Fresh Off the Boat
Finally! An episode that gives me what I’ve always wanted — Grandma Huang — Jenny, if you’re nasty — front and center. The relationship Grandma Huang has to the rest of the world has thus far been very limited. We know she likes Garfield, Mountain Dew, and Combos. We know she’s in a wheelchair because her feet have been bound. We can also tell that she’s probably been itching to get out of the house for a while now. “Driving Miss Jenny” goes a little deeper on Louis’s relationship with his mother without being hack-y or overly sentimental, and it brings some light into the life of a character who’s just as interesting as everyone else.
We open with Grandma rolling through the streets of suburban Orlando in the motorized wheelchair the family bought her, enjoying the freedom only a lawn mower engine attached to a comfortable chair controlled by a joystick can afford.
Louis is appalled, though she’s been doing it for a few weeks now. He hates the idea of her going out alone — she’s never been out in this country by herself, and because her English vocabulary is comprised of Garfield quotes and a basic understanding of the plot of Cheers, he’s worried that she could find herself in trouble.
Meanwhile, Eddie’s talking to Evan, who is handling his house-sitting business affairs over spring break. He’s raking in $400 a week changing cat litter and collecting the mail, and Eddie wants in. He’s amazing at things he actually cares about — rap and clothes— but he’d also be amazing at business. Likely because he cares about making the kind of money a 9 year old boy with a penchant for madras button-downs and Nantucket red shorts is making. In Eddie’s eyes, Evan’s on the precipice of joining the ranks of Jay Z, Russell Simmons, and Puff Daddy. This won’t go well for either child.
Jessica’s spring cleaning is in advance of a yard sale that seems to be comprised mostly of Emery’s stuff. His room was full of crap he didn’t use any more, plus two bags of garbage. Actual garbage. Stained shirts, 7-Up cans, things of sentimental value. What he plans to do with all of it, of course, is to keep it for his grandkids. This is communicated to us, the viewers at home, via Emery Huang in This Is Us levels of old-age makeup. As someone who still has piles of unopened mail from the early 2000s in a box somewhere, I get it. But this won’t fly in Jessica’s house.
He can’t keep everything, but he can fill a very small box with what he wants. The rest has to go.
Louis’s plan to keep his mother a prisoner in his house and off the mean streets of Orlando begins with a letter from his insurance company that he made using the Microsoft Word business-letter template at Cattleman’s. Here’s her old chair, ready and waiting for her. Of course he’ll go grocery shopping for her! And of course she’ll find him at the grocery store, back in action in a newer and better chair. One of her mahjong friends checked on that letter and found out that not only was it fake, she was qualified for a newer and faster chair. Undeterred, Louis chaperones her to mahjong, perched at her elbow like a creep (or a son who can’t handle seeing his mother free in the world like she never was before).
Emery’s managed to fit everything in a box, but he’s stuffed his bean bag chair with everything else. He’s on a runaway train to Hoarderville. Enter Jessica Huang, a stricter and much less joy-centric Marie Kondo, who will sit with her blessed middle child and sort through his crap, item by item.
The Kondo-ing of Emery’s life is proving just how special Jessica’s youngest child is. This isn’t what he did in D.C., though. He had a hard time when he moved to Orlando, and hoarding is how he dealt with it. Emery doesn’t remember D.C. but he wants to remember Orlando. This was his own special cry for help and thankfully it’s finally heard when Jessica comes in with a great solution: a photo album. He’ll keep the pictures but not the actual things. Not a bad bonding idea.
Evan runs his house-sitting business with the fastidiousness you’d expect from a child who favors a tucked-in polo shirt over anything else. He’s measuring an orchid’s development when Eddie points out that they’ve done pretty much everything that they possibly could. Evan disagrees, but Eddie, seeing a way to make money without doing a lick of work, sends Dave over instead — an easy transition for him from day laborer to middle management.
Evan will not stand for this and confronts his feckless brother over a hoagie. Evan hired Eddie, but Eddie’s trying to teach him a lesson about business. This is how it works! “A good businessman values his own time, right?” he says. Sadly, this logic makes sense. Evan’s going to be changing things.
Grandma’s in the house after having ditched her son for mortifying her in front of her friends. He forbids her to leave, because that’s now how this works. But she’s the mom and she’s got a hot date with Warren from the senior center. A brief note: Grandma Huang speaks Chinese almost exclusively yet everyone on the show, including people who are not her family, can understand her. There is no explanation provided for this fact and I’m willing to dismiss it as a symptom of TV reality, but I hope that at some point we get some clarity on whether or not Grandma speaks English. Maybe she gave Mandarin lessons to her friends and they’re all just playing along.
Louis is waiting up for his mom. She’s still not home. When the doorbell rings, it’s Warren. He lost Grandma. Louis wastes no time and calls the police, only to be interrupted by call waiting. It’s his mom, stranded at a place called Greenies because her chair ran out of juice. Rushing to her side, Louis lectures her about how she can’t just leave the house by herself. But as suspected, the chair has been a ticket to freedom and a life she’d never imagined for herself. The chair is her happiness. It’s possibility, freedom and a sense of autonomy that she so desperately needs. Louis can’t help himself from driving next to his mom as she wheels herself home, but indulges her by playing music she likes out of the car window. “You’re a good son,” she says. The next day, he gives her the actual key to her freedom: a cell phone. Things can only go up from here.