Fresh Off The Boat delivers a solid episode overall, but doesn’t quite manage to balance their story lines as masterfully as they’ve done in the past.
No matter how hard he tries, Louis can’t seem to please his wife on their anniversaries. Hoping to recapture the romance of their wedding night, wherein the newlyweds haggled their way into a minivan to which they can attach their “Just Married” string and cans, Louis drives Jessica down to Shaquile O’Neal motors (it’s just a licensing deal, laments Eddie, “…Shaq Fu…”) However, instead of recreating the magic, Jessica bails on her husband, winding up—perfectly unaware—at a lesbian bar. There, Jessica admits that on their wedding night, she mistakenly opted out of free floor mats for the car and now refuses to walk into another dealership. Of course, when Louis returns with a new car—having paid “no more than sticker price!”—it spurs Jessica’s return to the dealership and her old, brutal ways. Jessica and Louis burst back through the doors, ready to negotiate.
Fresh Off The Boat seems to know that Jessica, and, by extension, Constance Wu, stays being the strongest part of the show, and accordingly gives her the heaviest plotlines. The dealership story doesn’t disappoint: Fresh Off The Boat continues to humanize and value Jessica’s ingrained old world ideals, flipping the script to put her and Louis in charge of their stories instead of mocking them or portraying them as simply a nuisance. Whereas a story helmed by a White Guy may use a bickering Asian couple at the car dealership to exemplify what a hard day said White Guy is having, Jessica and Louis hold a pleasant conversation in loud Mandarin (Taiwanese? I Googled but am not certain), as a means of pulling one over on the beleaguered white salesman.
The only drawback to placing so much weight on Wu and Park’s shoulders is the imbalance that inevitably causes between the A and B stories: whereas last week Fresh Off The Boat nailed the balance between the adults and children, this time we find Eddie, Emery, and Evan embroiled in somewhat of a weak—if tidy—story.
With the parents out of town, Evan declares it’s “party time,” inviting his brothers out to the lawn to hang with him and his Beanie Babies (remember those atrocities? I do!) After hearing they’re valuable from the tv equivalent of an expository drive-by, Eddie sells them at the mall so that he can purchase a “Hot Dogger” slip’n’slide. He got Evan’s approval though…in what turns out to have been a dream sequence. I’d forgive this for the Moonman cameo, if not for the fact that Eddie choosing to sell his brother’s Beanie Babies of his own volition would infuse the story with more, and more realistic, emotion. Who among us hasn’t committed a truly unkind act against our siblings for personal gain, even knowing it would be a truly jacked up thing to do? We get a nice moment between brothers when Eddie sells the prized Shaq autograph obtained by Jessica at the dealership (Shaq has learned he needs to stand by a product he endorses: “…Shaq-Fu…”). Although why Eddie didn’t return the slip’n’slide to buy back the Beanie Babies, I can’t say.
The boys themselves don’t let down: each child actor has noticeably improved on delivery and likeability (I don’t say that cattily: That’s a serious issue for child actors.) And, as always, the show packs in brilliant guest stars (this episode alone we get Johnny Pemberton, Andrew Friedman, Sonya Eddy, and Shaqille Effing O’Neal), makes the most of runners (Jessica’s gaydar still broken), and pushing the limits of a joke to surreal extremes for a family-friendly network show (driving the dealer an hour and a half to Tampa to watch the cars be unloaded on the dock). But the lopsided plotlines leave this episode a bit lacking.
- This show gives me some major nostalgia each week: Not so much nostalgia for the 90s (although there’s a bit of that), but for being a kid in a big family with practical working parents in the 90s. I dunno how to explain it, but the show is real comfort food for the homesickness in me.
- Jessica still can’t seem to pick up on gays: “She’s very handy. Her husband is lucky.”
- The horror-movie sequence of shots when Jessica and Louis pull up to the dealership perfectly capture the feeling of those Hell holes.
- When the blonde neighborhood mom sells out the blonder neighborhood mom on Beanie Baby prices: “Well, it’s 10 am and we already have beef.”
- Jessica giving it to Pemberton’s salesman: “You’re the top manager? Working the floor? With those teeth?”
- Shaq confronting the couple: “Congratulations, no one has ever made it this far.” And his ineffectual typing on some random keyboard before delivering the final car offer—is Shaq the new Terry Crews in cross-over appeal??