Family secrets abound in ABC’s Real O’Neals
March 10, 2016 6:21 AM EST

Coming out is never easy. But it’s harder yet when your family is predisposed to obsessive secrecy. This is what young Kenny (Noah Galvin) faces on ABC’s The Real O’Neals. While he’s scared to admit he’s gay, he doesn’t yet know that his parents are planning to violate their Catholic faith by divorcing, or that his older brother and younger sister are, respectively, an anorexic and a kleptomaniac.

That’s a lot for one show to cover. But The Real O’Neals has a very capable star: Martha Plimpton, playing Kenny’s mother, is just trying to keep up her family’s ordinary appearance in the eyes of onlookers, who seem to see only that the O’Neals are messy, in an ordinary way. The quiet rage behind Plimpton’s quest for normalcy–“You still have that?” she asks Kenny with hope, a day after he’s announced he’s gay–makes the series something really special.

ABC has lately shown a touch for socially conscious comedy; black-ish recently aired one of the best sitcom episodes in memory, staging a family debate over police brutality even while, at first, the kids fought over takeout menus. The Real O’Neals, though less polished, does something similar, pitting evolving norms against a family unit fundamentally resistant to change. All the better–without such rigid traditions, where would we find anything to joke about?


The Real O’Neals airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. E.T. on ABC

This appears in the March 21, 2016 issue of TIME.

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