This is the first episode of The Real O’Neals that made me think it could become appointment television. After seeing Kenny flirt with a boy, Eileen decides to incorporate Lent into the family’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. She wants everyone to see they must atone for their sins or go to hell. Of course, this plan backfires and Eileen learns that her attempts to control the family just end up leaving her on the outside.
As the O’Neals prepare their float for the neighborhood St. Patrick’s Day parade, Eileen decides to forego the usual display of a rainbow leading into a pot of gold, in lieu of Kenny’s coming out. (All rainbows are off limits, apparently.) Kenny doesn’t mind, though, because that means a trip to Felicia’s Fabric Store. As he and Eileen leave the story, they run into Ricky (Garrett Clayton), one of those clipboard-carrying activists. Kenny immediately crushes on Ricky and makes a poor attempt at flirting. Eileen clearly disapproves, but she handles it much better than I expected.
However, back at the house, she overhears Kenny ask Jimmy for advice and is annoyed when Kenny won’t share any details. She calls a family meeting and declares they will all give up something for Lent. Jimmy has to give up his long showers — everyone knows what he’s doing in there. Shannon must give up her phone. Kenny has to stop keeping secrets and Pat has to stop calling Eileen for every single issue he has in the basement. The family agrees that Eileen has to give up being judgmental. Let’s hope Eileen remembers her own warning that Jesus is watching.
Despite Jimmy’s role as the dumb jock, he’s been a really good and supportive brother to Kenny. They talk openly about Kenny learning how to date without Jimmy going the easy route of being grossed out by homosexuality. When Kenny wonders how he’ll know for sure if Ricky is gay, Jimmy suggests asking, “You gay, bro?” It’s a sweet and silly thing, but it makes me appreciate Jimmy. (Sidenote: The show seems to have totally abandoned his anorexia.)
Kenny goes back to Felicia’s Fabric Store so he can “accidentally” run into Ricky, but he can’t figure out a good way to approach him. Kenny keeps buying yarn until finally a car almost runs into him, knocking him into Ricky, a classic meet-cute move if ever there was one. Kenny stumbles through flirting and eventually just asks, “You gay, bro?” Ricky says he is, and after a little more awkwardness, they make plans for a date.
Eileen knows Kenny is keeping his contact with Ricky a secret. Because she can’t be her usual judgmental self, she tells Jimmy to change the float and make it terrifying and judgmental, so people will know they will go to hell for their sins. Jimmy takes the energy he would normally expend in the shower (ahem) and turns the float into a hellish centerpiece. Satan is surrounded by tombstones and screams of the damned. It’s … pretty dark.
Meanwhile, Shannon and Pat are spending time together. He doesn’t realize she’s not a little girl any more, until she gets her first period and refuses to let him get Eileen’s help. Any time Eileen talked to Shannon about getting her period, she would warn, “…and don’t get pregnant.” It honestly reminded me of my own mother, whose sex talk consisted of warning me not to bring home any babies and that was pretty much it. Pat was out of his league when he took Shannon to the drugstore to get the feminine products she needed, but later, he hands her a toolbox. A It’s her period toolkit and I want one. It has aspirin and, of course, chocolate — as suggested by a Cathy comic strip — but best of all, it has a picture of Pat and Shannon when she was a wee lass. It’s a very sweet and touching moment, and it’s the first time the show has actually moved me. Seeing Pat and Shannon share quality time without Eileen’s hellfire control (or focus on Kenny’s sexuality) was a refreshing break. I appreciate the show for giving these characters some room to breathe.
Back to Kenny and Ricky. The first date went so well, Kenny envisioned the two of them dancing to The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” Unfortunately, Kenny was a little too excited about dating another guy and his enthusiasm led Ricky to dump him on their second date. Devastated, Kenny returns home and finds Eileen sitting on the front porch. She’s already reeling from the news that her only daughter doesn’t want to talk to her about her first period. So, Eileen asks Kenny to tell her what’s going on. She doesn’t want to her children to avoid talking to her. When he explains that Ricky broke things off, she uses her judgmental powers for good and declares Ricky is stupid for letting Kenny get away.
In the previous two episodes, The Real O’Neals ended with the kids teasing each other, like all siblings do, but this episode shows the family together as a unit. As much as I like seeing the O’Neal kids hanging out, seeing the family having so much fun together was very satisfying. The show still has a way to go, and it’s occasionally hard to believe it takes place in modern times, but it’s easy to see how it could find a comfortable place among TV’s other family sitcoms.