Fresh Off the Boat
At last, Fresh Off the Boat has a Valentine’s Day episode that doesn’t go full-on red hearts and chocolate and lingerie. “Neighbors With Attitude” takes on some lighter aspects of the holiday, to be sure, but it feels subdued and just the teensiest bit lackluster. To be fair, out of all the themed episodes a sitcom can do, Valentine’s Day feels the most unnecessary. Save the jokes and the props for Halloween, people.
My favorite thing about Jessica and Louis as a couple is that, as per tradition, they spend Valentine’s Day doing their taxes. It would make sense that the foreplay for such a specific celebration would involve checking the mail. What makes less sense is that instead of tax forms, there’s a freshly prepared pastrami sandwich waiting like some sort of meaty omen. Of what, I couldn’t tell you. “It scares me,” Jessica whispers. I have to say, I agree.
Naturally, they take the incident straight to the police, who politely inform the Huangs that sandwich harassment is not a police matter. A neighborhood watch, however, would solve this problem nicely. At the next HOA meeting, we meet a new neighbor, Ann — played by Courtney Thorne-Smith, in a nice nod to Jessica’s passion for Melrose Place — and her son Peter. Jessica also brings up the necessity of a neighborhood watch, citing the pastrami sandwich as crucial evidence. Inspired by the HOA’s enthusiasm, Jessica starts formulating extensive plans for what a neighborhood watch should look like. Unfortunately, those plans are all for naught, as it seems that no one wants her in it.
Jessica’s probably correct in assuming that the HOA ladies don’t think she’d be a good leader or work well with others. The way she chooses to prove them wrong is to demonstrate her aptitude at “Where’s Waldo,” complete with a laser pointer that she deploys to find the titular troublemaker in the amount of time it would take an average person to open the book to the correct page. So, yeah, her suspicions are correct, as corroborated by Deidre. The ladies don’t want Jessica in the neighborhood watch because she’s not a team player.
Incensed by this revelation, Jessica confronts Louis, who is as honest as anyone with eyes and a strong will could be. Sure, she’s bad at being a team player. But he’ll help her! Enter the “Jessica Huang Learning to Play With Others” training montage, in which she battles some fairly standard situations that anyone encounters in the workplace or in the community: dealing with “challenging” teammates, listening to someone else’s bad idea, watching as your good idea is repeated by someone else and holding your tongue while they get the credit. None of these scenarios are pleasant, of course; they are frustrating at best and infuriating at worst. Meanwhile, it makes sense that Jessica has finally reached this point, because how on Earth has she gotten this far in life without learning how to show her charm? I must admit, though, I would’ve loved it if she forged ahead as a prickly, difficult, headstrong woman uninterested in pleasing others. Regardless of my desires, she passes the tests with flying colors. She’s ready.
At the next HOA meeting, it’s time. She politely suggests a few helpful additions to their neighborhood-watch initiative, which are currently just signs that say “Neighborhood Watch,” by floating security cameras and a nightly patrol as additional safeguards. No one really bites. Jessica and Louis are the ones who got sandwiched, so, as per Deidre, the signs are sufficient.
Defeat is hard to accept, but it’s especially hard for Jessica. She was nice! She acted like an adult and got nothing in return! Louis wants to make his wife happy, so he does something that seems truly insane: He steals the welcome frog that the HOA presented to Anne upon her arrival to the neighborhood. This plan backfires in a spectacular fashion, of course. That lawn frog was actually a Hide-a-Key for her son, Peter. And Peter’s missing, by the way.
Thank God for Jessica’s security camera, installed without permission, but just in case. Louis confesses to his wife that he stole the frog to make a case for stronger neighborhood-watch tactics, and she’s touched. He cares! He loves her! But back to the tape, which is helpful for two reasons. First, Marvin put the sandwich in their mailbox because he was hiding it from Honey. Second, Marvin told Pete to go get a new key made at the mall. It’s a good thing Peter was wearing his striped shirt, because Jessica picks him out of a sea of people in about five seconds.
Meanwhile, yet again, the children’s plotlines are pretty dull. (It’s time to mix it up, Fresh Off the Boat!) Emery spends the entire episode looking for Grandma Huang’s hidden stash of money. He finds something, but it’s actually Evan’s HOA petty cash. Eddie, on the other hand, is trying to kiss Alison. Remember Alison? His girlfriend? Remember that Eddie had a girlfriend? Yeah, neither did I, but here she is, and there they are. Anyway, there’s this Valentine’s Day dance that is essentially Seven Minutes in Heaven, but for two hours. Inspired by the romance that blossomed between Tupac and Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice, Eddie wants his first kiss to be special. The dance is a bust, though, so Eddie, Alison, and his wingman Trent head to a diner instead. Despite a very romantic, one-milkshake-two-straw scenario, Eddie chokes on a conversation heart and is saved by Trent, who improbably sucks the obstruction out of his mouth (??) instead of performing the Heimlich maneuver.
It’d be fair to count THAT as Eddie’s first kiss, but he and Alison actually enjoy a very sweet moment outside anyway, with Trent watching, natch. Also, Peter makes it back to his mom’s house and Jessica gets to join the Neighborhood Watch Association. First order of business? Ann and Deidre are out. They did lose a kid on their watch, after all. Happy Valentine’s Day!