'The Kids Are Alright' review: Mary McCormack's matriarch keeps Clearys and the ABC show together
'The Kids Are Alright', created by Tim Doyle about his own family growing up, will premiere with the 'Pilot' episode on October 16, on ABC.
Eight sons ranging from toddler to legally adult and two parents, all crammed into one overcrowded house in 1970's America. This is the premise of Tim Doyle’s upcoming ABC show 'The Kids Are Alright', which will premiere with the ‘Pilot’ episode on October 16, 2018.
The comedy almost writes itself, if you’re looking for the varied stereotypes of large dysfunctional yet tightly-knit families explored by every sitcom from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ to ‘Modern Family.’ What sets ‘The Kids are Alright’ apart from anything we have ever seen before is the cornerstone of honesty that the show is built on.
As unbelievable as it seems, the show is inspired by Doyle’s own family growing up, with very little exaggeration, at least within the premise. As Doyle tells Meaww, “The fact of being one of eight boys in a family of ten is both the most unbelievable element of this show and the most accurate.”
It is the absolute requirement to keep the boys alive that drives Mr. and Mrs. Cleary, beautifully portrayed by Michael Cudlitz and Mary McCormack. ‘Pilot’ gives viewers a taste of what is to be expected from each member of this large family. As expected, competing for attention, whether it is from their parents or from the world outside, is a major theme for a couple of the boys.
For one it comes in the form of opposing his father’s political views, for another, by ratting out his brothers and it certainly rings true for the musically gifted Timmy (Jack Gore), who we understand to be a representation of young Doyle. Having grown up to be a creative entity, it is only natural that he was the standout in the church-going Irish Catholic family in the '70s. He certainly is going to be the standout for the viewers with the uncertainty of being properly introduced to the younger brothers – tattletale, the reader and the whiner, the baby and the other one – looming over ‘Pilot’ like a real possibility.
What seems to be set in stone is who Mike and Peggy are as people and parents. The religious, upstanding couple of the community, the Clearys seem to represent the stereotype of the quintessential parents from the era. He is strict, just and the justifiable amount of absentminded. And, she is the superhero holding the home – and the show – together.
Her time is consumed in cooking, cleaning, sewing and everything else for her family. She is the mama bear who is concerned more with the survival of her eight children than with the happiness of a couple. It is dripping in the way she says “stop that” to a son who tries to have “fun” and in refusing to let her sons be “special,” let alone “asthmatic.”
In her fierce protectiveness to do exactly that, she says and does things that would be considered near-crimes in today’s all-organic, no shouting times. The Clearys belong to the era where, as the narrator aka Doyle points out, seat belts weren’t a thing and adults barely paid attention to the children unless they were literally trying to kill each other. Peggy’s job, as expected, is very thankless. Her resourcefulness is oftentimes not appreciated and her rules are begrudgingly accepted.
However, she does take joy in the little things in life, especially in putting her sons down with the snarkiest comebacks. The striking fact that occurs to you while watching ‘Pilot’ will be how Peggy represents the OG savage moms, the ones that can roast you and put you down six feet below your lowest point of shame with “surgical precision,” as Doyle puts it. She takes compliments where she can get them, even if it is from someone she has decided to dislike.
McCormack brings life to Peggy in a way that is going to make it difficult for you to think of her as anyone other than the church-going, family-loving mother of more children than she can keep track of. In doing so, she takes the whole show to a completely new platform of great from good.
She is also a loyal wife whose religious beliefs are unwavering and political ones are often adopted from that of her husband. The show will see the two generations of Clearys try to find a balance between supporting Richard Nixon post the Watergate scandal and turning against him.
“I feel like the seventies were a tough time for [my father], 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,” says Doyle, 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.”
The Clearys of ‘The Kids are Alright’ will hopefully give ABC what The Conners of ‘Roseanne’ was supposed to – a middle ground to discuss politics that will not completely turn the Right off or cater to them blindly. As the voiceover relates in the closing moments of the episode, “People remember the '70s as a divisive time. But when I think back on my ridiculous family, it gives me hope for today. Tense times are something we have to go through once in a while to come out the other side a changed and more accepting world.”
Whether or not it becomes that balance for you, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ is certainly worth your time, at least the ‘Pilot’ episode is, if not for the comedic conflict between the characters and for lessons on how to communicate with a family member who opposes your political views, then definitely for Peggy’s single-phrase stingers that will leave you wanting for more like the rude waitresses of an old-timer's diner, only she is infinitely meaner because she knows to hit exactly where it hurts.
Don’t forget to watch season 1 episode 1 of ‘The Kids Are Alright’ at 8.30 | 7.30 c on Tuesday, October 16 on ABC.