Tonight’s episode of The Real O’Neals was a make or break episode for the series, and it definitely passed with flying colors. Kenny headed back to school after outing himself to the world — and if you know anything about TV, you know that the gay high school character’s life is always handled like a PSA. The show could have lost its humor while it tried to teach a lesson, but it addressed the subject in a completely new way and remained really funny.
During the first couple minutes of the show, we see Kenny freaking out so much about returning to high school now that he’s out. His anxiety gets to be so much so that he calls himself the terrible F-word to one of his classmates. It was such an unexpected way to handle the entire situation. I’ve seen so many shows depict the topic of bullying, especially of gay students, but I’ve never seen a gay kid call himself that word. By doing so, however, The Real O’Neals avoided trying to be educational and could simply be a normal sitcom dealing with real issues in a funny way.
The difference The Real O’Neals makes by taking gravity away from the word is subtle but so important. The only way to send the message that being gay is not only normal, but a non-issue, is to treat it like that — in comedy and real life. The writers on The Real O’Neals understood that they had to make an episode about being gay in high school, but they also were smart enough not to fall into the same traps almost every show before them fell into.
Unfortunately, they could not handle the story line of the parents’ divorce with the same freshness. But if the show sticks to the story of Kenny and tells it in a fresh way, there’s no end in sight for them.