The Real O’Neals
This is the episode that seals it: The Real O’Neals should be on your radar. Add it to your Tuesday nights, or at least to your DVR recordings. Variety’s Maureen Ryan recently praised comedy’s takeover of TV, and from what I’ve seen, this show deserves to be included. The Real O’Neals knows how to serve important life lessons with spoonfuls of comedy and heart.
In “The Real Spring Fever,” Chicago celebrates its first “warm” day after a harsh winter. The city is downright giddy about 52-degree weather, with people breaking out shorts, sandals, and sundresses, while the O’Neal family looks at the weather as a sign to try something new. Eileen decides to apply for a job at Biscotti and Baskets, Pat wonders if he should start going out on dates, and Kenny faces some dating concerns of his own. (Jimmy, Shannon, and Jodi are regulated to support roles in this episode, but are nonetheless utilized.)
We haven’t seen Pat at work since the pilot, and here we see him with his partner, Archie (Phil LaMarr). Archie tries to convince Pat to enjoy the sight of women’s legs and think more about his life as a single person, but Pat’s not ready. He still looks at women with “marriage eyes,” which are cold and dead. Archie eventually gives up his attempts at being an unwanted wingman when Pat completely overlooks a lost tourist trying to flirt with him. As you can certainly tell, Archie’s role as “horny black sidekick” is the most disappointing part of this episode.
Meanwhile, Eileen hasn’t has a job since before the children were born and decides it’s time to put herself back out in the job market. She feels like since she will soon no longer be a wife, she wants to contribute to society. The language within that decision is interesting to me. Can’t you be a married, stay-at-home wife and still be an asset to society? How you raise your family has a direct impact on the world around you. Even if you subscribe to traditional gender roles, you can still have a meaningful, fulfilling life. People who earn paychecks are not the only contributors to society; raising a family is just as important and as much hard work. I hope Eileen comes to understand that soon.
With warm weather comes a rise in couples’ PDA, so Kenny quickly realizes that being the only out gay guy at his school leaves him with few dating options. There’s a stereotypical flamboyant student named Stuart (Caleb Pierce), but according to Kenny, he’s still working through some things. We see Stuart hug and kiss a young girl and claim that if he wasn’t on a carb-free diet, he would eat her up. Okay, Stuart. At home, Jimmy, once again being an awesome big brother, tries to help Kenny figure out what he’s interested in. Shannon, fresh from eavesdropping on Eileen and Jodi, even offers to help Kenny with an online dating profile because she thinks Eileen is dating online too. It freaks Kenny out that Eileen may get a boyfriend before he does, so the siblings pitch in to help.
Kenny soon becomes overwhelmed by the terminology of gay-dating life. Is he a bear, a fox, or a wolf? He imagines a panel of gay advisors, introducing him to the animal lexicon of gay labels. Getting nowhere with the dating app, Jimmy pulls up a porn site, claiming this is the same thing he’d do if Kenny were into girls. Shannon bails and the boys are overwhelmed by a hardcore orgy scene. Jimmy apologizes — he doesn’t want to seem homophobic — but he doesn’t want to watch the video they’ve opened. Kenny tries to click out, but they’ve stumbled into a “pornado” trap: infinite pop-up windows that get increasingly hardcore.
If conservative groups have stopped protesting The Real O’Neals, I’m sure this scene will probably kick them back into gear. It’s yet another example of how supportive and awesome Jimmy is — really, this guy is just the best big brother — but I can imagine people taking issue with the portrayal of how easy it is for teens to access pornography. (Not to mention how the show lists some of the available categories.)
The boys close the laptop until they can figure out how to stop the pornado. What they don’t count on, though, is Eileen taking the laptop to her job interview so she can show Michael-Gregory (Ian Gomez) pictures of the baskets she’s made over the years for baby showers and church events. Once the kids find out Eileen has the laptop, they turn to Pat to help track her down. Eileen doesn’t want the family to know she’s applying for jobs, so she lied about her whereabouts. And because the kids think Eileen is on a date, they don’t want to give Pat the full story because they think he’ll be upset.
It’s important to note here how honest the kids are with Pat about the laptop issue, even as they tried to protect his heart. That openness shows substantial growth from the pilot, so it’s clear that the family is already evolving. Yes, Eileen isn’t being upfront about her job interview and the kids don’t want to mention that they think she’s on a date, but still: How many kids would be able to tell their father that they were looking at hardcore gay porn? It’s clear the O’Neals trust and love each other, and are working their way through the changes they’re experiencing. This is what is looks like when a family learns how to be honest.
The conversation then turns to why the kids were looking at porn, and Kenny admits he doesn’t know who he is or who he’s attracted to. The labels just confuse him. Between calling the pornado a slurry of “AP Porn” and bemoaning how much homework is involved in being gay, it’s clear Kenny sees his life as school work. Although Pat is uncomfortable with the animal lexicon of gay partners, he too wants to help Kenny figure out what kind of man he likes. Kenny is unsure, but knows he wants someone cute to smile at him. Oh, Kenny, don’t we all.
Also, this is yet another reminder that there’s nothing “abnormal” about people who identify as LGBTQ. What’s more universal than wanting someone cute to smile at you? That’s about as “normal” as one can get. I’m glad to see The Real O’Neals is so committed to this truth.
So, the kids were right: Pat gets upset when he learns that Eileen might be dating. After they arrive at her coffee-shop interview and swipe the laptop, she clears up the confusion. Pat is shocked that she’s looking for work, but turns supportive soon enough. However, Eileen turns down the job of doing whatever Michael-Gregory asks of her. It would’ve been an insult to her skills and take-charge (ahem, bossy) nature, and she still gains confidence in knowing that she could have been hired, even after all that time away from the job force. Jake, the cute barista, smiles at Kenny, giving him a free drink, and Kenny basks in the moment … before his family ruins it. Looks like you learned another lesson, Kenny: Without fail, family will always find a way to embarrass you in front of your crush.
It begins to snow, a testament to Chicago’s fickle weather, once again serving as metaphor. Sometimes you only get a small window of sun before the clouds return, but there’s still hope. As the O’Neals learn how to deal with the respective truths of their new lives, they will face obstacles and confusion, but they’ll also have each other as support. Those warm, sunny days are just around the corner.