Fresh Off the Boat
Like every strong family of the ’90s, the Huangs are forced to contend with two nefarious scourges this week: Equal division of labor between the parents raising their children … and head lice. Louis and Jessica handle each burden with the blunt grace and artlessness that makes them so very lovable. Let’s proceed.
Running a family is serious business. So serious, in fact, that Louis and Jessica hold weekly meetings to discuss important matters like finally selling the investment property (remember that?) and managing the vagaries of running a household with three children. Since this show is set in a time before shared Google calendars for the hyperorganized and slightly anal, Louis has resorted to the Kordell Stewart Method: Wearing one of those arm notebooks that quarterbacks use to keep track of their plays and, uh, also maybe to play hangman? Write haikus about their defense? The Huangs’ lives are scheduled out as tightly as humanly possible, including four minutes for sexy time. Four minutes seems like not enough, but don’t you worry, Louis only needs two. 😉
If your husband is “organized” enough to track familial obligations in an arm diary, then surely nothing will break his stride. But no one is prepared for the unmitigated havoc that Eddie can wreak. While things in the Huang home are humming along as best they can, Eddie’s reputation is on the line in the hallowed halls of Abraham Lincoln Middle School.
The student-faculty basketball game is coming up and last year, the teachers won. Their prize was pizza, which they ate on stage in front of the student body. Rude. That can’t happen again. Also, Eddie’s got it out for Mr. G, his math teacher who happens to be one of those irritating sticklers for detail. Eddie didn’t show his work on his math homework, which feels like a minor detail more than anything else; if he got it right, who cares? Regardless, Eddie is out for blood.
Instead of complaining to his friends and maybe whining to his mother, Eddie ethers Mr. G in front of the whole class with a sick burn about how he didn’t show up for the birth of his first child. Yes, this is in response to Mr. G — a teacher! — telling Eddie that he doesn’t like to work, but my God, the kids these days.
Sidebar: How did Eddie even know this?! How is it that a middle schooler is privy to the personal dealings of an adult human of authority? Make me understand and I will give you a cookie.
Somehow, they agree to a ridiculous bet: If Eddie scores on Mr. G in the student-faculty basketball game, the whole class is excused from homework for the rest of the year; if Eddie doesn’t, he gets twice as much homework for the rest of the year. How, precisely, will this work? Eddie can’t get a balled-up piece of paper into the wastebasket with any semblance of accuracy and Mr. G is a grown man. Rather than haul this hubristic 13-year-old to detention for the rest of his life, Mr. G agrees to the bet because that’s how television sitcoms work. Game on.
Sorry to say, nothing ever works out the way you want it to. After running through everything in the arm-journal checklist, Jessica and Louis are about to enter the bone zone, but Eddie breaks it up. Surprise! He has lice.
Jessica has no chill when it comes to most things, but her lack of chill about her eldest son having lice is unprecedented. Lice are the pedophiles of the insect world, after all. Tainted Eddie is banished to the outdoors while Jessica spins her wheels. Their panic is not unnoticed by Grandma, who tells her son that he needs to just earn the money and let Jessica handle it. Louis is woke enough to at least make an attempt to help, via a second arm diary, strictly for lice management.
One kid with lice is fine. Besides, it’s Eddie. He’s basically the monkey from Outbreak; his family seems content to quarantine him for the rest of his days. But, like love (and also hate, I guess), lice knows no bounds. Evan, that sweet angel, is the latest victim. Outside he goes.
Emery and his lustrous hair are spared, so Jessica and Louis focus their efforts on the tainted ones. Dressed as if they were taking a walk through waist-high grass in a field of ticks, they shampoo their children’s heads outside, on the lawn, as if they’re washing the family minivan. Jessica’s lice-eradication methods lead me to believe that if the investment property doesn’t work out, she has an excellent side hustle as a bedbug-elimination professional. Alas, all her scrubbing and her cleaning and her crazy are ineffective — and she gets lice, too.
Louis’s instinct is to flee to Marvin and Honey’s house, saving himself from the fate that has befallen his family. To be fair, this is a perfectly natural instinct when faced with a disgusting infestation in your own home, but let’s back up. Sure, he doesn’t want lice, but he also doesn’t want to deal with any of the stuff that needs to be done while Jessica’s down for the count. Both arm journals are full of tasks to be completed and neatly crossed off. This responsibility, like almost every responsibility in the family, falls on Jessica. She’s the captain now, even though she always has been.
Louis can’t be felled by the scourge because he’s a businessman. He runs things. Jessica, on the other hand, clearly does nothing except manage the house, buy the groceries, deal with the children, look after his mother, and run a successful house-flipping business. Louis and his arm journals are supportive, but only on the surface. She needs more, and after a heartfelt and weird conversation with Marvin and Honey, Louis realizes his shortcomings as a partner. Good! Progress.
Lord, so what about the investment property? Honey did a bad job taking the photos, which they need so they can put up an ad and sell this thing. Since Jessica discovered she had lice while discussing this photo problem with Honey, she clearly didn’t have time to do things right. It seems that something clicked with her dolt of a husband, though. Louis manages to save the day by taking usable photos, buying new sheets for their bed, and apologizing for being kind of a caveman when it comes to respecting all the work she does. Atta boy.
And, in case you thought Eddie would stay home and keep his itchy, lice-infested self away from his peers, you were wrong. With six seconds left on the buzzer, Eddie, Grandma, and his tearaway pants make an entrance to the Luniz classic, “I Got Five on It.” By virtue of the miracle of television, Eddie makes the basket. Pizza for everyone! Kids rule, teachers drool.
- +10 fresh bottles of Nix Lice shampoo for Jessica’s strength in resisting Evan’s adorable request for a hug (“Bao bao?”).
- +1,000 notes from the school nurse for why she banishes him outside: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
- +80 preventive shower caps for Grandma Huang’s old-fashioned notions of how a household should operate. Yes, it’s bad, but it’s accurate for her generation. Can’t win ’em all.