Fresh Off the Boat Recap: Squatter’s Rights

By
Constance Wu as Jessica. Photo: Nicole Wilder/ABC
Fresh Off the Boat
Episode Title
Rent Day
Season
2
Episode
21
Editor’s Rating
4/5

Jessica, Honey, and Grandma Huang need to get an HGTV spin-off about flipping homes. Even though they are fictional characters in a fictional world, their HGTV show would immediately supplant Fixer Upper and Property Brothers as the best thing on the channel. "Rent Day" isn't quite the interior-design-and-demo-day porn I'm hoping for, but it's a solid entry in a wobbly second season. I'm reassured that even as my faves falter, they always find a way to bounce back, just like a bad check. 

As we learn in "Rent Day," the investment property has turned out to be a lot more than a throwaway aside. It's an actual plot device! The black mold and termites are gone, so it's finally ready to sell. There's even a willing buyer, who wants to buy the house and rent it so that he can sit back, relax, and watch the money pile up. He's ready to sign the papers, but Jessica, that wily fox, sniffs out what seems like a clear and easy way to keep making money. Rather than sell the house to some man who didn't put time and effort into making it the beautiful two-story colonial that it is today, the new plan is to keep said house, rent said house, and profit.

"Why buy a sickly cow and then fatten it up and sell it for beans?" she asks. "No, you milk that cow every month. For 800 years." Although the particulars of her logic are spotty, I'm generally onboard with the sentiment. They've been calling this plot device the "investment" property for like 15 episodes. They invested! Let it do its job, which is to make all of the money and pay for Evan to go to med school. 

Here's a selection of things that I about being a landlord: it feels like a lot of work; you have to get a lawyer to do something about contracts; and you need to be organized and have a working knowledge of pivot tables or something. Honey totally agrees, but Jessica thinks it's "fluff." Honey is right; Jessica is wrong. 

I imagine that Jessica's process for selecting a tenant is akin to one of those job interviews where you sit in a conference room, then say the same monologue about yourself five times in a row while various people shuffle in and out to listen. Upon viewing the tenant montage, I am correct and feel good about that. The couple that manages to pass her formidable process is an apple-cheeked, well-scrubbed pair, who also provided LSAT scores and college transcripts and are ex-lawyers who are now doctors. So, they're perfect! Yes, move in. Sign something maybe. Who cares, live in the house, milk the cow, make bank, repeat. 

They get the house and everyone wins for a brief moment, until Jessica answers the phone while celebrating with Grandma and Honey. The check bounced. Uh oh. Jessica has already told her business partners that everything was fine, so they're waiting with hands outstretched for that guap. And that's when Jessica's hubris comes for her, like it always does. She writes the checks without telling anybody about this bump in the road, then goes along her merry way. 

Stretching the definition of "doctor" to its very limit, it turns out the tenants are failed drug-trial guinea pigs … with cash-flow problems … who dropped out of law school because it was too hard. They certainly do not want to face the wrath of Jessica, but watching it rev up across her face is a delight. Of course, she would have avoided all of this had she run a credit check, but you know what, here we are.  

These scammers living in Jessica's very nice suburban Orlando rental home are basically the embodiment of every think piece about Millennials on the internet. They drive beers into the living room via remote-control car and eat takeout pizza and sit on lawn chairs, basking in the fact that the law is on their side. But Jessica is a meddler and a fixer. This is the merely one obstacle between her and money. So, a few simple solutions: Unplug the cable, grow your own food, take the Florida state bar exam, fix the toilet yourselves. Or just get a chicken, which is what they decide to do to save money. Jessica is pleased until she realizes that the costs of homesteading it in the ’burbs have actually put her squatters in the hole, so that didn't help matters much. Also, dude is wearing a baja hoodie and they still have a chicken. No one wins.

Jessica pulls a cop over to ask for help with these interlopers. The cop breaks the news to her that, yes, the law is working against her. So, she does what any shady landlord would do: She shuts off the water and the power, then sends in a cat to kill the chicken. None of this works. The tenants make lemonade out of the delicious lemons Jessica lobs their way, so now it's time to own up.

Cue wistful piano music to underscore the heart-to-heart Jess has with her BFF. She wanted to be like the Oprah of the group, and her pride wouldn't let her admit that she messed up. But Honey makes a valid point: Oprah got fired once and she didn't give up. Now she has a horse farm and a book club and the undying love of both Gayle and Stedman. If Oprah can do it, Jessica can do it, too. With the magic of television, the house is sold and the tenants are now the new owners' problem.

Whither the Huang men? Bumbling around at home while Mom handles business, duh. Eddie wants a watch. Louis wants to teach his son a lesson about responsibility. Emery and Evan want to continue solving petty crime via their in-house detective agency, the Huang Boys, which is like Encyclopedia Brown but better. Eddie borrows Louis's watch with the promise to Pops that he'll not lose it. Does anyone see where this is going? I certainly do, but let's press on. 

Eddie, naturally, misplaces the watch. It was on his wrist, then he took a shower, and now it's gone. The Huang Boys are on the case! First, they secure the only witness — G-Dubs, Eddie's glow worm — and dust him for prints. He's clean. Then, the first of at least two actual twists: Louis saw the watch on the same day that Eddie "misplaced" it, so he stole it to teach him a lesson. Except now he can't find it. Where is this watch? How big is their house?! Is the fourth Huang son whom no one talks about actually a magpie? If he is, he would definitely steal watches, the remote control, and probably a pair of chopsticks every couple of days.

Sadly, the magpie question goes unanswered and the Huang household is left with a surplus of watches. Eddie is wearing a watch — a new one that Louis bought. Emery and Evan also "found" a watch, but it's really just a replacement they bought with the money they made from "solving" cases so they wouldn't blemish their immaculate detective record. And, somehow, there's a third watch — the original watch! It's in Grandma's possession, after she took it to teach Louis that it's wrong to mess with Eddie. Emery's right: The only victim here was the truth. 

Authenticity Index:

  • +95 congratulatory snickerdoodles for Louis's flat-out refusal to indulge his child's desire for material possessions and for teaching him a lesson about responsibility via chicanery and confusion. Nothing in life is free, kids. 
  • +87 house-closing Chipwiches for Jessica's gimlet-eyed focus on the bottom line. Of course she wants to be a landlord! It'd be a perfect fit for her personality. Why wouldn't you want your investment to make money for you in the long run?
  • +A lifelong membership to the Hat of the Month club for the "Rent Day" using Jessica's passion for the investment property as a family friendly metaphor for how parents see their children and their success. Just saying!