Another Irish American comedy, The Kids Are Alright, is being released this fall. Will it fall short again, like these US Irish sitcoms always seem to?
Word came out of Hollywood this week that ABC was picking up a new sitcom to begin airing in the fall called The Kids Are Alright. The show was created by Irish American showbiz veteran Tim Doyle, and will look at the life and times of a big Irish Catholic family in the 1970s.
“This ensemble comedy follows a traditional Irish Catholic family, the Clearys, as they navigate changes big and small during one of America’s most turbulent decades,” reads ABC’s press release.
“In a working-class neighborhood outside Los Angeles, Mike (strong, silent dad played by Michael Cudlitz) and Peggy (overbearing mom played by Mary McCormack) raise eight boisterous boys who live out their days with little supervision.”
I wish Doyle, McCormack and the whole crew over at The Kids Are Alright a 10-leaf clover’s worth of good Irish luck. After all, Irish American life is bursting at the seams with all sorts of funny material.
But here’s the funny thing about Irish American sitcoms. They are not usually very funny.
In recent years, we’ve seen the likes of The Real O’Neals come and go, after a brief controversy about how the show handled a gay son and the show’s traditional Catholic parents. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff in 2018.
Going back a few more years there was Gabriel Byrne’s short-lived sitcom Madigan Men, and Sue Costello’s short-lived Southie Irish sitcom Costello, and the short-lived Ed Burns’-produced sitcom The Fighting Fitzgeralds.
Lots of jokes about Irish attitude, and Catholic guilt and fear of sex. Obviously, there’s a grain of truth in all of this. Obviously, not many people have had success finding a new and funny way to tap into all of this.
Here is how Tim Doyle and the folks over at The Kids are Alright are going to try, according to ABC, “The (Cleary) household is turned upside down when oldest son, Lawrence, returns home and announces he’s quitting the seminary to go off and ‘save the world.’ Times are changing and this family will never be the same. Ten people, three bedrooms, one bathroom, and everyone in it for themselves.”
Saints preserve us! Jaysus, Mary, and Joseph!
Again, there is nothing I’d like to see more than a sharp, funny take on Irish American life, the good, the bad and the ugly. In order for that to happen Doyle, whose life is said to have inspired The Kids Are Alright, may actually want to take a look at some of the most unfunny shows on TV.
No, I’m not talking about the many Irish sitcoms that failed to make people laugh. I mean the many Irish American dramas that are thriving. TV producers have had a lot more success exploring the Irish American experience by letting things get a little dark.
Consider Showtime’s Ray Donovan, which is basically the Irish Sopranos -- a big, messed-up family stumbling about, trying to love each other when they are not trying to kill each other.
Ray Donovan dabbles in Irish stereotypes, but at the same time turns plenty of them inside out, so much so that you are not sure whether they are funny or dark, but usually they are both.
Denis Leary’s FDNY drama Rescue Me managed to do the same thing. This was a far from perfect show. But at times it was so dark you had to laugh. Otherwise, you might start crying.
Now that’s what I call Irish humor.
There is one more disturbing possibility when it comes to the future of Irish American comedy. One newspaper in Virginia noted that ABC was hoping to build on the “success of its reboot of Roseanne” with The Kids are Alright, noting the Doyle once worked on Roseanne Barr’s old show.
It’s possible this show will tap into the lame nostalgia for “the good old days” which is fueling the Trump movement, suggesting that Irish Catholics knew how to raise their kids -- rough, tough and repressed -- as opposed to today’s snowflakes.
That would be more sad than funny.