp! – a homosexual teen named Kenny O’Neal – played by 20-year-old Noah Galvin, who is also gay, and who is neither friendless, closeted, repressed, deviant or loveless.
What makes this so revolutionary is that ABC, for all its LGBTQ inclusion, rarely portrays us as anything but.
The show is loosely based on sex columnist and gay rights advocate Dan Savage’s experiences but, as the show’s co-creators Casey Johnson and David Windsor pointed out to Slate, “the Savage connection doesn’t go much deeper than that.”
But first, a brief history. ABC is far and away the most aggressive commercial network in terms of LGBTQ representation. Starting in 1975 with Norman Lear’s short-lived TV comedy Hot l Baltimore – it ran for only one season – the show featured George and Gordon, America’s first and only openly gay couple.
But it wasn’t until 1977 when Billy Crystal debuted as Jodie Dallas on the critically acclaimed Soap, did America get its first chance to see ‘us’ on a daily basis. It was truly groundbreaking for any number of reasons but especially because show creator Susan Harris treated Jodie equally to the other characters on the show.
Fifteen years would pass before another groundbreaking TV moment would occur, and again, ABC was there. It was the kiss heard around the world between Roseanne and Mariel Hemingway on ABC’s hit comedy of the eponymously named Roseanne. Then, again, ABC broke new ground by featuring the first open-mouthed kiss on Relativity in 1997.
At the same time, things started getting very queer at ABC. After Ellen DeGeneres came out to her shrink played by Oprah Winfrey – remember, she was closeted up to that point – ABC bowed to the pressure and outrage – also remember, this was 1997 – and placed a parental advisory on every episode thereafter. (DeGeneres complained publicly that ABC did not have her back after that and was largely responsible for the show’s demise.)[RELATED: There’s A Gay Romance (And Kiss) Blossoming On CW’s ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’]
After that it was nothing but stereotypes and ‘oversights.’ Cam and Mitchell never once kissing during the first season of Modern Family, Mark Deklin as a closeted gay man in the short-lived GCB, ditto for Will Lexington on Nashville, ditto for Nolan Leslie Ross on Revenge, ditto for Justin Suarez on Ugly Betty, etc., etc. (Granted, it was a comedy but could Michael Urie’s Marc St. James be any over the top? For the record, he was the reason I tuned into the show.)
Even American Crime – which is one of the best written shows on TV – deals with its gay characters as long suffering homosexuals, victims or, worse, self-loathing ones. (“I’m gay. I’m not a faggot!”)
I guess my whole point is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with sensitive portrayals of the LGBTQ community because, yes, there are closeted gay men whose careers would be derailed if they came out and there are flamboyant queens and there is gay date rape. But we are long past the point where those portrayals are the whole of our existence.
Hopefully, ABC has a chance with The Real O’Neals to steer the public conversation away from our pathologies and, like their trailblazing past, move is forward with a new dialog.
Watch the trailer below and catch the first two episodes of The Real O’Neals tonight at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Eastern on ABC.