Tonight, ABC airs a special preview of The Real O’Neals, the newest addition to the network’s comedy roster. But that doesn’t mean this is another quirky family sitcom. LA Fan Cultures Examiner spoke to series star Jay R. Ferguson on Tuesday to discuss what sets his new show apart from the others in its genre and if playing a sitcom dad has changed his real-life perspective on parenting.
TV has no shortage of family-centric sitcoms, and Real O’Neals is joining the ranks of Modern Family, The Goldbergs and Black-ish, so it’s in strong company. What is it about this series that makes it unique and worth your time?
“I think it’s trying to show people that it’s okay to laugh at yourself and for your imperfections, and it’s okay to not take yourself so seriously,” Jay told us. “The sooner we as a society can look in the mirror and appreciate the humor in some of our flaws, the sooner we start to accept one another, and I think that’s the general overtone of the show. Of course, it’s a family show and we deal with family issues and try to keep it real, but I think that’s a fair assessment.”
Indeed, all the main characters in Real O’Neals have something that they’re dealing with. Family patriarch Pat O’Neal, Jay’s character, is contemplating getting a divorce from wife Eileen (Raising Hope‘s Martha Plimpton). Each of Pat and Eileen’s three teenagers – Shannon (Bebe Wood), Kenny (Noah Galvin) and Jimmy (Matt Shively) – are facing personal crises in their own lives. For each individual to overcome their challenges, they’ll have to come closer together as a family, and not necessarily in the ways you might think.
“One of the things that intrigued me about the show and the characters was that Pat…specifically [with] the middle son, Kenny, coming out and letting his parents know that he’s homosexual, his reaction was the antithesis to what we’re used to seeing with dads reacting to that topic,” Jay explained. “He didn’t get angry, he didn’t try to talk him out of it. He took a much different approach to what we’re used to seeing.
“That was really refreshing to me, and I feel very honored to be able to play a guy – a dad, specifically, because I am a father as well – to get to play a dad who reacts that way,” he continued, “because I do think it’s so important for more dads to react that way, [and] parents in general, not just dads. And I think we’re starting to see that in this world that we live in now. It’s a great character to play on a wonderful show, and I have a lot of fun, too.”
Jay is no stranger to comedy that subverts the norm. Several years ago he was part of one of the best comedies that you probably didn’t get to see: The CW’s Easy Money, which focused on another eclectic family (that included Laurie Metcalf, Justified‘s Nick Searcy, Code Black‘s Jeff Hephner and future Scandal star Katie Lowes) as they ran their loan business and ran into all sorts of trouble. It’s one of those hidden gems that TV fans just completely missed out on.
“That show was a great show. It was a great group of people, and it was just on the wrong network at the wrong time, and that’s the only reason it didn’t go forward, because it certainly had the goods,” Jay said of his tenure on Easy Money, while adding that Pat O’Neal probably would’ve been able to handle his past character, the well-meaning but often out of his depth Cooper Buffkin: “Pat is a very patient man, and I don’t think that he loses his cool very easily. Certainly that’s a quality that a lot of policemen share. To do that job, you certainly have to have an element of that, or should. I think he’d be okay with Coop.”
Are there any other “ones that got away” he wishes that more people would have seen over his career?
“I’m wondering if there’s anything I’ve worked on where I haven’t felt that way, to be honest. Maybe with the exception of one or two things, but yeah,” he laughed. “Easy Money was definitely one of them. Then I did another show a few years before that called Surface that was a lot of fun, and just was a blast in doing all sorts of special effects and doing crazy stunts. I would have loved to have done that for a little longer, too, because it was just so much fun.
“But everything happens for a reason, you know?” he added. “Had those shows continued, I wouldn’t have had the outcome that I’ve ended up having, which was being part of one of the greatest shows ever created in Mad Men, and my success on that show directly led me to be on this show now, so it all worked out the way it was supposed to, I suppose.”
Then he also would’ve missed out on the experience of playing a sitcom dad, which has led him to look at his own parenting approach a little differently. “My version of this character is based upon my dad,” he told us. “I do not possess the same level of patience as my dad and Pat respectively do. I’ve got a much shorter fuse, unfortunately, and tend to get a little bit more irritable quicker than Pat probably would.”
His own taste in comedy ranges from classics to modern classics. “I was a big fan of The Office, both the UK and the US versions. I love Ricky Gervais, I love Steve Carell. I love Louis CK, I love his show,” he said. “I also am a big fan of the old school. I’d love to see Eddie Murphy get up and do another comedy tour. He used to just crack me up, and still does. Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, the old SNL gang.”
Ultimately, what Jay loves most about The Real O’Neals is, fittingly, his new TV family. “I’ll just tell you that I’ve been blessed with a really great group of actors, creators, and a crew, and they make it a joy to come to work every day,” he told us. “The three younger people on our show, I learned way more from them than they probably learned from me, and they make it really special. I want to make this show a success so I get to keep working with them for a little bit longer.”
The Real O’Neals airs tonight at 8:30 p.m. and 9:31 p.m. on ABC, before moving to its regular time slot of Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.