Fresh Off the Boat
This week’s episode tackles two things near and dear to my heart: the silliness of organized religion and Costco. How are these subjects related, you ask? Let’s find out.
At the top of “WWJD: What Would Jessica Do?,” we learn two things: 1) Evan’s got a friend named Zack who goes to church and can’t control his bladder, and 2) Jessica Huang loves Costco.
Like every family with a passion for bulk goods, Jessica and Evan do the Costco run on Sundays. They make their lists on Saturdays, of course, but Sunday morning at Costco is the best and the worst time. Quite simply, Costco is Jessica’s happy place. “I feel so calm here,” she says, “Just knowing all the bulk deals are waiting.” Enter the shopping montage, which is so beautifully accurate: Everyone knows the best part of going to Costco is reading books in the book section, marveling at the bulk goods, and touching the dumb things you don’t need but will buy anyway because it’s a good deal. Everything in this montage is correct.
A whole lot of the episode is centered around Costco, so let’s just get the other stuff out of the way. Louis gifts Marvin and Honey a friends-and-family discount at Cattleman’s and, in return, he gets a free teeth-cleaning with bonus whitening. His smile is now so bright, it looks animated. His teeth are white like when Ross bleached his teeth on Friends, but more realistic and therefore much more frightening. They remain that color for the rest of the episode. It is very unsettling.
Meanwhile, Eddie and Emery spend the half-hour dealing with the conundrum of the Costco-sized cereal variety pack: Within said pack, there are usually three items that you actually want and a bunch of other crap that you really don’t. Once the Frosted Flakes are gone, the dregs of the cereal mini-boxes remain. So, the boys make a giant cereal loaf out of all the inferior cereals — essentially a Rice Krispie treat, but with bran flakes — and spend the entirety of the episode chipping away at its bulk in a desultory fashion.
Back to the important Costco stuff. The Sunday following Louis’s unfortunate teeth-whitening, Evan emerges from his room dressed not for bargain shopping but for … church? His incontinent friend Zack invited him to go with his family, and Evan agreed because he’s polite and curious and open to new experiences. The Huangs are areligious at best, but Evan going to church with his friend is a nice way to bring up this Very Important Sitcom Issue without making it feel pedantic. As their youngest toddles off to learn about the Lord, Jessica and her white-toothed husband are shocked. True to my assessment, it turns out the Huangs are lapsed Buddhists with a passing belief in Chinese superstitions who also love Christmas for its pageantry and not its religious overtones. Louis was raised Buddhist; Jessica was not. Why on Earth would her kid want to go to church instead of Costco?
Going to Costco alone just isn’t the same. Reading Angela’s Ashes in a camping chair in the book section isn’t the same. Sitting in a bean-bag chair you will never purchase feels sad. Walking up to the sample lady by yourself, without a tiny critic to judge the sun-dried-tomato penne pasta, is just depressing. You know what isn’t depressing, though? Evan’s super-fun happy time at church. The people are friendly. He gets crackers and grape juice. There’s even a nice story about a man named Noah, a great flood, and his highly impractical solution of building a boat to contain two of each animal to save them from drowning. Evan really liked church for all of these reasons, and so he’s going back.
It’s another casual Saturday night in the Huang household. Emery and Eddie are attempting to beat that brick of healthy cereal into submission, one painful bite at a time. Louis is gargling red wine. And Evan’s praying. Her youngest son’s newfound passion for Christ scares Jessica — after all, she didn’t grow up religious. With the very specific myopia created by a mother’s love, she doesn’t understand what Evan sees in it. Louis reminds her to let Evan explore and figure things out on his own. Jessica’s response to this sage advice? She locks herself in the pantry and pretends to be the voice of God while Evan prays over his breakfast. “Don’t go to church anymore,” she intones through a voice-changer megaphone purchased at Costco for 80 percent off, in an attempt to put the fear of God in her child to, uh, not pay attention to God.
Does this work? Of course not. Evan’s disappointment stings more than anything else and before Jessica and Louis have the time to get into an argument about her God complex, Eddie cracks his tooth on the cereal brick. Lucky for them, there’s a dentist in the family! Marvin is kind enough to take time from his busy schedule of recommending toothpastes with a group of five other dentists (“Four out of five dentists recommend …”) to fix Eddie’s mouth. Oh, and he apologizes to Louis for making his mouth look like a florescent nightmare. One Christian side hug later, they’re good to go.
Back at Costco, Jessica is alone, talking to Marie the sample lady in the salsa/cracker aisle. With the space between the pallet of Ritz crackers and the flat of salsa serving as a de facto confession booth, Jessica tells Marie that she’s afraid she lost her son to religion and will never get him back. Jessica hasn’t taken the time to ask Evan why he likes what he likes. (It’s that love myopia kicking in again.) Basically, church is like Costco: good people, community, values, and snacks. Costco is her church, and Evan’s is regular church. “The only thing that matters to me is that we spend Sundays together,” she tells her youngest. That’s good enough for him and good enough for me.
+ 1,000 Kirkland-brand athletic socks for Jessica’s uncanny knack for sniffing out wasted food. Growing up, I was convinced my mother had planted spies at school who told her when I threw out the orange she gave me in my lunch bag. I’m still not entirely convinced she didn’t.
+ one Costco hot dog with extra relish for the brief but excellent shot of the pantry, full of mysterious red tins and sauces and bags of musty dried things that look like snacks but are actually so many vacuum-sealed packs of woodear mushrooms.