Fresh off the Boat has always been 'freshest' when it covers the holidays, whether looking at how the Huangs tried to celebrate Chinese New Year in Florida, or whenever Louis tries to impress his sons with his hilarious outfits.
Although this episode doesn't go for the same meta-references as the Christmas Carol/Home Alone pastiche of last year's Christmas special, there's enough here to melt the heart of even the coldest Scrooge.
There's a pre-credit sequence which zooms in on Jessica Town (the -scale model of a traditional Victorian Christmas town from the second season - Continuity!)) - and then we're pulled right up to present day 1997, with the mention of Titanic. Louis has always been a Leo fan "ever since Gilbert Grape" and he's so excited about the upcoming release that he pens "Titanic" on the Town's Playhouse building.
Jessica, who acts a little too perfectly in this episode, accuses someone of bringing store bought to a cookie sale and tries to impose her vocal training on the town's out-of tune singers.
Assistance comes in the form of Deidre's friend Holly (guest star Paula Abdul), who teaches performance and movement ("maybe she can make some figgy pudding out of some rotten fruit").
There are more jokes about Titanic, especially when Emery tells Louis he is reading a book about the Titanic and he doesn't want to spoil the ending. But the episode wants to get on with the subplot, and particularly the story involving Nicole's coming out from episode 4.
Now that we are on board with the sitcom's first gay character, we get to see Nicole attempt to approach a girl she likes for the first time. That links nicely with the nineties craze of coffee bars. Thanks to Friends and Frasier, they were everywhere in the nineties.
Eddie is so excited about having coffee with Nicole that he blows Louis off - I'm thinking of having mine iced.
I liked the idea of having the show use a coffee shop for Nicole's introduction to dating, even if the idea of youngsters meeting and drinking coffee seemed a little far-fetched. But on the other hand, the episode got funnier the more coffee the kids drank. I didn't think much of Hudson Yang at first but ever since season 3 he has really grown into the role, assuming a greater confidence, it's less of a stretch to see him growing up to be the badass Eddie Huang, the show's creator (although he has distanced himself from the show saying it has watered down his childhood).
They really go with the Titanic theme (it was the most anticipated film of the year and went on to be the biggest) - to miss it would be unthinkable as Louis puns. It's surprising that no-one else in the family is excited about seeing it.
But just so that Louis does not have to watch the film alone, we get Nicole, overly emotional next door neighbor and no stranger to vicarious tragedy (remember the Diana episode). They visit the cinema together because Marvin can't watch a ship go down in public) and he promises not to let him know they are seeing it.
Honey's love match is Jessie, (she doesn't take any guff from machines) tough and feisty, just the kind of girl we can see Honey being attracted to. The only thing is, Honey is still not sure how to ask someone out. But as Jessie has started to write a smiley-face instead of the 'O' in Nicole, she is sure that she is interested. The idea of Eddie coaching Nicole in love is unlikely, but cute, and it shows how much he has matured.
The auditions start for the choir and it turns out that Evan can sing, no, he can really sing. Wow, the show never prepared us for this. Total Eclipse of the Heart is such a good song for him too. But when Jessica starts singing My Heart Will Go On, it's completely wrong. Not only is it doubtful that she would have got to to learn this song so well with the movie being so new, it's far too saccharine for Jessica to want to sing at all. SO why have they put this in here? It's a shame, because there are other songs she could have sung much better. First bad mistake of the episode.
So its no surprise that Holly doesn't choose her for the carol group, especially since it was Jessica who said that the human eye can only process six people on a doorstep.
Uh-oh, Marvin has found a ticket stub, and a pack of Goobers, and now he suspects something is going on. It's time to go on a stakeout. He usually says some funny, politically incorrect things but not really this time. He's in more of a serious mood. Yet Honey and Louis want to watch Titanic a second time, so they choose disguises and Jessica's ridiculous Lao Ban Santa costume gets another outing.
There are more costumes for the Carolers, with Evan as a very cute David Copperfield (the set designer has a massive Dickens fetish) and the assorted choir wearing ribbons and bonnets.
Back to Greenie's coffee house, and Eddie's drank enough coffee to give Nicole the best pick-up line to write on her coffee cup. The guys are drinking disposable cups (even though they would probably have the original ceramic mugs, I'm letting this detail slide). "Hi Girl, you gay. Do you like instruments? Holler at me." So it's not the most romantic. But as Emery points out, it's a haiku. So when Nicole bottles it, and gives the server her coffee order instead of the cup with the message, she thinks she's missed her chance. Then Allison points out something on the mug and it's a phone number. Look out for this actress appearing in subsequent episodes from now on.
What else happens? Marvin finds Honey and Louis at the cinema dressed in their disguises and decides it must be a great movie, and he agrees to see it with them. Jessica axes Holly, and then loses the rest of the choir, who feel that Jessica does not have enough Christmas spirit. The show has a good surprise in the form of Marvin's Christmas present and a nice closing scene with a group carol in front of the lawn.
Not the strongest episode they have done, but enough to maintain interest, especially the kids in the coffee shop.
Nineties reference: apart from obvious Titanic mentions, there's only Eddie's reference to Friends "I feel like the show Friends makes more sense now."
Chinese-ness: C-. The cast love Christmas like true Americans and don't mention anything about their Chinese traditions.
Jessica's meanness - A+. Firing Holly was petty and she's not funny in this episode for it to be endearing.
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