Two new 'Catholic' sitcoms, two very different reactions

Two new ‘Catholic’ sitcoms, two very different reactions

A top Vatican official visiting the United States last week praised television’s “Modern Family” for prompting “increasingly intense interest and discussion” about family issues. That award-winning show, wrapping up its sixth season Wednesday, features a range of families, including gay parents, divorced parents, families with mixed ethnicities, as well as

A top Vatican official visiting the United States last week praised television’s “Modern Family” for prompting “increasingly intense interest and discussion” about family issues.

That award-winning show, wrapping up its sixth season Wednesday, features a range of families, including gay parents, divorced parents, families with mixed ethnicities, as well as what might be called a “traditional” family. A few episodes suggest that the series protagonists — the Dunphy family — are Catholic, but religion hasn’t played a major role in more than a handful of episodes.

Two new sitcoms, however, promise to feature their characters’ Catholic faith more prominently, and initial reaction from the Catholic community is split.

The television network ABC, which airs “Modern Family,” has ordered several episodes of “The Real O’Neals,” which the trailer describes as a look inside “your typical Irish-Catholic family.”

The series is produced by writer and LGBT rights activist Dan Savage, and it’s based partly on his own life. Savage has a complicated relationship with Catholicism. Raised in the faith, Savage has said he sometimes will visit Catholic churches because they remind him of his late mother. But he’s also been among the most vocal, and lewd, critics of the Church’s position on LGBT issues.

Those opinions have critics demanding The Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ABC, cancel the show even before it airs.

Calling Savage a “hateful anti-Christian bigot” and “one of the cruelest, most vile political activists in America,” the Media Research Center created a petition asking ABC to cancel the series, which has collected close to 20,000 signers. A who’s who of conservative Catholic voices joined in the effort to stop the show. (No date has been set for its launch.)

For his part, Savage says the show barely resembles his life.

Though the main character, Kenny O’Neal, is a gay teenager, Savage said the show “has evolved throughout the development process and it wouldn’t be accurate to describe it as autobiographical.” The rest of the fictional O’Neal family includes parents considering divorce, an older brother, and a younger sister fleecing do-gooders for donations to a fake charity.

In contrast is “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” the first episode of which has been posted online. The stand-up comic’s Catholic faith is featured prominently in it, unsurprising given the stand-up comic’s frequent riffs on Catholic life.

The show, written and produced by Gaffigan and his wife, Jeannie, centers around a fictionalized version of the Gaffigan family, including five young children. “The Bible Story,” the title of the first episode, includes guest appearances by Chris Rock and Jon Stewart, and the very first scenes include a visit to a Catholic church.

Gaffigan has spoken about his intensely Catholic life on several occasions, and it figures prominently in his book, “Dad is Fat.”

He, or at least the semi-fictional version of himself, acknowledges in the show that being a believer has its perils. “Once you identify yourself as believing something, you open yourself to ridicule,” he says. But that hasn’t stopped him from discussing his faith publicly.

In an interview with Catholic New York last year, Gaffigan and his wife said their goal is to present a kind of humor that will appeal to Catholics and non-believers alike.

“There is something gratifying about being able to change someone’s mood,” Jim Gaffigan said. “There is something mystical about it.”

His humor pokes fun at Catholic stereotypes, but usually not at the expense of the Church.

For example, in a 2013 talk in Washington, DC, Gaffigan talked about large families in Catholicism, which officially condemns the use of artificial contraception.

“I guess the reasons against having more children always seemed uninspiring and superficial. What exactly am I missing out on? Money? A few more hours of sleep? A more peaceful meal? More hair? These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life … each one of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart,” he joked.

Greg Kandra, a Roman Catholic deacon and writer, praised the show’s approach to the faith.

“It’s knowing, whimsical, a little irreverent. And it’s real,” he wrote on his blog. “The Church here is more than a punchline or a punching bag; it’s part of the every day life of the Gaffigan clan — which includes five kids in a small apartment and a family that actually goes to church and knows their pastor.”

“The Jim Gaffigan Show,” which found a home at TV Land after deals fell through with NBC and CBS, premieres in July.

Latest Stories