The world of Fresh Off the Boat is small. It’s a show about family, first and foremost, so the Huangs will always be the main draw. But there’s the rub: If an episode features a foray into outside relationships, it’s bound to fall flat. While Honey, Marvin, and the ladies of the HOA are funny enough, I don’t think they’re strong enough as characters to carry a half-hour like “The Gloves Are Off.” Give me a bottle episode about Grandma Huang! Show me a day in the life of Evan! Air 20 minutes of Jessica actually selling a house! They’re the characters who make Fresh Off the Boat unique — they’re why we watch.
Still, this week’s episode has a few little glimmers of good stuff. Jessica doesn’t understand “venting.” Grandma’s older than we thought. (Or younger, maybe.) And Honey — poor, sweet Honey — finally takes a stand.
In case you forgot about Nicole, Marvin’s daughter from his first marriage, she’s back to remind you of her presence. Nicole just spent a whole week with her mom, and instead of doing any of her homework, she hit the outlet malls instead. Nicole’s mom, by the way, is named Sarah, and she is deliciously louche. “Hey hussy,” she says by way of greeting to Honey, who immediately bristles. It appears they are at odds with how Nicole should be parented. Honey vents to Jessica: She’s stuck mothering Nicole while her actual mother gets to do the fun stuff. Jessica listens, sort of.
The real trouble emerges during Jessica’s ensuing yard-sale conquest. Her tactics for yard-sale success are matched in both scope and tenacity by Sarah, who successfully finagles a vacuum cleaner after recounting a sob story about her Aunt Judy. In this display, Jessica recognizes a kindred spirit … without realizing that the kindred spirit she seeks is actually her best friend’s nemesis.
All is revealed at the Denim Turtle, Jessica’s favorite bar, when she meets up with Honey and also her new best friend, Sarah. Jessica had no idea that the two women knew each other, but with the bar’s Sarah McLachlan rule in effect — no one can leave while Sarah McLachlan is playing — they’re forced to stay there for at least two deep cuts off of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Once that’s over, Honey’s out, followed by Sarah.
Later, Honey vents some more to Jessica, revealing some crucial details. Sarah is the fun mom and Honey’s the bad one. Sarah is a bad influence on her daughter. Sarah doesn’t really need a job because of the alimony she gets from Marvin. (Her gig selling gloves by the bathroom at Macy’s isn’t a job, per se.) This is run-of-the-mill venting, as anyone who has ever vented to someone would know. You’d assume that Jessica would know what venting is because half her life is spent participating in that precise activity to her husband, but that is where you’d be wrong.
What Jessica sees here is a problem to be solved, so she goes about it the only way she knows how. She shows up at Sarah’s work, then gets her fired by lying to her boss and saying she’s racist. When Jessica presents this “gift” to Honey like a cat dragging a dead bird to the front door, Honey is understandably horrified. That wasn’t her intention. Her complaints weren’t a cry for help. They were just that: complaining to complain. However, Jessica’s solutions-oriented mindset caused her to do just that: find a solution. Even though “venting” is one of the concepts Jessica doesn’t understand, she does get that her friend is now in a worse place than she was before. So, she’s going to clear it up.
Back at Macy’s, with Honey in tow this time, she gets Sarah rehired and also forces the two women to play nice. Honey doesn’t want bad things for Sarah, she explains. She just doesn’t want to be the one to handle all the bad herself. Sarah, in turn, is worried that if she isn’t “fun” and “cool,” her daughter won’t want to hang out with her. None of this has anything to do with Marvin, by the way. It’s all about Nicole. Everyone wants her to do well, so they’ll have to work together to make sure that happens. In the end, of course, it all works out. Sure, Marvin’s ignoring Honey for the moment — that’s what happens when you use a guy’s private collection of teeth for a science experiment — but Sarah’s stepping up and being a little tougher on Nicole. Honey doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting anymore.
While Jessica learns about the nuances of friendship, Louis and his kids spend the entire episode trying to figure out how old Grandma is because they want to get her a Jazzy. Great news: She qualifies for a free one if she’s over 65! Less great news: No one, including Grandma, has any idea how old she is. They asked Cousin Susan, who didn’t appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night. They asked Grandma, who doesn’t really know, and picked her birthday based on the first time she ever tasted steak. They didn’t keep records, really, back in her day. A baby was just born and that was that. But she still needs that Jazzy. So, under the guise of a school report, Emery conducts an impressive amount of research based off a picture of Grandma as a baby. He researches the make and model of the tractor in the background, ultimately estimating that Grandma Huang is 69 years old or so. Younger than I thought, but old enough to get that Jazzy.
+10 Jazzy scooters and one backup wheelchair for the whole debate about Grandma’s real age. I’m not sure if a birth certificate exists for my grandmother, either, and her age is simply what my mother says. I’ve never questioned it, but if I did, I’d probably have to backdate a picture of a tractor, too.