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

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


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.

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