Of any network sitcom currently on the air, Fresh Off The Boat may have produced the most holiday episodes this season. So far, the series has tackled Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chinese New Year, and, if we’re bending the rules a bit, Eddie’s twelfth birthday. This makes sense, given the show’s frequent exploration of the differences (and similarities) between the traditions of the Huangs and those of the mostly white, middle-class suburban community where they live. And what better vehicle to explore cultural tradition than a holiday?

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While “Love And Loopholes” focuses on the American edition of Valentine’s Day (the Chinese equivalent has fallen on August in recent years), the episode becomes less about the holiday itself and more about the characters’ romantic education that could potentially spring from it. Curiously, however, only one of them actually learns anything about love, which strips away any thematic unity and renders the rest of the half hour more than a little scattershot.

That character ends up being Emery, who gets a rare and welcome opportunity in the spotlight when Marvin and Honey babysit him and Evan on V-Day. They’re doing this so the overworked Louis and Jessica can spend the night together on the town, although that proves to be a lie when Emery wanders back to the house during a game of “Dare or Dare” with Marvin. Upon entering his home, he discovers that his parents haven’t gone out at all; they’re furiously and passionately in the throes of…doing their taxes. Where most kids would be relieved to not walk in on their mother and father having sex, the hopelessly romantic Emery is bummed out. As played with believable, straightforward sweetness by Forrest Wheeler, he believes love should be vocal, constant, and out in the open, as it is for the newly married Honey and Marvin.

As the episode progresses, Louis, Jessica, and—at one point—Marvin, explain the subtleties of affection to Emery with a complexity usually not seen on family sitcoms. Love, they tell him—especially in a longstanding marriage—is constantly mutating, constantly evolving, constantly proving how different it is from couple to couple. For the Huangs, a family where warm-and-fuzzy isn’t always the go-to demeanor, the romantic gestures may be smaller, quieter. But that doesn’t mean they’re not just as valid as their neighbors’ PDA, especially when considering Honey marks wife number-three for Marvin.

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That marital revelation is where “Love And Loopholes” starts to wander off the path. On the plus side, Marvin’s time spent watching over Evan develops the former’s foibles, foibles that, while amusing, inform the audience how easily the man’s upper-class quirks could lead to the end of a marriage. Goodnatured as he is, Marvin is clearly a guy who does what he wants, albeit with Ray Wise’s weird yet entertaining nonchalance that recalls his work on Twin Peaks and even Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.

But on the downside, Evan discovering that Honey is Marvin’s third and not his second wife creates a conflict that, because of its low impact and quick resolution, doesn’t need to be there. If they wanted it to be more significant, Nahnatchka Khana and her writers could have easily saved it for another episode where they have more time to explore it. Here though, it becomes second banana to Emery’s arc, and takes away from another big storyline involving Eddie. After winning two tickets to a Janet Jackson concert with the help of Trent, he feels pressure to choose his friend over Alison. But Eddie insists that all three of them go, and they’ll just buy an additional ticket from a scalper outside the venue. Of course, the scalper makes off with the two tickets they do have, leaving Eddie and his pals stranded at the gates of the Amway Center. Lucky for them, they run into Jackson’s producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who offer them three VIP seats that end up being behind a pillar in the arena.

Outside of Jam and Lewis’ wooden acting, the concert thread flounders because it never goes anywhere. You keep waiting for Eddie to arrive at some vital realization about love the same way his brother does—perhaps the eternal dilemma of whether to choose your friends over your girlfriend and vice versa—but it never happens. He and Trent win Janet Jackson tickets, they lose Janet Jackson tickets, they re-obtain Janet Jackson tickets, they’re disappointed with their seats, and they go home. The writers have the opportunity to examine how frustrating dating can be during adolescence, a time where you have almost no agency over transportation, your own schedule, and even your own feelings. But instead, the episode just deflates, with Eddie, Trent, and Alison learning nothing from their experience. Obscured by a stone pillar, they can’t help but come off as a cold satellite to the more complicated (yet underwritten) message at “Love And Loopholes”’ center. Good thing there are plenty of other holidays left in the year.

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Stray observations

  • Even though Marvin’s secret doesn’t go anywhere, I still hope we get more Lynchian weirdness from Wise in FOTB’s future.
  • After Rob Huebel’s appearance last week, I was hoping we’d get a guest appearance from another member of Human Giant, or at least another all-star from the Earwolf world.
  • Similarly, between Huebel and Paul Scheer on Fresh Off The Boat and June Diane Raphael on The Muppets, ABC is cornering the market on showcasing cast members from Burning Love.
  • I’m sure Fresh Off The Boat would have gladly featured Janet Jackson if they could get her, but I’m glad they didn’t. A sitcom can only withstand so many awkward celebrity cameos before it collapses under its own star power.
  • “The Rhythm Nation is built on honesty and, obviously, rhythm.”
  • “You put me in some hot water, kid. But real men forgive each other. Instantly.”

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