In the upcoming ABC sitcom The Real O’Neals, Noah Galvin plays 16-year old Kenny O’Neal, who upends his picture-perfect Irish Catholic family when he comes out as gay.
At the show’s TCA panel on Saturday, Galvin was asked how he thinks audiences will respond to a gay teen coming out on a half-hour, single-camera sitcom.
“There is a very clear distinction between how young people view the show as opposed to older people, who [may] have gone through this,” he explained.
“I’m gay myself and I haven’t gone through a lot of the things that Kenny goes through in the series,” added the 21-year-old actor, who has primarily worked in theater.
To that point, Galvin admitted he was unsure whether the show would come across as innovative.
“I [thought], ’Is this crazy, is it new and groundbreaking?'”
But he played the pilot for an older friend, and “they were astounded by it.”
It also helps that Kenny’s not the only character who “comes out” on The Real O’Neals—we learn his father, a Chicago cop, is secretly contemplating divorce; his athlete brother is anorexic; and his little sister has been stealing money from their church.
What’s more, the show—loosely based on writer/activist Dan Savage’s childhood—places the onus on people who aren’t accepting of Kenny’s orientation.
“It’s normalizing Kenny and making the fearful homophobes the weirdos, which is what I like about it,” Martha Plimpton, who plays Kenny’s devout Catholic mother, told us at the panel.
“But I think it does it in a very warm and, I think, conventional way.”
Those “fearful homophobes” include right wing groups the Media Research Center, which decried the gay storyline and Savage’s involvement when the show was picked up last May.
Galvin added that, despite all the advances we’ve made, Kenny could still be a beacon to younger viewers struggling with coming out.
“I would hope that this would open the eyes of many young kids who are watching this,” he told us.
Executive producer Todd Holland told NNN that while they never quizzed auditioning actors about their orientation, “it was very important to me that a gay kid play this role.”
Galvin was a front runner for the part based on his talent, added Holland, who has worked on acclaimed shows like Wonderfalls, Malcolm in the Middle and My So-Called Life.
But “for the top dog in the whole competition to be a really confident gay kid is just so satisfying.”
The Real O’Neals debuts March 2 on ABC.