'The Kids Are Alright' creator Tim Doyle takes pride in small details which are 'dead-true' to his childhood
The '70s are a distant history for most millennials, a time you cannot relate to — when kids were allowed to do what they wanted with minimal parental supervision, when being unique or even happy did not hold much value over merely surviving, and when political correctness had not become a word to be feared and revered. However, it is the similarities in the political climate, love within a tightly-knit family and the sheer savagery that only mothers of every generation seem to possess that Tim Doyle seems to focus on with the upcoming ABC sitcom ‘The Kids Are Alright.’
A story about a quintessential Irish Catholic family in suburban Los Angeles circa 1973, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ is inspired by Doyle’s own childhood as one of eight boys in a family of ten. Created, produced and narrated by Doyle, the show seems to be resonating with people from radically different backgrounds. Doyle tells Meaww, “The 1972 specifics don’t seem to be much of a barrier for people to identify with the humanity of these characters — at least that’s my hope. Maybe you didn’t have a mom like my mom, maybe your home wasn’t as overstuffed and chaotic, but the caring underneath the conflict and the insecurity under the aspiration has to be pretty universal.”
In the representation of his family, Doyle has had to make some artistic license with a few details but, ultimately, he was able to bring about a true representation of his family on screen. In fact, he takes pride in every small detail which he claims is “dead-true” to his childhood, an example of which is the children using the dining room closet for privacy when they use the telephone. He claims it "delights me every time we use it in a scene.”
On the other hand, he did have to do a fair amount of “slight-of-hand" for the sake of both comedy and story-telling, an example of which is the number of bathrooms in the Cleary household. “Our home growing up actually had two bathrooms, for example, but one bath on the show kind of underlines the close quarters feeling we wanted," reveals Doyle.
The characters represented on the show, specifically the parents Mike and Peggy portrayed by the talented Michael Cudlitz and Mary McCormack, respectively, ring closest to the truth. “It was fun and cathartic getting to cast people representing my parents, and in certain key ways Michael and Mary are dead on,” says Doyle.
It is, after all, a huge responsibility to play characters beloved to someone, especially when that someone is your boss. Turns out, the characters were in the perfect hands of people the executive producer admired and trusted. “I was a huge fan of Michael’s from ‘Southland,’ and he was on the first short-list I sent to our casting folks because he so embodies the gruff, slightly awkward, but intimidating presence I remember my dad to have had,” he says, adding, “Mary came in and auditioned and immediately I knew she would be amazing. She hit everything just right for Peggy.”
With Peggy, the precision of delivery is everything, based on Doyle’s memories of his mother, who he claims had a “surgical-like skill with undermining my confidence as a kid” which Mary nails. “I would be preening over my appearance in the mirror and Mom would say something like, ‘Oh, who’s looking at you anyway?’ with such contempt in her voice. That line got cut from the pilot but lives on in the spirit of other lines like, ‘We don’t have the wherewithal in this family for any of you kids to be special,’” he relates.
Every “kid” character on the show is an amalgamation of the various characteristics of Doyle and his brothers — a process he called “challenging but never tedious.” Within the pilot episode titled ‘Pop’, we get to see all the boys and their roles within the family, we learn what makes them tick and what makes them fun and interesting. In fact, Doyle looks at this very nature of ‘Pop’ as one of its biggest strengths.
The very first episode also touches upon the politics of the time – specifically pertaining to the Watergate scandal. The dining table becomes the spot for actual dialogue and discourse between the father and his eldest son Lawrence (portrayed by Sam Straley), the only one he considers to be a fully-grown adult, even though his other son Eddie (portrayed by Caleb Martin Foote) has some informed opinions regarding politics that he would like to discuss with his father.
“Politics was huge in my family. My father was a Republican and a big booster of Richard Nixon. I feel like the seventies were a tough time for him, where he had to stand by and see institutions he held dear — the Catholic Church, the military, the government, family — all go through big transformations with which he often disagreed,” reminisces Dolye, adding, “My mom took her cues from him politically but my brothers and I were more and more influenced by our own experiences in the outside world. We brought home differing views and those differences would often get hashed out in heated exchanges.”
Most of the primary stories on the show that were “broken very thoughtfully with an eye toward revealing unexpected dynamics and surprises among the nine series regulars” will feature Mike or Peggy or both, and will explore their marriage dynamic or some aspect of one of them dealing with one or more kids will be showcased.
“Our intention is to service all ten of our family members (including the baby) to some extent in each episode, but their roles will vary in size from week to week. I am looking for a chance to give each of the kids their turn in the barrel, but Timmy (portrayed by Jack Gore) gets a bit of special consideration since he is my surrogate and the story is largely told from his point of view,” says Doyle.
The dynamics between the members of the family becomes the legs of the show and it is, of course, a family show. However, Doyle is a little hesitant to call it a “wholesome” show, mostly because, while he is looking forward to “giving network television a show where various generations can watch together,” he cannot promise that ‘The Kids Are Alright’ won’t embrace adult topics. He reveals, “In fact, we have hit several already in the first eight episodes currently in the can.”
Don’t forget to catch the premiere of ‘The Kids Are Alright’ at 8.30 | 7.30 c on Tuesday, October 16, on ABC.