Fresh Off the Boat, Season 3, Episode 11: “Clean Slate”
Original airdate January 19, 2017.
Microsynopsis: The Huangs are pleased to realize that for once, they are set to begin the Chinese new year with the much-desired clean slate, with no unsettled debts, disputes, or grudges, but with a day left in the old year, Jessica is worried that she’ll find some trouble to stir up, so she asks Emery — since he gets along with everyone — to stick with her and make sure she doesn’t get into an argument with the dry-cleaner, from whom she needs to pick up her new year’s dress. Eddie is assigned to take care of a visiting cousin, whom he doesn’t consider worth his time or energy. Eddie’s stunned to discover that the cousins have something in common. Evan, stuck with a bad haircut, is dismayed to learn that the angry letter he wrote to his barber and planned to mail after the lunar new year has been mailed. Louis tries to help him intercept the letter before it’s delivered to his favorite barber.
Good: It’s really nice to see Emery get a central role in the A story; and I can’t remember when he last featured with Jessica as his own person, and not half of a pair of brothers. I said near the end of last season that Forrest Wheeler was emerging as the best actor of the three Huang boys, and a lot of it shows in this episode.
Bad: The freestyle rap battle is as bad a device as the dance-off or sing-off. It seldom works, and most of the time it’s embarrassingly cheesy. And the bad haircut thing (okay, I laughed once, but it was a very quick laugh and nobody heard me) is cheap. And really? Another TV show with the intercept-the-mail plot? It’s like the Huangs never watch television, or they’d recognize immediately that stopping the mail never works. This plot should have been retired when the Simpsons dropped the mic on it in 1991. Evan would have been far too young to catch that episode, but Louis should have seen it.
FOB moment: The seriousness with which the Huangs treat Chinese New Year is its own FOB moment, just as it was in last season’s episode. If the show continues for a few more seasons, I would like to see a Chinese New Year episode each year.
Soundtrack flashback: “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar (1980, sung as “Organize My Dress Socks” by Louis). “Jack & Diane” by John Cougar (1982, chimed by Honey and Marvin’s new, obnoxious wind chimes).
Final grade, this episode: The main story is a nice example of a premise created by circumstances but driven and resolved by characters. Rather than force humor from a “wouldn’t it be funny if?” position, the writers coax the humor from well-established characters, so when Emery leaves his mother in the car to be soothed by the sounds of National Public Radio, it makes sense and it’s believable. Better, the sentimental wrap-up, when Jessica says she wants to be more like Emery, is completely hard-earned by two years of consistent development of Jessica’s and Emery’s characters. There’s a certain other sitcom reviewed in this space every week that forgets far too often how to do this. The rest of this episode is kind of awful, but I love the Emery-Jessica stuff. C+.