The Real O'Neals is a dead show walking. That's not a statement on its quality, though admittedly, the season two premiere that aired Tuesday night isn't the show's best effort. Instead, it's a pessimistic prediction about how much time the show has left.
The premiere episode followed Kenny (Noah Galvin) as he tried to establish an LGBTQ club at his Catholic high school, running into not administrative problems, but a lack of interest from other students. It's the kind of "Kenny is proud, but must stand alone" story we got a lot of in season one, and you'd think we might go somewhere else this year. Those developments are coming, with Kenny's first boyfriend on the way, but this premiere was a safe return.
Unfortunately, that's about all that's safe about The Real O'Neals these days. In the wake of star Galvin's June interview with Vulture, in which the young star critiqued and joked about multiple other celebrities, it feels like the ABC sitcom is walking a tightrope — and it's only getting thinner.
For a show to succeed on TV in 2016 no longer requires blockbuster ratings — few shows get those — but some kind of X-factor element.
It can be a network's major critical favorite, like The Good Wife was for seven seasons on CBS. It can be a critical and commercial smash, like Game of Thrones on HBO. It can get the ratings, a la CBS' The Big Bang Theory. Or it can have a star the network loves and wants to keep around — that's likely how The Mysteries of Laura starring NBC favorite Debra Messing got a second season despite dismal reviews and ratings.
Unfortunately for The Real O'Neals, the ratings are poor and the show's quality hasn't improved beyond its B-level baseline. Galvin could have been that X-factor, but his Vulture interview sank his chance of getting prized by ABC.
In the interview, headlined "Noah Galvin Has Nothing to Hide," Galvin was candid about a variety of celebrities, including former Teen Wolf and Arrow star Colton Haynes, Modern Family (and fellow ABC) star Eric Stonestreet and X-Men director Bryan Singer. Galvin's joke about the latter ("Bryan Singer likes to invite little boys over to his pool and diddle them in the fucking dark of night.") was so controversial, Vulture went so far as to remove the quote from the piece.
Galvin apologized for the interview — a dubious choice that seemed forced to many — but the damage was done. According to the Hollywood Reporter, it wasn't the first time Galvin crossed top ABC brass.
Since then, per the Hollywood Reporter, the show came under threat of a shortened episode order (though creator Casey Johnson denied that) for season two, and the network tried to rehabilitate Galvin's reputation in an Out magazine op-ed that both apologized for the interview again and tried to move on from it.
"Together, let us be bold," Galvin concluded in the piece. "Let us tear down the walls of conformity that separate individual liberation from vocational success. Let us be badasses. High kick!"
It was not the Galvin from the Vulture piece. Whereas that young star was opinionated, funny and smart, this one is placid and plain. That's almost certainly thanks to intervention — from his publicists, or from ABC, or from some other external force — and it makes him a far less interesting celebrity. He wasn't charming but restrained; he seemed like a different person.
This new Galvin isn't going to win any points in the press; there are plenty of gay celebrities who have cornered the sweet-and-cute market. We don't need another Neil Patrick Harris, or Andrew Rannells, or Ellen DeGeneres.
So ABC has a problem: Their once-problematic star now isn't very interesting, and the show itself isn't setting the world on fire (see also: its lack of Emmy nominations). Ratings for the first episode have yet to come in, but it's highly unlikely they'll be a drastic improvement from the already pretty minuscule numbers from season one.
To be frank, The Real O'Neals is almost certainly going to end after this second season. If it becomes creatively brilliant, or Galvin finds some moderate position between outspoken and walking libel suit, maybe it could stick around. Or, if the show surprises in the ratings, this could all be moot. But for the time being, Real O'Neals fans should be grateful for the episodes we have. This sweet, under-recognized show isn't long for this world.