Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fresh off the Boat 2.10: "The Real Santa"

“I’ve been thinking about what you said about Santa. It totally makes sense. Smart enough to understand the science of flight, yet small enough to fit down a chimney? That dude’s Chinese.”

The first attempt by the “Fresh off the Boat” creative team to do a Christmas episode was definitely original. We see Asian families so little on television that I guess I had never given much thought to the Asian view of Christmas. I still hope we get a Mid Autumn Festival or Chinese New Year episode, too, but this one was pretty entertaining. I thought Jessica’s attempt to create a “Chinese Santa” that was the perfect embodiment of the values she wants to impart to her children was both creative and exactly what I would expect Jessica to do. The whole thing was a bit bizarre (thanks to Sarah for that assessment!), but at the same time, it seemed to be in keeping with the ethos of the show overall.

At the beginning of the episode, we are introduced to “Jessica Town,” an elaborate set-up Jessica has created out of Dickens Village pieces. I bought a few Dickens Village pieces for my grandmother back in the day until she asked me to stop buying them because she didn’t have room for them! Anyway, “Jessica Town” has two bookstores with a hole in between them where the bakery should be. That bakery is Jessica’s white whale of Christmas decorations. While admiring the village, Jessica and Louis also debate the merits of Santa Claus. Jessica is anti-Santa, obviously.

Jessica has an idea that makes her so proud of herself that she tries to imitate Eddie’s pimp walk by doing a “jazz walk.” Louis counters with an even better jazz walk, though. Apparently he took a Fosse class in college. She “improved” Santa by telling Evan all sorts of great things about him. Jessica’s version of Santa studied a lot and became a great physicist. Louis doesn’t love this, especially because the family is supposed to go to a meal with Santa at Cattleman’s Ranch, and Mitch of all people will be playing Santa. He is worried that Evan will ask Mitch a bunch of science and math questions that he won’t be able to answer. Instead, the Huangs enlist their dentist neighbor Marvin (Honey’s husband) to play Santa instead. They give him two whole binders of information to study to prepare for the job.

Meanwhile, Emery frets over making the perfect present for Jessica. He is working on exact replica of the Dickens Village bakery that Jessica is missing. While he’s crafting, Emery and Eddie debate what makes a good gift. Last year, Emery wrote Grandma a novel about her life story, but Grandma doesn’t remember it at first. She has certainly never read it. She does remember Eddie’s present, a Nerf bird, though, and she still loves using it today. To Emery’s chagrin (he burned himself on a hot glue gun for this, damnit!), Honey gives Jessica the actual Dickens bakery. It belonged to Marvin’s first wife. His present for Louis is a chocolate sculpture of him (Louis), by the way. Emery is one weird kid. Eddie is very upset about the bakery/present situation, but Eddie suggests he just “let it ride.”

At the Cattleman’s Ranch breakfast with Santa, Evan is super excited to talk to Santa about science and math (because of course he is). He happily chats with Marvin-as-Santa about the physics behind Santa’s Christmas Eve travels. The whole thing is ruined, however, when a second Santa enters the festivities and Evan sees that it’s really Mitch. It makes him start questioning everything about Santa. Jessica tries to save the situation by saying that the real Santa is Chinese, and all the white Santas are just his helpers. That’s why so many toys say “Made in China” and why Santa wears a red suit. Later back at the house, Louis tries to get Jessica to stop “fixing” Santa. Jessica, for her part, thinks she has created the perfect improved Santa. Evan interrupts this conversation to say he believes the Chinese Santa story, because it makes perfect sense. If you want to know why, just read the Quote of the Episode!

With Emery still fretting over a replacement present for Jessica, Eddie shows Emery the poem he has written for Jessica. Emery doesn’t like it, but he agrees to write it out nicely on a scroll of paper as his contribution to the present. As he’s working on this project, Emery hears a Tupac song (“Mama”) on television that Eddie has pretty much taken the lyrics from verbatim for his “poem.” Emery confronts Eddie about this, but Eddie maintains he just “sampled” the Tupac song. Emery says the present won’t work, so Eddie thinks they should just go back to letting it ride and hoping something will work out.

Jessica and Louis go to see the third grade holiday show at Evan’s school. A new rule called “Kathy’s Rule” has made the show politically correct in the extreme. Instead of Santa, there’s a “panseasonal entity” that dances around on the stage. Evan protests the lack of a Santa, and the rest of the crowd agrees with him until he says Santa is Chinese. Then there’s just silence, followed by a ridiculous commotion, during which Louis and Jessica try their best to stand up for Evan. Back at home, Jessica enlists Honey’s help to transform into Laoban (boss) Santa. Laoban Santa hides all the presents on December 23, then the white Santas put the presents under the tree on Christmas Eve. She’s even got a Le Baron parked in the driveway. I’d like to believe that was a reference to Cake’s “Short Skirt, Long Jacket,” but this episode takes place at least four years too early for that. Laoban Santa tells Evan to be good, study, and eat his vegetables before she leaves for the next house. Evan runs to his parents room and sees both Louis and Jessica sleeping. He doesn’t see that Jessica is still in full make-up (Louis is freaked out by it, though).

It is finally Christmas morning, and while the family is opening presents, Grandma throws the Nerf bird again and accidentally destroys the Dickens Village bakery. Eddie sees an opportunity, and he rushes off to present Jessica with the bakery Emery created (being careful to give Emery credit). Jessica really loves it and finds the gift very thoughtful. We end the episode with the Huangs opening presents in a happy family montage. Bring on Chinese New Year next!

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