The Real O’Neals
Eileen is slowly coming around to the whole “Kenny is gay” thing, but she still gets lost along the way. In “The Real Wedding,” Eileen gets caught up in a fantasy that threatens the connection to Kenny she’s still repairing. Pat and Jimmy seem to run parallel lives, as neither can carry out a decent conversation with their crushes. And Shannon … well, Shannon reveals a completely new side. That girl is a constant surprise. On with the show!
After going through Kenny’s backpack, Eileen discovers he wants to try out for the school play, Zombie Romeo and Juliet. She’s hurt he didn’t tell her about it. They were the Doris Day and Rock Hudson of their church stage productions, after all — they bond over theater. With some hesitancy, Kenny agrees to let her help him run lines before he auditions for Romeo. He follows her acting advice by clenching his butt cheeks and thinking of pancakes and gets the part. It doesn’t hurt that the theater teacher, Ms. Hanson (Abby Miller) has been “looking for a gay” to cast. Stuart, the stereotypically flamboyant young man who insists he’s straight, will be Kenny’s understudy. Ms. Hanson’s only theater training is having watched every episode of Glee, so when she learns that Mimi is Kenny’s ex-girlfriend, guess who she casts as Juliet? Yep, Mimi. It’s the kind of drama Ms. Hanson thinks the production needs.
As you can imagine, Eileen quickly takes over the production, but for once, it’s actually in a helpful way … at first. She helps increase the budget and gets Jodi to do hair and make-up. It turns out the wedding scene (just go with it) between the zombified Romeo and Juliet is too much for Eileen to resist. She thinks it’s the only time she’ll ever see Kenny marry a woman, so she’s determined to make the best of it. She completes a seating chart for a reception/wrap party and orders a wedding cake that will feed over a hundred people.
When Kenny realizes why Eileen’s so into the wedding scene, he’s hurt — especially since he’d enlisted her help with Ms. Hanson to tone down its significance. Kenny thinks all his hard work on the play has just been “mom porn,” a heterosexual fantasy that means Eileen will never accept him for who he is. He refuses to go on and hides in the garage until Pat comes to talk to him. Pat points out that Eileen is slowly progressing to his sexuality, and reminds Kenny that the family has only had six weeks to get used to him being gay, whereas he’s been aware of that his whole life. With a new understanding of Eileen’s behavior, he returns to the production, just in time for the wedding scene.
Pat is one of the best dads on television right now. He’s incredibly supportive and even when he’s thrown for a loop, he does his best to help his kids. He helped Kenny to better understand Eileen’s point of view, and he also tries to help Jimmy talk to a girl he likes. The latter storyline hits close to home for him: Both Pat and Jimmy are having trouble chatting up their crushes. Pat seems to like one of his coworkers, but he’s been out of the flirting business for a long time, so his attempts at conversation quickly devolve into ramblings about coffee, sexting, and dick pics. It’s clear Pat is afraid of modern dating and hasn’t quite figured out what to do. Jimmy’s attempts at talking to Lacy — a name he assumes is short for Lasandra, of course — somehow turn into an admission of his stalker-like knowledge of her pooping habits. Jimmy eventually pushes through his awkwardness and manages to have an actual, healthy conversation with Lacy. They seem to get along well, and maybe that will encourage Pat to give it another shot with his crush.
The O’Neals do a great job of supporting and encouraging each other, even as they all learn something new about each other. (Even Shannon’s newly revealed love of blood and gore.) Kenny promises his mom he wants her help when he does get married, and you can see how honored and surprised Eileen is by that sentiment. She doesn’t have to give up on her fantasy of seeing Kenny married. It’s also sweet to see Eileen passionate about something she does well, like when she went on a job interview. I hope the show keeps peeling back the layers on her character and we learn more about her beyond the “strict mom” routine.
Highlights aside, we need to talk about Stuart, Kenny’s flamboyant classmate. It’s become a running joke that everyone knows he’s gay except for him (and maybe his girlfriend). When he’s cast as Kenny’s understudy, he flounces out of the room, intent on suing for discrimination because he’s heterosexual. I’m curious about Stuart’s purpose on the show. Does this character exist to be as a safe site for laughing at gay stereotypes? Is the show trying to suggest that all people deserve room to grow into their identities? Is Stuart meant to be a snarky means of acknowleding how gay white men sometimes use slang from gay black culture as signifiers? Perhaps Stuart is all of those things. His character still seems like a contradiction, though. In a show about acceptance, it’s frustrating to see so many jokes made at the expense of a character who hasn’t totally found himself.