Fresh Off the Boat
Are you a soda mixologist or a soda purist? I’m with Eddie’s ex Alison. I wholeheartedly doubt my abilities — and anyone else’s — to improve upon the market-ready concoctions created by industrial flavor scientists. But Eddie, ever the suburban rebel, has hatched his own recipe for a murky sugar sludge called Soda Suicide, made of Dr. Pepper, Squirt, Fanta, Mountain Dew, and a single tab of a cherry-flavored Jolly Rancher. Hearing their firstborn son (and the last to mature) make his way from the kitchen toward the couch, Louis and Jessica await the inevitable spill, which, actually, never happens. Eddie finally figured it out: He can place his Shaq cup on the coffee table before sitting down on the sofa. And with that stain-preventing epiphany, the adult Huangs are finally out of “kid jail.”
Eddie is technically Fresh Off the Boat’s protagonist, but the heart of the show has always been his parents. Early in the series, Louis (the optimist) and Jessica (the hater) argued about how much of America to accept and adopt for their family. But we’ve never really met them as non-parental individuals, and “Kids” disappointingly squanders the opportunity to get to know them as people beyond sitcom high jinks. Seeing the possibilities of long-awaited nights out fade as Honey and Marvin suddenly fall victim to baby fever, the Huangs decide to dissuade the dentist from reversing his vasectomy. Don’t worry about Honey’s plumbing. “I’ve never had a problem getting pregnant,” she insists.
The next day, Louis and Jessica offer to take Marvin to the doctor — part of a larger plan to remind him how horrid the early days of parenthood can be. In the episode’s funniest gag, the Huangs walk their horrified neighbor through a park filled with troubled slobs napping on benches and the grass. Why are there so many homeless people in the park, wonders Marvin. They’re not homeless; they’re new parents “exhausted from taking care of their kids,” he’s told.
Marvin wasn’t all that sure he wanted to “shoot bullets” again, but now he’s overcome by certainty: He doesn’t want any more kids. When the Huangs drop him off at the hospital entrance, he gets out of their minivan, then speeds toward a bus to get as far away as he can from the reverse vasectomy. Later, at karaoke, Louis and Jessica watch the fight they’ve inadvertently caused between their best friends. “All that I want … is one baby,” Honey sings along to Ace of Base. Septuagenarian Marvin digs a few decades back to chant the song that best captures his mood: Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” As no one is extremely drunk or shaking the glow-in-the-dark tambourine or belting Céline Dion, every one of these characters is doing private-room karaoke wrong. (Fact: The best song to get your over-emotive French Canadian on is “Because You Loved Me.”)
Since they’re loyal friends (and, apparently, terrible neighbors), the Huangs sneak into Honey and Marvin’s house to apologize for trying to convince the dentist out of a second round of fatherhood. (Either Jessica or Evan definitely has the keys to every house on their block.) Honey and Marvin make up and look forward to welcoming a baby into their home, and right on cue, Nicole walks in and declares that she needs to attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (RIP). Someone travel back in time and print adorable baby lesbian Nicole a “Tori & Ani & Joni & k.d.” T-shirt, please.
Meanwhile, the Emery Suck Zone was a little less sucky this week with Grandma Huang in the mix. Still cursed by his unlucky year, Emery does as his grandmother requests and spends more time with her. In a sly reveal, we learn that Jenny has figured out how to turn Emery’s bad luck into her advantage. She asks her middle grandson to handle the ugly knickknacks in her room, like a truly hideous Kermit mug, knowing that Emery will break them by dropping them on the floor. At the senior center, she has him stand by her nemesis, so that the boy’s misfortune will rub off on a rival mah-jongg player. Emery figures out Grandma Huang’s scheme to weaponize his inauspiciousness, but he’s more than sympathetic when Jenny explains, “I have so many enemies … I can’t take them on all by myself.” With his help, though, “I can make a real dent in my list.” If Emery has to be unlucky, he’ll be unlucky in support of his grandmother. Twisted sweetness is one of Fresh Off the Boat’s smartest updates to the family-friendly sitcom, and this resolution is a great example of it.
Eddie’s story line falls flatter, with a contrived situation that involves the high-schooler and his ex pretending for little Evan’s sake that they’re getting back together. Evan and Alison had previously promised that they’d stay friends after her relationship with Eddie falls apart. And so the 14-year-old girl guiltily spends time with her former boyfriend’s little brother in the kind of circumstance you’d only find on a broad comedy.
Cool-as-a-cucumber Alison suddenly flails, lying that she and Eddie are dating again and taking Evan to ride ponies to make him happy. What we do discover is this: Eddie was a bad boyfriend. He didn’t listen to Alison when she talked — which meant he’d missed that she was Jewish and a child of divorce — and he’d totally forgotten that they went to that same horse stable on their second date. Worst of all, he’d chosen to remember the thoughtful Alison as a screeching mini battle-ax, railing against the “wrong” way to drink soda. There’s more than one way to get over a girl, Eddie learns. It might be more emotionally convenient to convert your pain into bitterness and hostility, but it’s not fair to the other person, and it’s certainly not being honest with yourself.
Best ’90s reference: “Honey’s part of that new Generation X I read about in Newsweek.”
Worst ’90s reference: Pogs and Tamagotchis by default, I guess, but only because they’re such overdone callbacks. This episode was actually full of evocative madeleines: Nilla wafers; Leno versus Letterman; Alison’s ribbed sleeveless turtleneck; and the fire-haired, seemingly anemone-fingered, wailing land-mermaid Tori Amos.