Saturday, July 29, 2017

Fresh off the Boat 3.21: "Pie vs. Cake"

“You know I’d love a sibling team-up. It’d be like my favorite TV show. “Sister Sister.” Except brothers.”

“Pie vs. Cake” combined two rather interesting plots that don’t seem to have much to do with each other, other than examining the dynamics between particular members of the Huang family. Jessica has to confront some things about herself when her mini-me, Evan, becomes better than her at arguing. Eddie and Emery try to work together to win a comic book contest, despite their very different sensibilities and work ethics. The plot with Jessica and Evan was more developed, and I really did appreciate how it moved Jessica’s character forward. Now since this is a fairly traditional half hour comedy, Jessica could be back to her “win at all cost” self in the next episode, but for this half hour, it felt like real growth. Jessica had to realize that she can still be good at things, even if someone else is even better. She also had to realize that it wasn’t okay to sabotage her kids for the sake of staying the best. It really was a good episode for Jessica.

The episode opens at the local discount department store, where Jessica is determined to return some of Louis’ very used socks for cash. It seems like the impossible – I figure I’d be lucky to get store credit in such an obvious scam situation. Jessica, however, holds herself to a higher standard. She harasses the poor clerk, Roger (who is played by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” favorite Tom Lenk) until she gives him the cash. She even hid the fact that she had a receipt for the socks to give herself a bigger challenge. Evan proudly puts the receipt in an album of other receipts that represent Jessica’s “precious victories.” At school the next day, Evan is introduced to an even better way to emulate his mom and make her proud. A group of kids in blazers enter the cafeteria, and he at first assumes they’re private school kids. When he finds out they’re on the debate team and what that means, he’s enthralled.

Meanwhile, Eddie finds Emery diligently drawing a comic. Emery explains that he wants to enter a contest where the winner has their comic placed in comic book stores around the country for free. Eddie things working for free is lame, so he’s not interested. At least he’s not interested until Grandma Huang points out how much money can be made in comics, using her beloved Garfield as an example. This intrigues Eddie, since he’s all about the Benjamins, so he offers to partner up with Emery on a comic for the competition. Emery, of course, thinks this is a fantastic idea, because it will be just like his favorite TV, show “Sister Sister,” just with brothers instead. He even draws a cute “Yes!” speech bubble to formally accept Eddie’s offer.

When Evan asks Jessica for permission to join the debate team, she is thrilled, but she can’t let Evan have it too easy. She has to debate herself first, listing out the pros and cons of Evan being on the team. Of course she lets him join, since she was on the debate team herself in school. She helps Evan practice for his tryout, having him give his speech in front of an army of Beanie Babies. Speaking of, is anybody interested in buying some Beanie Babies? There are a couple tubs of them in my parents’ attic that I’m sure they’d love to get rid of (they keep threatening to bring them to my apartment). In my defense, I was 12 and 13 years old in 1996. Prime Beanie Baby age. Later, the family eats dinner at Cattleman’s Ranch, and they are trying to choose between pie and cake for dessert. Jessica wants pie, and Evan wants cake. They both give impassioned debate speeches to support their position, and Evan wins by reminding people of happy occasions associated with cake, like birthdays. He wraps up his speech with, “If you choose life, choose cake,” to wild applause from the rest of the Cattleman’s patrons.

Eddie and Emery start working on their collaboration. To say they have different taste and creative styles would be an understatement. The superheroes Emery has drawn are called “Nice Man” and “The Empathizer,” while Eddie has basically just written a list of ‘Yo Mamma jokes. Eddie convinces Emery that they should each draw up ideas for ten superheroes and see if there’s one they can agree on. When Emery goes to show Eddie his ideas, Eddie is just eating Twizzlers and watching his friend Trent play video games. He hasn’t come up with any ideas yet. Emery gets upset and accuses Eddie of trying to make him do all the work. Which is kind of true. He even quickly draws up a new character called “Lazy Boy” to make his point. It’s Grandma Huang who brings the boys back together. She recoils in horror at Eddie’s drawing of “Spaghetti Dog” (a dog who looks vaguely Garfield-ish and likes spaghetti instead of lasagna) and implores Eddie to learn to work with his brother. Eddie makes amends, and the boys start truly trying to come up with an idea for their comic.

Jessica hears Evan on the phone bragging to one of his friends about winning the dessert debate, so she takes him to the store to prove she’s still got it. She wants to try to return the family phone, which was purchased five years prior at a Radio Shack in DC. There’s no way Roger should accept the return, and at first it seems as if Jessica has actually crossed the line where Roger won’t help her anymore. Evan comes to the rescue, giving an impassioned speech about the importance of helping mothers, and Roger accepts the phone. Jessica feels more defeated. Louis finds her sitting at the kitchen table in the dark because Evan wanted the lights off and she didn’t think she could argue with him anymore. Jessica tells Louis she doesn’t think she has anything left to teach Evan, and she didn’t think that moment would come so soon.

Louis offers a sympathetic ear to Jessica, but she already has a plan for how she is going to regain her pride. She is going to challenge Evan to another argument, and he is going to win. She sits at the kitchen table with two vegetables in front of her, ready to argue with Evan about which is best. When Evan arrives home, however, he’s devastated. He’s been told he can’t participate in the debate team. Suddenly, Jessica sees how she can be “needed” by her son again. She marches Evan right back to the school and into the debate class. The teacher says that Evan is indeed an excellent debater, but the debate team is only open to fifth grades. Jessica uses expert debate tactics to argue why younger kids should be included, which crescendos with her quoting Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.” The kids are super impressed, and Evan gets a spot on the team. The triumphant duo arrive home to celebrate their victory, and Evan and Emery have a new (Stan Lee) approved idea for their comic. “Persuader and Blazer Boy.”

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