Saturday, August 19, 2017

Fresh off the Boat 3.22: "This is Us"

“In this family, we don’t hide mistakes. We look at them, feel shame, and never talk about them again.”

The penultimate episode of this season of “Fresh off the Boat” took another interesting spin on an aspect of the lives of the real-life Huangs. The real-life Eddie Huang’s parents live in a tricked-out mansion in a gated Orlando community, and now it looks like their television counterparts may be making the same move. Since this is a rather traditional comedy, though, I’m not sure if the move will stick as it did for the real-life Huangs. The Huangs have very strict life plans, and up until now, the plans have served them well. In this episode, however, several situations present themselves simultaneously to tempt them to change those plans. By the end of the episode, plans have changed, and I’m sure we’ll see soon enough whether or not making those changes was a good idea.

In the beginning of the episode, Louis and Jessica are pretty satisfied with their lives. Eddie has just graduated from middle school, Cattleman’s Ranch is doing well, and Jessica has just been asked to try and sell a mansion in a fancy gated community. They truly believe they are living the American dream. The cracks start to form in that illusion early on, though. We learn that the Huangs rent their house, and their landlord is annoying. Louis doesn’t want to pay the extra $100 a month for Grandma to live in their house, so they hide her in the closet when he stops by. Later, Louis talks to Marvin as Marvin is doing some yard work. Louis tells Marvin that he wishes he could do his own yardwork, but his landlord is crazy and gets upset if even one dandelion has been picked.

Meanwhile, Evan joins Jessica as she goes to meet the person who owns the crazy mansion she’s going to sell. Evan talks to his daughter, who is wearing a blazer that Evan thinks is pretty nifty. She explains it’s not a debate team blazer, it’s a private school blazer. St. Orlando’s Prep, specifically. Evan thinks this school, where you get to wear a blazer all the time, sounds amazing. He doesn’t feel challenged by his public school, even with all the extra work Jessica has found for him to do. When he asks Jessica to go to St. Orlando’s, Jessica takes Evan into the garage and shows him the family’s life plans. Basically, she’s got a vision board for everyone. Emery is destined to marry Michelle Kwan or someone equivalent. If Eddie just stays out of jail, that will do for him. Evan, however, has the destiny of becoming Doctor-President. Paying an arm and a leg for private school, when public school is adequate and Jessica’s discipline is more than adequate, just doesn’t make sense.

Jessica and Evan take a meeting with the headmaster of St. Orlando’s. At first, Jessica is skeptical, but the headmaster is confident that he can easily convince Jessica of the benefits of private school. He focuses on what St. Orlando’s graduates have achieved, like how many of them have gone to Ivy League schools or become astronauts. I really wish Jessica had been able to stand her ground longer on this. I am a big supporter of public schools. Our public schools need very involved parents like Jessica supporting them, not abandoning them. Anyway, Jessica is indeed convinced, but she’s not so happy to find out it isn’t as simple as just saying she’ll pay tuition. And it’s not a la carte, either (Jessica didn’t want to pay for gym class). There’s an application process that requires recommendations, and an interview of Evan, too.

In the B story of the episode (or C story, maybe?). Emery took some video of the middle school graduation (the valedictorian used a Boyz 2 Men quote in his speech, which is definitely authentic mid-90s graduation material), and Eddie and his friends see him editing it on the computer he’s borrowed from the AV Club for the summer. He’s putting in fun Pop-Up Video style captions, and the boys think that’s pretty cool. They start putting in their own, kind of mean but mostly funny pop-up captions, like the fact that Trent is a Sparrow Scout. Later, most of the boys are chilling in lawn chairs outside talking about how they’re going to work out and be so ripped by the beginning of high school. Dave runs up to the rest of the group, panicked because his stepbrother now has the video that they captioned. They’re going to be the laughingstocks of their high school even before the first day.

Like Jessica, Louis faces his own “stick to the life plan” crisis in this episode. He takes a meeting at Cattleman’s with Marvin and Marvin’s good friend, who happens to be none other than Michael Bolton. Michael Bolton is jealous of all the money Kenny Rogers has made in the restaurant business, and he wants a piece of the action. He offers to buy a share of Cattleman’s (Marvin thinks this could provide the liquidity Louis needs to buy his house), but Louis declines, because it goes against the life plan, and the life plan has served the Huangs well thus far. When he gets home, Louis finds Jessica and Evan looking at the life plan boards (because they had been debating whether or not to update Evan’s for private school). The conversation gets awkward, because Jessica is trying to hide the fact that she’s contemplating a major deviation from the life plan in sending Evan to private school. She’s not ready to tell Louis about it yet, which doesn’t quite make sense to me.

Jessica throws her usual enthusiasm behind getting Evan accepted into St. Orlando’s. She fights Evan’s current school over his grades. Then she tries to get a recommendation from the guy whose house she’s selling, but he’ll only do it if she lowers her commission. Next, she tries Deirdre, whose only price is a fresh manicure. It turns out that’s a price Jessica is willing to pay, so she’s got a recommendation now. In the interview, Evan is his usual intelligent, charming self. When a large envelope arrives from St. Orlando, they think Evan has it in the bag. To their dismay, however, Evan was not accepted. The rejection letter comes with some nifty “My Child Almost Got into St. Orlando’s” stickers, though. Jessica marches over to Deirdre’s house and accuses Deirdre of not using a strong enough signature on the recommendation letter. Deirdre explains that private schools judge an applicant’s whole family, and word among Orlando’s elite is that the Huangs are “renters who work in the service industry.” Jessica is determined to make this right.

Louis has an especially frustrating encounter with his landlord, who wants to charge for driveway damage and is upset that Louis picked ten dandelions to make wishes. Louis goes to Marvin’s office, where Michael Bolton happens to be picking out a new toothbrush, and says he agrees to take Michael Bolton on as a partner. He then goes home and tells Jessica about the opportunity and that he thinks they should take it. Jessica is all-in, but with a twist. She wants to use the money to buy the mansion she’s been trying to sell. She tells the current owner that if his wife can get Evan into St. Orlando’s, they’ll buy the house. Making such a big move gives Louis and Jessica a little pause, but they want what they think is best for Evan.

Meanwhile, Eddie and his friends try and figure out how to get the graduation tape back from Dave’s stepbrother. Dave wants to poison his stepbrother, but thankfully the rest of the group puts this in the bad idea file. Eddie decides he’s going to talk to the stepbrother, Tyler, young man to young man, and remind him what it was like to be a freshman in high school. Eddie goes into the house and is just starting to have this conversation when one of the other boys throws a rock through Tyler’s window. Eddie grabs the tape, and they all run. On the way back to Eddie’s house, they all crow about how great high school is going to be now. Everything changes when they see the rest of the Huangs packing things up for the big move. Eddie’s not going to be going to high school with his friends after all.

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