Fresh Off the Boat
Who knew an Orlando subdivision could be so dramatic? The suburban neighborhood where the Huangs live serves as a stand-in for everything American and befuddling and pedestrian, a willing foil for the family to play against as they navigate the vagaries of their new, shiny life. It may seem like the most boring place in the world, but when you poke that dull surface hard enough, all of its juicy secrets come spurting out. “Jessica Place” isn’t the strongest episode, another slight misfire in what’s become a lackluster season, but I am an eternal optimist. It gets better.
For example, nothing pleases me more than to learn that Jessica is a diehard Melrose Place fan. Like any fan of quality prime-time drama, she sinks into a despondent lethargy when her stories go on break for the summer. After a season-finale viewing party with the gals — including Deidre, that preternaturally peppy and relatively shady blonde who is friends with Marvin’s ex-wife — Jessica realizes that television programs take more time off than actual teachers, and sinks into the kind of funk that can only be lifted by extreme methods of distraction.
Some notes about Deidre: She has very shiny blonde hair (thanks olive oil!), and she hates Honey. Honey, in turn, hates Deidre because Deidre blames her for breaking up Marvin’s previous marriage. This entire situation sounds like a big steaming pie of “not anyone’s business” but what do I know?
Back to our regularly scheduled program: Enter the Honey-approved swimming pool, an above-ground monstrosity that lives in the driveway. Its mere presence swiftly erases any of Eddie’s dreams of grottos, giggling babes, and whatever other pervy scenarios he envisioned. Still, a pool is a pool is a pool, and so the children take to it with great gusto. Emery loves the pool. Eddie loves the pool. Evan, however, hates the pool and everything it stands for because it violates the intricate and extreme rules of the Homeowners’ Association.
Jessica is nothing if not pigheaded, so it’s no surprise that she’s livid when the HOA votes against her pool. The vote is spearheaded by Deidre, who appears to have the entire neighborhood living in respectful fear of her wrath. Above-ground pools, in her estimation, are tacky. To be fair, they’re basically giant outdoor bathtubs, so in this case, I have to side with Deidre.
Does Jessica like it when someone tells her that she can’t do something because of a nonsensical rule? No, no she does not. Honey, on the other hand, is thrilled. It’s like Deidre has peeled off her “nice person” mask to reveal the face of a less nice person, who is maybe more bored and meaner than previously anticipated. Little did we know, Deidre’s got some secrets of her own. In order to flush out these secrets, Jessica and Honey creep around in the (potentially) alligator-infested hedges outside Deirdre’s house to spy on her.
Look! There’s Deidre in a robe, with a martini. Look! There’s Deidre entertaining what appears to be a man-shaped shadow. Look! There’s Deidre doing something so scandalous that the camera must cut away, while Honey uses Marvin’s safari camera to take a million photos for blackmailing purposes.
What on Earth could Deidre be doing? Is she:
- Cheating on her husband with Louis/someone else’s husband/a UPS guy?
- Unzipping her face to reveal a new, different, more evil face underneath it?
- Wearing a wig because maybe she doesn’t like her real hair?
If you chose no. 3, congratulations, you win. As per the photos Honey snapped — which she shows to Carol Jean, another woman in the neighborhood terrorized by Deidre and her olive-oil hair masks — the man-shaped shadow was a wig stand. One of Deidre’s dirty secrets is out. Are there more? Of course! We’re in the middle of a loose Melrose Place homage. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
At the next HOA meeting, Deidre’s most devastating secret is revealed. Her herb garden is actually illegal, according to HOA bylaws. (Twisting the knife a bit further, Jessica and Honey also pilfered mint from her garden, which they used in the mojitos they’re serving to everyone.) This transgression is punishable by expulsion. Deidre, the queen of the stilted Stepford Wives, is unceremoniously dethroned.
But wait: Did you suspect that this entire thing — the pool, the wigs, the secrets, the mint — was a setup? Did you suspect that the entire setup was a result of behind-the-scenes machinations orchestrated by Honey as revenge for Deidre being mean to her? If yes, ten points to Slytherin. If no, please join me over here, where the easily-convinced and gullible reside.
You see, Honey let Jessica believe she was in charge, but she was really just a pawn in her game. Honey set this whole plot in motion by planting the idea of the pool in Jessica’s head, knowing full well that Jessica would run it past the HOA and that they’d shoot it down. Deidre then led the charge to vote against the pool, which set Jessica on the warpath to bring Deidre down. Hence the stealing of the mint, the making of the mojitos and the realization that the garden was illegal.
So, their plot worked. Cue a Melrose Place–style montage, complete with laughter and ’90s guitars and hair flips. Everything is going precisely to plan … until Deidre shows up at Honey’s door, wearing all black and a wig that looks like it was yanked from a dollar-store Cleopatra costume.
Here is the actual twist: While Deidre was using her HOA handbook as kitty litter — the literal worst idea I have ever heard — she noticed that herb gardens installed before August of 1988 are grandfathered in. Her garden was planted in 1987. She’s back on top!
But still, one question remains: Why so much scheming? Turns out Honey feared that Deidre would poison Jessica’s mind against her, since she’s mad at Honey for breaking up her best friend’s marriage. But friends that book club together stay together, forever. It’d take a lot more than Deidre to destroy Jessica’s bond with Honey.
Meanwhile, what happens to the pool? Well, here’s a ridiculous sentence: Louis was supposed to judge an underwater-hold-your-breath contest between Emery and Eddie, but got distracted by his neighbor across the street wearing a faded blue T-shirt with a tan vest over it, a fashion statement that effectively says, “I needed to make this rag more presentable, so I grabbed my uncle’s church suit and a pair of stonewashed dad jeans.” Eddie’s a stinky cheater, so during the contest, he cheats. Louis, distracted by the ineffable “cool” of the vest, gives Emery the loss.
And then Emery has a thrashing-tiny-fists, screaming-into-the-void freakout. See, Emery’s always been the kid who bottles everything up and lets it out at unreasonable times. This is one of those times. In an attempt to be helpful, Eddie tells his brother to just say what he feels. So, Emery tells Eddie that he’s a cheater (fair) and that Louis looks like a football player in a post-game press conference (very fair), which hurts their feelings but makes him feel better.
After Emery apologizes to Louis, he reveals his secret for coping with the tiny injustices that make up human life: He has a collection of scream jars. What are scream jars, you may wonder? Scream jars are Mason jars that Emery keeps under his bed, which he screams into when he’s mad. Not the best way to do things, bud.
In the end, almost everything works out. (Hey, Courtney Thorne Smith!) The pool’s got to go. The vest is also gone. And although Emery doesn’t yet have a workable solution for his rage, thank God he kept the scream jars. When Louis realizes that the pool is gone, he hightails it to yell about his feelings into glass, like a real man.
- +90 pool noodles for Jessica digging into her feelings about TV taking more vacation than teachers.
- +80 underwater contests for Emery, the eternal middle child, who keeps all his emotions simmering under the surface. Classic middle-child behavior. Classic.
- +100,000 pool floats for Louis’s giant jade pendant that he never takes off. Yes, I have noticed it before, but it was especially resplendent during this week’s pool scenes, and it merits a mention.