Saturday, December 10, 2016

Fresh off the Boat 3.04: "Citizen Jessica"

“Well, you know, taxes aren’t all bad. They pay for stuff we need like roads and schools.”

I don’t usually get political publically because of my job (which is a government, albeit not federal, job), but I felt like I had to stick up for myself and my fellow devoted public servants with this particular Quote of the Episode. In the current political climate, let us not forget all the things government provides for us, like schools, roads, bridges, safe food, clean water and air, police and fire protection, breakthrough scientific research, basic food, shelter, and health care if we fall on hard times. Those things must all be paid for. We don’t get stuff without paying for it, therefore we have taxes. If you want less taxes, you’re also going to get less stuff (or watered down, crappy stuff). I take a significantly lower salary than I could probably earn in the private sector (I am still a licensed attorney, after all) because I truly believe in doing the right thing for the taxpayers I serve, and I know many government employees who feel the same way. This episode, which aired before the November 8 election and seems rather naïve post-election, celebrates everything the United States is supposed to be. Somehow Cattleman’s Ranch has become a polling place, and Louis takes on Election Day with gusto. As he is wont to do, he truly believes in our democratic republic form of government, and he tries to convince Jessica of its worth too. By the end, she makes a big, related decision, and the journey to her arriving at that point is truly interesting to watch.

As the episode opens, Louis and the Cattleman’s Ranch staff are decorating the restaurant for Election Day, because as I mentioned in the intro, the restaurant is inexplicably going to be a polling place, and all the employees election judges. The boys ask Jessica if she’s actually going to vote this year, and she says no, because she doesn’t think her one vote would actually matter. It’s the election of 1996, so it’s Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dole. As you might not guess from reading the blog, I was totally a Republican as a kid about Eddie’s age in the 90’s, so I was Team Dole myself. I also managed to help convince my classmates to vote for Ross Perot in the 1992 elementary school election, giving the Texas billionaire probably his only electoral win. Anyway, the Huang kids are politically divided. Eddie is for Clinton, because Tupac just died, and Eddie wants better gun control laws. Emery thinks Bob Dole seems like a nice old man, so he’s on board. Evan is the Nate Silver of the family, concerned only with the electoral math. He doesn’t think Dole has a chance of winning.

Jessica is still progressing in her real estate career, and she is super excited to be closing on her first mini-mansion. It’s got four bedrooms and ten bathrooms, but somehow she made the ratio work for her. As she is leaving the property, however, rival Raul Ruiz drives by. Jessica mocks him for only selling condos, but he says that the tax consequences made selling bigger properties not worth his time. Jessica does some frantic research and complains to Louis that what Ruiz said is indeed true. Louis tries to point out all the good things taxes pay for, but Jessica isn’t buying it. Later, they see some political commercials when watching television together. Jessica thinks they are all meaningless attempts at emotional manipulation, but a commercial about a proposition related to undocumented immigrants captures her attention. She doesn’t think it’s fair that she, who entered the country legally, has to pay taxes, while undocumented immigrants don’t (although they really do pay some taxes, at the very least sales taxes in states that have one). Her dissatisfaction grows when Cattleman’s cook Hector shows up in his tricked-out car and talks about how he’s incorporated so he doesn’t pay taxes. Jessica suspects he’s undocumented, too.

Meanwhile, Eddie and his friends are psyched that they have the second best table in the cafeteria. During lunch, they celebrate their good fortune and debate theories about how Tupac died. Some of the guys think Biggie is the culprit, but Eddie, an avid viewer of MTV News, doesn’t believe that theory. He notes that Puffy wouldn’t let his friend do something so stupid, and plus, Biggie only travels by train, and the time that would take would diffuse any anger he had towards Tupac. Eddie thinks Suge Knight is the culprit. One of the other guys accuses Tupac of being a poser (he took ballet classes) and thinks Courtney Love killed him. Tony Danza is the next theory thown out by the group. One of the guys doesn’t even know who Tupac is. The argument keeps escalating until the boys don’t want to eat lunch together anymore.

Jessica starts putting up signs in favor of the proposition at the restaurant, which makes Hector understandably upset. It makes Louis upset, too, since it constitutes electioneering too close to a polling place. Let me just take a pause for a minute here to gnaw on a pet peeve. Television writers, who for the most part live in California, seem to be under the mistaken assumption that most of the country uses ballot measures as abundantly as they do. In actuality, the use of ballot measures (which aren’t called propositions in Florida, by the way) increases drastically as you head west. We have maybe one or two constitutional amendments up for a vote any given general election here in Maryland. There would be no “Proposition 187” like Jessica is campaigning for in an East Coast state. And now I’ll take my political science major/lawyer/public policy master’s degree holder hat off.

Jessica makes Hector so upset that he drives off, which is a bad thing because he’s the only one with a key to the freezer. Emery and Evan are also determined to violate electioneering laws. Emery is handing out Bob Dole buttons to everyone. Evan decides to help to prove that Emery’s campaigning ultimately won’t make a difference. He also mocks a guy who says he’s going to vote for the Green Party. None of this really seems funny anymore after our most recent election. Louis is about to scold the boys, but he’s got bigger problems. Hector is staging a full-on protest outside the restaurant. He’s brought is car club and everything. Jessica has an idea to put a stop to it, though. She’s called INS. Hector drives off again. The biggest surprise, however, is that the INS agent says he found two undocumented immigrants. Hector…and Jessica.

Fighting with all his friends, Eddie is home watching MTV with Grandma Huang. Grandma has some sage advice, reminding Eddie of Biggie and Tupac and how there’s a fine line between love and hate. She doesn’t want Eddie’s relationship with his friends to become a rap war. Eddie watches Tupac’s latest music video and comes to an epiphany. He gathers the boys together and shows them the video. Tupac is wearing sneakers that weren’t released until after his death. This leads Eddie to believe that Eddie is actually still alive, and all the boys coalesce around this theory. After all, it would be a great money making scheme for a famous artist to pretend to have died. They boys regain their friendship, although they unfortunately don’t regain their prized cafeteria table.

It turns out that Jessica just neglected to fill out the paperwork to renew her green card, so it’s not going to be too much trouble to fix her status. Louis tries to use the incident to inspire Jessica to have more sympathy for Hector and others like him. He emphasizes that Hector was brought to the United States as a baby, and he has a family here. Jessica does take the message to heart, and she takes Hector to her immigration lawyer, who has a plan to sort out his status, too. After everything, Jessica decides she finally wants to become a U.S. citizen. As for the election, you know how that went. There was low turnout, and Clinton was reelected in a landslide. The local news anchor does note, however, that Bob Dole won the precinct at Cattleman’s Ranch. Emery is pretty proud of himself for proving Evan wrong.

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