The second episode of The Real O’Neals picks up the morning after the pilot’s final scene. The family has come clean about their secrets, and as Kevin approaches the kitchen, he envisions a hellish post-apocalyptic nightmare, complete with the cancellation of Jimmy Kimmel Live. Instead, he finds himself in a shockingly domestic scene. Eileen is overcompensating after last night’s disaster, and reveals her plan: She wants to show the neighborhood that the O’Neals are back to normal and nothing is wrong in their household. Of course, this plan just becomes an outline for what else will go wrong.
At one point, Kenny even imagines Kimmel offering him advice. It’s unclear why Kenny feels connected to Kimmel — aside from the obvious ABC cross-promotion — but maybe Catholicism is enough of a bond. When Mimi shows up and the family realizes she doesn’t know that Kenny is gay, imaginary Kimmel lets loose a sassy, “Girrrrl” and shakes his head in disappointment. YUCK. I really could’ve done without Kimmel.
With her new plan, Eileen seeks to reverse Jimmy’s anorexia by making pancakes shaped like Jesus. After he eats four of them, there’s no further mention of his eating disorder in the episode. In the previous recap, I wondered how The Real O’Neals would handle such a sensitive issue, and right now, the answer appears to be “in a very offhand manner.” I don’t imagine the show will simply act like he’s cured, but the lack of further discussion is an obvious absence. Hopefully this means the writers are being careful; after all, it’s difficult to crack jokes an eating disorder.
Eileen tries to keep Kenny from telling Mimi he’s gay, even going so far as to suggest he have sex with Mimi. Eileen tries to “reason” with him: Kenny can’t know for sure he’s gay until he’s actually been with a woman. It’s like when he was little and said he didn’t like papaya, even though he’d never tried it. When he finally tried it, he couldn’t get enough of it. Papaya also happens to be Cuban slang for “vagina,” and it’s clear we’re going to be using the fruit as a code word for the rest of the episode.
Kenny imagines that when he tells Mimi, they’ll become best friends just like on Will and Grace, but it doesn’t happen that way. Mimi is upset because she had wasted so much time grooming him to be the first guy she’d have sex with. She had a plan too, and it’s fascinating to see how many people had shaped Kenny’s life without consulting him. Now that he’s being true to himself, he’s upsetting other people’s plans — and they’re making him out to be the bad guy.
Meanwhile, Pat resists Eileen’s plan and ignores her instructions to sell the car Shannon bought with her Ethiopia-Aid money. He looks at apartments with Jimmy, but soon realizes he’s in over his head. After a strange encounter with a naked Russian man in the Devil’s Chowder (or jacuzzi, as most people know it), Pat decides he’ll live in the basement while he and Eileen divorce. Later, Shannon presents a science project at her very Catholic school about Moore’s Law. Her project reveals she doesn’t believe in God, wrecking the rest of Eileen’s plan to prove that the O’Neals are still “normal.”
Eileen is clearly struggling with the idea that Kenny is gay. She wants him to be “normal,” and he wants to be happy. After Eileen overhears Kenny tell Shannon that he’ll always be a disappointment to their mother, she realizes how her denial is affecting him. CHastened by what she’s heard, she decides to work on accepting him for who he is.
As much as The Real O’Neals is a show about Kenny learning to be comfortable in his conservative, Catholic family, it’s also about how Eileen must learn to grow. So far, the rest of the family is changing, going against the plans she’s laid down for their lives. Her insistence that Kenny be “normal” is her extremely inarticulate way of not wanting to see him mistreated because of his sexuality. Of course, she has selfish and ignorant reasons for acting this way, too. She can’t even bring herself to say the word “gay.” That’s intolerance, no matter the reason. As her family continues to change, I’m looking forward to seeing how Eileen adapts.
It may only be the second episode, but The Real O’Neals already has two things going for it: Noah Galvin’s hammy performance, and any scene where the kids hang out together. It would be nice to see them compete with each other, but I’m sure that’s coming. Rivalry is a very real part of any sibling relationship, but for now, watching the O’Neal kids gently tease each other adds an element of sweetness to the show. Let’s hope we seen even more of it.