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‘The Real O’Neals’ review: Perfect family image crumbles

All is not as it appears for the

All is not as it appears for the family in "The Real O'Neals," premiering Wednesday, March 2, on ABC. Credit: ABC / Nicole Wilder

THE SHOW “The Real O’Neals”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Wednesday night at 8:30, additional episode 9:30, on ABC/7

GRADE B+

WHAT IT’S ABOUT What a perfect/normal/perfectly normal Chicago family. Hands-on mom Eileen (Martha Plimpton, “Raising Hope”) runs everyone’s life through what her son calls “Irish Catholic Jedi mind control.” Easygoing cop dad Pat (Jay R. Ferguson, “Mad Men” art director Stan) tries to ride along. Oldest boy Jimmy (Matt Shively, “True Jackson, VP”) serves as his jock-buddy. Polite middle kid Kenny (newcomer Noah Galvin) doesn’t even pressure his girlfriend for sex. Teen daughter Shannon (Bebe Wood, “The New Normal”) might be a brainiac.

Until the “family’s new reality” hits the fan before the pilot half-hour is over. Let’s just say Jimmy makes wrestling weight through weird means, Kenny doesn’t even want a girlfriend, Shannon is crazy like the fox in a chicken coop, and mom and dad can barely talk to each other. All is revealed during a climactic church fundraiser that sets the clan on its peculiar new course.

MY SAY If there has to be an Irish Catholic version of “The Goldbergs,” this may as well be it. The resemblance is too obvious to ignore, right down to middle-kid narration.

But “The Real O’Neals” is no nostalgia-fest. Its topical twist comes via concept originator Dan Savage, the sex columnist, gay activist and apparent wayback inspiration for men’s-cologne-ad-loving teen Kenny. Executive producer Todd Holland directs this week’s episodes with the affection and eccentric flair of his Fox faves “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Wonderfalls.” Kenny’s fanciful daydreams offer not only a lively change of pace but insight into his evolving self-image.

Authenticity ranges wide enough here to engage the whole family. Kid viewers should find the on-screen teens quirkily relatable, thanks both to script savvy and relaxed performances. Mom and dad inhabit their own lives richly. The warmth and respect evident in the show’s characterizations/relationships tends to stretch, too, toward its Catholic content (mostly).

In a world where everyone’s offended by something, “The Real O’Neals” won’t escape unscathed. But it finds its own firm middle ground.

BOTTOM LINE Let’s see where getting real goes.

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