Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fresh off the Boat 2.03: "Shaquille O'Neal Motors"

“Don’t worry. You guys will be nice and cool in the air-conditioned luxury of this glamorous baby. A brand new 1995 Honda Accord. It’s champagne pearl. The most elegant color in the neutral rainbow.”

I really enjoyed this episode of “Fresh off the Boat,” because it took what could have been a stereotype and added several layers to it. We got to see just how functional Louis and Jessica’s marriage is, which is kind of rare on television. They’re both weird, and their relationship is weird, but it works for them. It works because they do truly love each other. The whole episode really was a lesson in understanding other people’s needs and doing nice things for them in response. Louis struggled with getting Jessica the perfect anniversary gift. Eddie struggled with hurting Evan when he went to extreme lengths to buy a glorified Slip N’ Slide he wanted. There were lessons learned all around, but not in a treacly way. The Huangs are never treacly, even if there is that family love under the surface.

Louis and Jessica’s 12th anniversary is approaching, and Louis tells the kids he has figured out the perfect present. The kids are dubious, since Jessica typically hates all anniversary presents. She hates flowers because they’re expensive and die quickly. She hates jewelry because it’s an invitation to muggers. Louis, however, knows that his wife loves to negotiate. He wants to recreate their wedding night, which involved some intense negotiations at a car dealership before eventually purchasing the van the family still uses. Only having one car has become a strain on the Huangs, so Louis wants to take Jessica to buy a second car on their anniversary. He wants to buy a 1995 Honda Accord in Champagne Pearl, because that’s the classiest color. As someone who drove a 1992 Accord (in Rosewood Brown Metallic) for the first eleven years of my driving life, I approve of this choice. The kids agree that this idea might actually work.

When Louis takes Jessica to the car dealership (which happens to be Shaquille O’Neal Motors), however, she completely freaks out. As Louis is talking to a salesman, Jessica runs off. Louis eventually finds her at her favorite lesbian bar (which she doesn’t realize is a lesbian bar, naturally). At the bar, Jessica explains to Louis exactly why anniversary presents, and this one in particular, upset her so much. Jessica remembers that wedding night car buying experience as a time she failed her new husband. She negotiated relentlessly, but in the end, she forgot to get free floor mats thrown in. Louis says that he doesn’t remember the night as a failure. He remembers it as the first time they signed their names together as husband and wife. Jessica gives Louis permission to buy the car, but she doesn’t want to go back to the dealership.

We also touch on a particularly amusing bit of 90’s nostalgia in this episode: Beanie Babies. When I was in about sixth grade (1995-1996), the stuffed creatures were all the rage. I remember when it was difficult to find any Beanie Babies at all, let alone one of the rare ones. There are still a couple of plastic tubs filled with Beanies in my parents’ attic back in Pennsylvania. Tween me was convinced they would be worth a fortune one day! Anyway, Evan likes to have tea parties with his Beanie Babies, and Eddie and Emery don’t really enjoy being invited to them. What they really want is a Hot Dogger, which is a really unfortunate Slip N’ Slide. I hated Slip N’ Slides in general as a kid. It’s not much fun hurtling down a hill just to get covered in grass clippings.

Meanwhile, when Louis arrives home from purchasing the car, Jessica is waiting for him with some real flowers. You must know she is really sorry when the actually spends money on something that’s just going to wilt. She tells Louis that she’s very sorry about how she has been acting, but she still can’t bring herself to go back to a car dealership. Her tune changes, however, when she learns that Louis paid sticker price for the car. Jessica marches right over to the dealership, and she and Louis engage in an epic negotiating session. They even try to get the Accord resold to them as a used car. Every time they run into a road block, they pester until they get a higher manager. Eventually, they work their way to Shaq himself. No other customer has ever managed the feat. Shaq is so impressed that he gives the Huangs the best deal they could hope for on the Accord, and Jessica feels vindicated. It turns out that Louis paid sticker price on purpose just to nudge Jessica into overcoming her aversion to their anniversary. That was the final twist on a very engaging story.

Thanks to the powerwalker ladies admiring Evan’s Beanie Babies, Eddie has the perfect plan for how to obtain the Hot Dogger that Louis won’t buy. He can sell some of the Beanies at the local hobby shop and use the money for the Hot Dogger. When he shares the plan with Emery, he describes a very detailed scene where Evan told him this plan would be okay. When Evan finds out what Eddie and Emery did, however, he is devastated because he considered the Beanies his friends. Eddie realizes that he just imagined Evan giving his permission. He has been enjoying the Hot Dogger a great deal, but now he is starting to feel guilty about hurting his brother to obtain it.

The piece de resistance of the negotiation for the new car is a basketball shoe signed by Shaq himself. When Eddie gets the shoe and explains to his parents how grateful he is and how much it means for him, he suddenly feels really bad about what he did to Evan. Eddie, in a surprising moment of self-awareness and generosity, sells the Shaq shoe to buy back Evan’s Beanie Babies. Evan is thrilled, and Eddie knows that he did the right thing. It was nice to see Eddie show some true personal growth. There was definitely a lesson to be learned from this plot, but it wasn’t presented in a “Full House” kind of way where the music starts to swell when the siblings reconcile. And that’s just fine by me!

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