Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Real O'Neals gain steam in season 2

The cast of ABC's The Real O'Neals: (l-r):
Jay Ferguson, Mary Hollis Inboden, Noah Galvin,
Martha Plimpton, Bebe Wood, Matt Shively
After returning earlier in October for its second season, tonight ABC’s The Real O’Neals presents its first Halloween episode (9:30 Eastern/Pacific) – and its central character Kenny O’Neal’s (Noah Galvin) first Halloween after coming out to his family.

As the ABC comedy, which premiered at midseason earlier in 2016, continues to get stronger in this second year, I spoke with its three executive producers during the season 2 premiere screening at Los Angeles’ Paley Center for Media about how far the show has evolved, and what we can expect in episodes to come.

Must-Hear TV:  What is special about The Real O’Neals that drew you to the pilot script and to the show?

Casey Johnson:  Initially we were really excited about the idea of telling a real coming-of-age story for a gay teenager in today’s America.  That seemed really exciting to us, especially on network television.  It hadn’t been done before, so we were thrilled about that.  Also, the story about a divorce happening in real time.  We felt like that hadn’t been seen either.

MHTV:  Is there anything in the second season – whether it be guest stars or storylines -- that you wanted to get to in the first season that we’ll see now?

David Windsor:  Well there are definitely some guest stars.  In the season premiere episode, we had Jane Lynch, RuPaul, Lance Bass and Tyler Oakley.  And later on, a couple of episodes later, we have our chefs. 
The Real O'Neals executive producers (l-r):
Casey Johnson, David Windsor, Stacy Traub

Stacy Traub:  We have Alex Guarnaschelli, Toni Lofaso and Graham Elliot.  It’s a Chopped fantasy, kind of “Kenny’s Kitchen Nightmares.”  That was really fun, recreating a cooking show.

DW:  We’re still trying to get Jesus back for a role.

CJ:  He’s busy

ST:  We have Robbie Rogers and Gus Kenworthy, the silver medalist.  And we’re definitely going to have Tim Gunn back.  He’s shooting Project Runway right now, but as soon as he’s done, he tells us he’ll come back.

MHTV:  What did you learn from season 1 that affects season 2?

CJ:  I think one of the things we’re doing – we talk about season 1 with Kenny about being gay in theory, and now we’re talking about him being gay in practice.  And what does that mean in the world?  What does his first gay Halloween look like, when he wants to dress as Beyonce?  How does Eileen feel about that now that she knows he’s gay?  We’re going to have Kenny get a boyfriend this year and watch the steps of that relationship.  We’ll see what that means for Kenny, and what it means for the rest of the family.

MHTV:  Did you have any trepidation about doing that on network TV?

DW:  ABC has always been really supportive of everything we wanted to do.  We never ran into any roadblocks with them.  They were always encouraging of going further and further.  So if we had any fears, they was put down right away.  We were given a green light to move forward with those stories.

MHTV:  What can two teen boys do on television on a date?  Can you suggest that they fool around?  How far can they go on network TV?

ST:  Well we’re not there yet, but there’s definitely lots of kissing.  Yes, Kenny is tippy-toeing into the relationship, but we’re not going to shy away from it.  We’re going to be real, and teenagers fool around.  So we’ll get there.

MHTV:  The election will be over just a month into your season, and you’ll go well beyond that.  But has anything about this political climate seeped into the show?

CJ:  It hasn’t seeped in directly.  We don’t make any direct commentary at all.  But I think our show has always been about love and acceptance.  So if people see that as a commentary on our world today, that’s our point of view. 

ST:  We tried to stay away from politics, just because it’s so timely and you don’t know exactly when the episode is going to air.  Or who’s going to win.  So it’s in the world, but not directly discussed.

MHTV:  Do you have any casting for any of Kenny’s boyfriends or dates?  And does Noah have any input?

DW:  Well, we brought in a few guys for Noah to read with.  They were all really incredible, and we wanted to make sure that they had really good chemistry.  So we cast Sean Grandillo, who is an amazing theater actor.  He was in Spring Awakening.  He and Noah actually knew each other and had a friendship before the show even started, so the chemistry just kicked off right away.

CJ:  We introduce him in our Christmas episode, where Eileen is the choirmaster for the St. Barkley’s choir.  And it builds to this beautiful scene with a Christmas song/pop song mashup that Noah sings with Sean.  And it’s really really beautiful. 

MHTV:  I would hope that would the kind of thing that would win over early critics, such as from Catholic groups.  Have you heard that they have come around to understanding that the show is loving and supporting, and far from sacrilegious?

DW:  I think there’s been no reaction, which is a better reaction.  Matt Shively [who plays older brother Jimmy] was saying today on another panel that we were on that the Catholic League, for example, softened a little bit.  I think they finally saw some episodes and were like, “Oh, okay.  Well, maybe that’s not as outrageous as I was thinking before.”

CJ:  The feedback we’ve gotten directly are from Catholic people we know and who are in our lives.  Just the feedback from them saying, “This seems like our lives, this seems like my family.”  That’s really gratifying for us.  Because that’s what we’re trying to do.

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