Aleteia

“The Real O’Neals”: A Cautionary Tale Against Mere Cultural Catholicism

THE REAL O'NEALS - "Pilot" - Based in Chicago, the O'Neals appear to be a seemingly picture perfect family, but their lives soon take an unexpected turn when surprising truths are revealed. Eileen is a mom who usually has a fine grasp on all matters under her roof, and her soon-to-be-ex-husband Pat is a good-natured father and the emotional center of the family. Their normal routine at home suddenly gets turned upside down when Eileen and Pat announce their divorce, and their sixteen-year-old-son Kenny reveals to his family that he is gay. Kenny never would have imagined his admission would also result in outing his entire family's secrets, including revelations from his older brother, Jimmy, and little sister, Shannon. Jimmy unapologetically wears his heart on his sleeve and genuinely tries to figure out what's best in any situation, while Shannon is the youngest but carries herself more mature than her age. Life in the O'Neals household wouldn't be complete without Aunt Jodi, Pat's ex-sister-in-law and Eileen's best friend, who is quite the frequent visitor and is also willing to admit things are far from perfect in her own life. What seems like a sudden upheaval that could mark the end of the O'Neals idyllic lives turns out to be the beginning of a bright new chapter when everyone stops pretending to be perfect and actually starts being real on "The Real O'Neals," airing in a special preview on WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2 (8:30-9:00 p.m. EST) on the ABC Television Network.(ABC/Nicole Wilder)
BEBE WOOD, MATT SHIVELY, JAY R. FERGUSON, NOAH GALVIN
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Sitcom may inadvertently portray an important truth beyond the bingo-playing Catholic caricatures

ABC’s new “family” sitcom, “The Real O’Neals,” has been controversial ever since the idea was greenlighted a year ago. The show centers on a Chicago Irish Catholic family that is put in the spotlight when all of their family secrets are spilled — where else? — at a church bingo night.

It turns out the parents are getting a divorce; their oldest son has an eating disorder; their smart daughter is an atheist thief; and their youngest son is gay. The “model” Catholic family in the neighborhood is now in the hot seat, with all their sins out in the open.

What is surprising is not that the O’Neals are sinners, but they don’t seem to see their sins or have any recourse to God or the Church. In a review of the new series, John Mulderig commented how, “[the family’s] Catholicism is not, in any sense, a faith. No one involved in it is ever seen to pray, participate in the sacraments or draw wisdom — much less comfort — from Scripture.”

Should we be surprised by any of that, though? The O’Neal family may be a caricature, but caricatures are drawn from an actual subject. In this case, the subject is the myriad families who claim Catholicism but have been badly formed in the faith; they have rarely been taught the rich doctrines of the Church. Their family sins become compounded by their “cultural Catholicism” — where being Catholic is more of an ethnic badge than a living faith.

One could say that the O’Neals are all-too “real” as they show us what happens when a pastor does not practice what he preaches, and a family does not fully and deeply live its faith. The producers, whether they wish to or not, might actually be doing Catholics a favor by showing us what our lives are like — and what the world sees — when faith is hollow and without substance. It shows us how silly the idea of faith is if it is not incorporated into every aspect of our lives.

All the same, the show is more tragedy than comedy. With the exception of the atheist daughter and the gay son, every Catholic in this show is either stupid, hypocritical or shallow. Such ungenerosity is too dishonest to be funny.

“The Real O’Neals” should inspire us to redouble our own catechetical and evangelization efforts and encourage all of our co-religionists to learn more about our beautiful faith, and to live it well, for the sake of the church, and the world, but mostly for the sake of souls. A lukewarm faith is hardly a faith at all, and could be a scandal to those around us. As God said in the book of Revelation, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).

In the end God always finds a way to bring good out of something evil. May this awful sitcom — for as long as it lasts — be a warning to us of what Catholicism looks like when it is backed by nothing more than a cultural habit.

[EDITORS NOTE: Take our Daily Poll — How Real Are The Real O’Neals?]