Fresh Off the Boat
Alongside every great sitcom mom, there is a willing, able, and affable sitcom dad. The sitcom dad is the straight man, in whatever way you see fit to interpret the term. By this definition, Randall Park plays the best sort of sitcom dad — willing to exist as the butt of the joke, but never really stepping into the spotlight. “Tight Two” finally gives Louis Huang his due.
Eddie, Emery, and Evan are doing like kids do, slumped on the couch watching Duck Tales with the volume loud enough to drown out their mom, talking about who they’d eat first on a desert island. Jessica is doing what moms do: poking her head around the corner and asking (demanding, really) that they turn the TV down. Before any of these lazy children get salty about her request, Louis comes home from work, fresh off the success of launching to-go ordering at Cattleman’s. His entrance shows off a perfect “tight two,” the 120 seconds of well-executed cool-dad stuff that lets him keep his place as the cool dad.
Look, a crazy wrestler impersonation! Look, he’s lavishing them with attention! Look, he’s doing the Kid ‘n’ Play dance! Look, he has cake! Look, his children fawn over him and then go to bed! The power of the tight two is the only thing that can tear his precious sons away from the adventures of screaming baby ducks, and I guess that’s better than nothing.
But Louis is a giant klutz, and when he tries the Kid ‘n’ Play again for Jessica in the kitchen, he breaks his leg. He’s wheelchair-bound for the foreseeable future, like Grandma or Roosevelt, and the restaurant needs tending. So, like a parental Freaky Friday, Jessica will oversee the staff at Cattleman’s while Louis tends to the children. Yes, great idea. Perfect idea. This will surely be fine.
Day one goes … not so well. Jessica cracks the whip at the restaurant without firing anyone, though I’m pretty sure if she had her way, she’d wipe the slate clean and start over. Louis, terrified at the prospect of spending more than a few minutes alone with his precious children, hightails it to a diner and sits there in panicked silence, intending to return home with coffee and a babyccino for Evan.
See, parenting in the Huang household is pretty simple. Jessica is the enforcer of rules and the bearer of punishment. She’s the one who tells the kids to shut the TV off, finish their homework, and go to bed. Louis is the cool guy, whose absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder ethos means that his kids love the two-minute Dad tornado of fun and forbidden food items, but think nothing else. He stays on top while Jessica keeps things running, but the bottom can only hold for so long. If Louis thinks two hours alone with the children is bad, a full day at their mercy is unimaginable to him.
In a bit of unfortunate timing, Jessica’s reign at Cattleman’s intersects with the introduction of the phone-in to-go order. The staff at the restaurant is lazy without realizing that they’re lazy, which is Jessica’s Kryptonite. This leads her to realize something: When a family orders their food to go, but eats it at the restaurant, everything clicks. The customers get the pleasure of eating their food and sitting down at a restaurant, but they don’t have to tip. Mitch and Nancy are punished for their laziness because they don’t get tips. “To-go” is a thing of the past. “To-stay to-go” is the future.
While Jessica cracks the whip at Cattleman’s, her husband flails in the face of very temporary single parenthood. He knows that his kids want to hang out with him and that they think he’s cool, so his attempt at stretching the tight two into something longer turns into a verbal diarrhea of jokes, factoids, Chris Farley imitations, and proffered Oreos. When that doesn’t work, he heads for the TV, that great pacifier, only to find Grandma watching a movie, which Louis narrates in a bit that lasts just a tad bit too long, making it actually brilliant for me but not awesome for his kids. His last resort? Let the kids go HAM with some Sharpies on his cast.
So, at the end of Louis and Jessica’s first Freaky Friday, things aren’t looking too rosy. Jessica is convinced that the staff is comprised of morons. Louis, who clearly entered some sort of panic fugue state after his children ran out of space to draw butts on his cast, let them saw it off his body. To hospital they go!
Louis can’t parent his kids because their expectations terrify him to his very core. Jessica cannot abide the laziness and insubordination of the Cattleman’s staff. Neither one will listen to the other, despite Jessica’s best efforts to manipulate her husband into letting her fire the entire team. Louis flapping his jaw about how he can’t handle his children would be enough to send anyone over the edge, but Jessica doesn’t put up with much, so she leaves him at the hospital. She needs to handle the lazy, insubordinate Mitch and Nancy, so he can figure out how to parent alone, for real this time.
At the restaurant, Mitch and Nancy are hustling to tend to the needs of a T-ball team comprising portly tweens, who took advantage of the generous to-stay to-go policy. When she sees their effort and realizes that they won’t get a tip because of her tunnel vision, she relents. To-stay to-go is a terrible business model. She tips them both from her own pocket, because good behavior deserves a reward.
Back at the hospital, Eddie, Emery, and Evan are back from their dad-sanctioned trip to the vending machine, and Louis has to face his parenting fears head on. It turns out that his kids don’t think he’s a bad dad. They don’t need the jazz hands and the jokes, either. At the end of the day, he’s just their dad, and they’re psyched to have him around at all.
+1,900 guilty-parent chocolate cakes for Jessica’s take-no-prisoners attitude at the restaurant. “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean!” seems mean but is actually just true.
+80 Kid ‘n’ Play dance routines for Grandma’s throwaway line about Louis — her son, mind you! — being treated like royalty now that he’s in a wheelchair.
+5 and-a-half very bad Tommy Boy imitations for the ongoing conversation between the brothers about whom they’d eat first on a desert island. If you have at least one sibling, you’ve had this conversation more times than you can remember.
… and +17 babyccinos for the observation that if the entire family were on a desert island, Jessica would immediately cook and eat them all.