Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

It’s the visual gags that work best on FOTB’s first Halloween episode

Illustration for article titled It’s the visual gags that work best on FOTB’s first Halloween episode

On sitcoms, the Halloween episode usually functions as a respite for the characters, a time when they can dress up, play pranks, and pig out on candy with little consequence. Even if they’re in the middle of some serious, longterm story arc, All Hallow’s Eve remains satellite to all that, taking on a non-threatening playfulness that contrasts sharply with the holiday’s darker origins. In other words, the mere conceit of the Halloween episode is a lot like Halloween in real life.

“Nightmare On Dead Street” takes this puckish glee to heart, particularly in Louis. From what we’ve seen over the past season and-a-half, he’s more influenced by American pop culture and traditions than perhaps anyone else in his family, and Halloween is no exception. As he tries to sell it to Jessica, it’s “the one thing white people do better than us.” So when he discovers that their street is as dead as a graveyard when it comes to Halloween activity, he unites his neighbors so they can transform the block into a trick-or-treating haven. As they load up on sweets to hand out and create makeshift decorations from ketchup and Santas wearing Jason masks, the A-Team theme plays in the background—an appropriate callback since Louis’ costume is none other than B.A. Baracus. He even has a female Mr. T costume for Jessica, complete with a tiny pink bow in the mohawk. Sadly, she places the wig on their pumpkin out front so she can go protect one of her homes from a group of snotty teenagers with whom she had an altercation.

It’s these kind of visual gags—the A-Team montage, the Mr. T wig on a gourd, etc.—that work best in “Miracle On Dead Street.” The homages themselves are amusing on a surface level since they’re so perfectly ’90s, from Evan dressing up as Dr. Hannibal Lecter with Emery as his lamb to the teenagers walking in slow motion while wearing the standard Reservoir Dogs getups. But each character’s costume also says a lot about who they are, and that’s something Fresh Off The Boat has been doing well all season: breaking down why we embrace the high and low art that we do. Seeing Eddie don the Groucho nose and glasses of Digital Underground’s Shock G (or, more accurately, his Humpty Hump alter ego) isn’t just visually funny—it reminds us of how important hip-hop is to him. The same goes for Louis being drawn to the cooperation and perseverance of the A-Team (he sees his family in the same light) and even bit players such as Eddie’s friends: Trent stubbornly clings to his Browns jacket even when dressed as a ninja, Dave continues to prove his old-schoolness by going as all five of The Traveling Wilburys (he’s Tom Petty flanked by cutouts of the other four), and so on.

That’s not to say the show does away with morality altogether to focus on the Halloween gags. There’s still a sweet candy center that gets exposed when Louis—who, despite all the fun of the holiday, grows lonely without Jessica there—rallies up all the kids in his van to go rescue his wife from the teenagers and their bombardment of rotten eggs. Once again, that A-Team spirit comes back in aesthetic and in concept—this group of lovable outsiders coming up with a plan to fight a greater evil. Okay, evil’s an unfairly harsh way to describe a gang of adolescent boys, but you get the idea.

The only time “Miracle On Dead Street” falters is in the execution of this final plan, which involves Eddie recruiting Nicole and her friends to scare away Jessica’s enemies. As he matter-of-factly puts it, nothing frightens teenage boys more than teenage girls. But their showdown feels like it’s in a different world than the rest of the episode, mostly due to overly broad characterizations. Granted, the show’s portrayal of youth hasn’t always been nuanced, but Eddie and his friends have slowly developed a chemistry that feels real and compulsively watchable. The older boys, on the other hand, are cartoons, their dialogue driven solely by the repeated phrase of “Nice (insert sarcastic utterance of whatever they’re making fun of here).” One-note characters can be a funny gimmick, but the young actors never reach that sweet spot of relishing their cruelty to the point where it becomes absurd and hysterical. The same goes for Nicole and her friends, who speak only in stiff insults during their brief screen-time. When stacked up against the rest of the episode, their scenes start to feel tonally lopsided, as if we’re in the middle of a bad after-school special about bullying.

Still, the writer/director team of Bill Purple and Eric Ziobrowski stick the landing once the Huangs are back home. Thanks to her being rescued by her family and friends, Jessica has come to appreciate Halloween, if only a little bit, and Eddie and his brothers are suddenly recreating an image familiar to any kid who grew up in America: a knee-high pile of candy at their feet, with them triumphantly standing over it. That may seem trivial to some, but when you’re young, it’s the ultimate symbol of camaraderie, ambition, and reward. It’s the symbol of Halloween success. It’s the symbol of a plan that came together. B.A. Baracus would be proud.


Stray observations

  • It very well could have been a cross-promotional tool for ABC’s The Muppets, but I still loved Marvin and Honey as Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
  • Garfield’s “Mondays” catchphrase feels fresh again when said slyly by Grandma Huang.
  • When Jessica can’t get to her pepper spray, she goes for the next best weapon: orange tic tacs.
  • Officer Bryson continues to be a cringeworthy stereotype, but at least his appearance here is brief.
  • “It’s a chance to forget that we’re a lower middle-class neighborhood living under the flight path of the Orlando airport and trick people into thinking we’re a scary upper middle-class neighborhood that people would want to visit and get candy from.”
  • “Pigs don’t date. Pigs feed a crowd at a reasonable price.”