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'The Kids Are Alright' is OK
October 16, 2018  | By David Hinckley

There’s no reason Jewish families should be the only ones featured in zany, exasperating, nostalgic and ultimately heartwarming sitcoms.

So The Goldbergs, one of ABC’s long-running comedy successes, now has an ecumenical colleague: The Kids Are Alright, inspired by Tim Doyle’s life inside a large Irish Catholic family in suburban Los Angeles in the early 1970s.

Doyle created The Kids Are Alright, which takes its title from a 1965 Who song that we could stand to hear more of. The show premieres Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET, and Doyle’s character Timmy Cleary (Jack Gore, top) is our narrator.

And in the end, The Kids Are Alright is, well, all right. It should resonate with veterans of that era, although for the rest of us it doesn’t aspire to say much more than “Hey, wasn’t my family, like, the wackiest family ever? And wasn’t it great?”

In fact, that’s pretty much what every sitcom tries to say about every family on TV, from the biological ones in The Goldbergs to the ones that just tumbled together in shows like The Big Bang Theory.

To separate from that pack, a show needs unique trappings, and The Kids Are Alright is betting up front on its Catholicism. The Clearys take great pride in having eight kids, all boys, and by tradition they expect at least one of them to become a priest.

Happily, Lawrence (Sam Straley, bottom), the oldest, had the same idea himself and he’s been at the seminary. Trouble is, he may be having second thoughts, which means the next oldest may be forced to step in, and he doesn’t want to. This gag alone should give you a good idea where The Kids Are Alright will be hunting for its humor.

Other elements of the show are less unique.

The Dad, Mike (Michael Cudlitz, left), a rocket engineer, has an authoritative attitude that suggests he has way more authority than he really does. His wife Peggy (Mary McCormack, left) is unfiltered and fully aware she’s the one who actually runs everything.

The younger kids are afraid they will all get lost behind all these brothers. The older kids are afraid they’ll get burned as they move into their individual lives, and that fear is not unfounded. When Peggy finds out that Eddie (Caleb Martin Foote) has a girlfriend, she summons the girlfriend to the house and does two minutes on why there’d be no reason anyone would ever want to go out with Eddie.

What we have here is the fine distinction between cruel, which is not Peggy’s goal, and self-serving, which seems to be her default position. She admits later to Mike that she doesn’t ever want any of her boys to leave, meaning any step away from her and toward anyone else must be resisted.

When preteen Timmy announces he’s going to make his mark by trying out for a local production of Man of La Mancha, Peggy tells him that if he had ever shown any performing talent, she would have seen it. When he tries out anyway and does show some talent, Peggy becomes the proudest Mom ever.

Timmy presumably gets this early subplot because he’s the narrator. Eventually everyone will get a mini-drama and we can safely expect they will mostly unfold inside the Cleary family universe.

The outside world, at least at first, is used mostly as a source of amusing pop culture references. Peggy tells Mike she understands what’s going on with young people in the world today because she watches The Sonny and Cher Show.

We even get an unsubtle political gag when Mike dismisses the early stories on Watergate as “phony news.”

Still, it’s hardly a spoiler to report that by the end of the first episode, after all the fractious and absurd moments, we get total reassurance that the Clearys love each other fiercely and wouldn’t trade their crazy family for any other family anywhere ever.

Viewers who didn’t grow up in a large Catholic family near LA in the early 1970s may not become quite that attached.

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