The Real O’Neals returns for its second season and maintains the momentum it left off with in season one in a solid, but slow premiere. In relation to the first season’s pilot, season two finds the O’Neals focused more on the realities of their situations––Kenny’s coming out, Eileen and Pat’s divorce––rather than the initial shock of those events. While Jimmy’s anorexia and Shannon’s stealing problems are long gone in this episode, it only further hints that The Real O’Neals has put away the sensational elements of it’s first season and is focusing on developing these characters. Last year’s finale seemed to isolate the O’Neals as a group, but season two sees them branching out in a way that hints at promising secondary characters and relationships outside of the family.
This is what makes “The Real Thang” a solid episode. Pat and Eileen are no longer fighting or battling the terms of their divorce; they’ve found a middle ground that allows Eileen to flirt with the kids’ vice principal over meat while Pat still works out what being single means to him. Kenny is given the heaviest storyline as he decides to start a LGBTQ club at school to encourage other kids to come out of the closet. It’s nice to see Kenny not only comfortable in his sexuality, but brazenly encouraging others to join him. The opening sequence featuring a star-studded Rainbow Bat Phone Call symbolizes his newfound connection to and comfort in the gay community. Kenny is no longer battling with figuring out how to be gay; he just realizes he is gay (unless RuPaul dials it back a bit and Rihanna is around).
While dream sequences were a heavily used tactic last season, we’re only given one in the premiere as Kenny dreams of the giant, gay parade that will greet him once his club launches. The brief sequence is cut short by Allison, who acts as the dose of reality The Real O’Neals has needed since it premiered. Kenny’s coming out process was free of any major difficulties. His school accepted him. His parents accepted him. His grandmother was the only figure to really disapprove and she was sent packing once her homophobia was apparent. The first season was free to explore what it meant for Kenny to be gay rather than the ramifications of his sexuality. That was fine, but it’s hardly a realistic experience.
In all fairness, The Real O’Neals is a sitcom that glosses over a lot of harsh realities–Pat, for example, is a cop for the Chicago Police Department and makes it look like a suburban mall security beat––but that doesn’t mean that the show needs to use a lighter touch on its core issue. Allison isn’t like Kenny. She isn’t social, flamboyant or openly anything. She blends in with wood paneling and orders broccoli and rice on taco night. While Allison seems hesitant to come out, Kenny is eager to have someone follow in his foot steps on National Coming Out Day and urges her to tell her family that night.
As the only openly gay person at his school, Kenny feels compelled to take on the role of “Gay Moses”; shepherding the closeted to freedom. Allison, however, does have consequences. Her parents have told her she’ll be kicked out of the house if she’s gay. Kenny doesn’t even understand this as a reality until he happens upon her “anonymous” note which makes it clear that coming out could put Allison’s livelihood at jeopardy. While Kenny does get there in time to stop her, it’s a great technique that allows The Real O’Neals to broaden its scope and point out just how unique Kenny and the O’Neals really are. Kenny’s intentions are good, but not everyone can come out of the closet and it’s great that the show used National Coming Out Day to highlight that.
Sadly, this is is such a high for the show that the rest of the episode doesn’t measure up. Shannon is busy running a sweatshop in a story that can barely be considered a D-plot. Jimmy has absolutely nothing to do as he tags along with Kenny and tries to find an after school activity for college applications. Pat is still a shell of a character, but at least now we know he can’t program a Fitbit. Jodi is again used as nothing more than a sounding board for Eileen with constant posing thrown in as she prepares for a plus-size modeling gig. The rest of the cast essentially sits the episode out in service of developing Kenny’s connection with Allison.
The worst extension of this comes from Eileen. She’s still stuck in denial over her romance with the kids’ vice principal, but the plot only moves a bit as she decides to go on an actual date with him. Martha Plimpton carried this show on her back during low points in the first season and giving her a weak secondary plot really slows down the pace of “The Real Thang.” Without Plimpton and Noah Galvin both taking the lead, the ensemble simply falls apart. The Real O’Neals still has a long way to go to build out its world of characters, but “The Real Thang” is a great indication that it’s going in the right direction.
- The Real O’Neals will not be getting weekly coverage, this is just a premiere check-in!
- Noah Galvin continues to deliver every line he’s given in the most impeccable way. The way he delivers “Damn, Rihanna is fine. What was that? Ru?” in the opening sequence and his apology to his mother after putting his foot on the table are perfect.
- I love that the vice principal still gives Kenny whatever he wants the second he reminds him that “VP Puts Gays Underground” is a bad headline.
- Vice Principal: I marinate mine in soy sauce.
Eileen: They’re better with the bone in.
- Allison: Are the questions anonymous?
Kenny: Well it’s just you and me so…no.
- Allison: I’m gay, not a whore.
Kenny: Are you sassy, Allison?
Allison: You have no idea.
- Can’t wait to see where Kenny and Allison’s friendship goes!
- “Tone it down. Smother the flame. Dialing down the gay.” That entire sequence was great.