I realize that National Coming Out Day was yesterday, but as it didn't fall on one of my blogging days, I'm exercising blogorific license to stretch it to a two-day event. Of course the spirit shouldn't be term-limited — the time for anyone to come out of whatever closet the person may be dwelling in is as soon as he or she is ready, and the time to help prepare everyone else is now, whenever now happens to be.
One happy byproduct of the delay in celebrating the day is the opportunity to take note of last night's season premiere of ABC's disarmingly wacky sitcom The Real O'Neals, the saga of a family that in its assorted wackinesses is probably closer to all-American than most of the families we see on TV, and certainly way closer than the families imagined as models by the Phony Family Values crowd.
Which is part of the premise of the show, because until the events we witnessed in the 13-episode debut season that began last March, the O'Neals were themselves a model family, as enforced almost fetishistically by Eileen O'Neal (Martha Plimpton, who in the past has usually annoyed me quite a lot, but whom I'm enjoying enormously here). That image of a perfect-in-all-ways Irish-American Catholic family which Eileen worked so hard, even fetishistically, to maintain began to crack when the middle O'Neal offspring, 16-year-old Kenny (Noah Galvin), leapt with great determination and a delightful amount of confusion out of the closet. Once that crack appeared, the stuffing kind of came out of the rest of the model-family image. In short order Eileen and earnestly genial cop Pat (Jay R. Ferguson, fondly remembered as Peggy Olson's Mad Men designer cohort — doing something utterly different here, but just as wonderful). A divorce is on the family “to do” list. but for the time being the best they could manage was Pat moving into the basement, which is still the situation as Season 2 launched.
All of which has left most of the family members with new identities, and the fun of the show comes from their confused efforts to figure out how they're supposed to fill their new roles — including Kenny, who is concocting his notion of being gay from media images, which in his mind adds up to a sort of theatrical presentation, as with last night's season-kickoff episode, in which he imagines the LGBT Club he's fighting to start at St. Barklay's, the Catholic school attended by all three O'Neal kids. In his mind he's going to be leading a throng of LGBT and sympathetic straight students to the promised land of liberation; in actuality, his only recruit is poor Allison, who literally — by her account — blends into the woodwork.
Kenny, in his role as “Gay Moses,” persuades Allison, in the spirit of National Coming Out Day, to come out to her parents, discovering just barely in the nick of time that for Allison the time truly isn't right — her parents have made it clear to her that if she's gay, she'll be thrown out of the house.
At the same time the show offered a delightful wrinkle of its own on coming out: that there are lots of people living in closets of their own who would benefit from coming ouit. Like the children's Aunt Jodi (Mary Hollis Inboden; the children's ex-aunt, I guess, since if I've got this right she's divorced from Pat's brother), who comes out as a plus size, and Eileen herself, who comes out as a soon-to-be-single mother who has an interest in St. Barklay's fairly creepy-goofy Vice Principal Murray (Matt Oberg, who bears an eerie facial resemblance to Martin Short).
It amazes me that we've arrived at a point where coming out can be a subject for humor, but this episode of The Real O'Neals managed that while still making clear that it's serious business — and a matter for thought as well. Could we ask for more on National Coming Out Day?
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis