Monday, February 20, 2017

Fresh off the Boat 3.09: "How to Be an American"

“Tell us the story of how you guys met again. It’s my favorite love story. After ‘My Girl,’ of course.”

As they used to say on MTV’s “Diary” back in the day (so sue me, I was a total MTV teen in the early 2000’s!)– you think you know the Huangs, but you have no idea. “How to Be an American” centered around Jessica’s citizenship interview, and in the course of the interview, secrets that both she and Louis have been keeping for years all come out into the open. At first, this seems like it’s going to be a disaster, but by the end, all is well, Louis and Jessica are on solid footing, and Jessica becomes a citizen. The final scene of the episode straight up made me cry, for reasons that will be obvious once we get to talking about it. There’s a much less weighty plot back home involving the three boys and Grandma Huang. The bit of satisfaction I got out of that plot was that Evan decides to solve the problematic situation in which the boys find themselves in the exact way I in which I had been screaming at the television (AAA is your friend, kids, and I don’t mean that as some sort of paid endorsement at all…as a single lady with back problems, I would never drive without it).

This episode makes use of an in media res structure. We start with Jessica and Louis at Jessica’s citizenship interview. The INS officer is just about to approve Jessica’s application when another officer comes in and hands him a folder. The officer says he’s going to have to ask some questions about Jessica’s criminal record. Backtracking to earlier that morning, Jessica and Louis are getting ready to leave for the interview. Louis is all sentimental, while Jessica just wants to get the whole thing over with and fill up the Accord with the “cheap, cheap gas” on the bad side of town where the immigration office is located. We’re also treated to a rehash of how Jessica and Louis first met. They both got sick from an octopus special at a restaurant near where they went to college, and they were next to each other in the bathroom line.

The boys have off school for a teacher training day, which really irritates Jessica. She thinks teachers should do their training during the summer. She kind of hates teachers in general, and we’ll soon find out why. Grandma offers to let the boys help her organize her perfume collection, but they aren’t interested. Emery and Evan decide to try and guess what their homework for the next week is going to be and do the work ahead of time, but Eddie thinks that’s lame. I have to say I’m on Team Eddie with this one. Eddie wants to have an epic brothers’ road trip for their day off. At first Emery and Evan are dubious, but Eddie convinces them he’ll be able to drive because he’s so good at Mario Kart. Evan is the last hold out, but when Edie says he can use his AAA card for discounts along the way, he’s in too. They have a whole list of activities, and they want to finish up the day at the local water park.

Meanwhile, at the immigration office, the INS officer starts by asking Jessica some routine questions about her student visa, which was how she first entered the country. She says she was a business major, which surprises the INS officer since her first job was as a teacher. This is new to Louis, who only knew that Jessica hates teachers. It turns out that Jessica took a teaching job (which turns out to have been teaching drama, not advanced calculus like Jessica said at first) to switch over from a student visa to a specialty occupation visa. She didn’t last a day, though, because she was horrified at how corrupt the other teachers were, using their maximum 20 minute grace period to get to class and getting high at the end of the day. The running joke that Jessica thinks all white people look the same is in full force, as characters we know like Honey, Deirdre, and Marvin play the teachers.

We then flash to Jessica discussing her immigration problem with her roommate (played by Honey) at the restaurant where she and Louis would meet. Louis mentions that his ex, Olivia Yang, had just broken up with him earlier that day, which comes as a surprise to Jessica. She thought Louis had dated Olivia back in Taiwan. Louis assures Jessica that he wouldn’t have proposed to her five times if she was just a rebound. In another flashback, we learn that Jessica decided to try for an extraordinary ability visa next, but it was denied, because you can’t just go into the immigration office and sing (badly) to get the visa. You have to have proof that the extraordinary ability is your profession. When Jessica returns to her apartment, Louis is waiting with his fifth proposal, and this time Jessica accepts. Louis is horrified to learn that Jessica basically accepted his proposal so she could get a green card.

Meanwhile, the boys’ adventure in the minivan goes about as well as you’d expect. They load the van up with a hibachi, boom box, and other assorted supplies, Eddie switches all the radio presets to his favorite hip hop station, Emery turns the front passenger seat into a “nap zone,” and they finalize the itinerary. There’s just one problem. They forgot their swim suits. As they rush back inside to get them, the van rolls down the driveway and into the middle of the cul-de-sac. Thankfully it doesn’t hit anything, but Eddie does realize that the doors to the van are locked. At first the boys panic (Evan does his “Home Alone” scream), but then they remember that Evan has AAA, and they can just place a phone call to have someone come and unlock the van.

The AAA guy unlocks the van with no problem, and he also, on the sly, warns the boys to set everything in the car back to how it was before so they don’t get caught. They heed his advice, and they’re pretty proud of themselves for their work. There’s just one problem they weren’t anticipating. Grandma. She saw what happened and took a picture of it. Apparently she’s got a ton of incriminating Polaroids on the inside of her closet door. She calls it her “Wall of Leverage.” The boys get stuck organizing her perfumes after all.

At the immigration office, we’re finally to the point where Jessica has to explain her criminal record. It turns out that while it seemed like she didn’t write Louis’ phone number down when he first gave it to her, she actually did. With permanent marker on a canoe at the restaurant. The restaurant owner wasn’t happy about the property damage and pressed charges. Jessica admits that she did fall in love with Louis at first sight after all, but she’s been keeping it a secret because she didn’t want to seem like a romantic. She also turned down the proposals so many times because she didn’t want it to look like a green card marriage. When the extraordinary ability visa fell though, however, she felt like she didn’t have a choice. She didn’t want to go back to Taiwan and be without Louis. The INS officer is touched by the story and approves the application. We end the episode with Jessica’s naturalization ceremony, which is what made me cry. I’m sure it was included as a political statement, and I hate that this country has gotten to the point where showing a naturalization ceremony in a positive light is pretty clearly a political statement.

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