So when I was writing my mini-recap for this episode, I wrote about how Jeff’s earlier successes have created new opportunities, but navigating them requires a different skill set than the one he’s been using thus far. I thought I’d discovered something neat and new in this concept, but it turned out to be a well-documented human resources principle called The Peter Principle. Oh well. I’m gonna stick with this.
The Peter Principle says you get promoted in an organization as high as your competency lets you. (Unless you’re Jan Brewer) I’d say Jeff is going through the same thing. So far he’s relied on two primary skills to build his business….his natural creativity and his obsessive attention to detail. It’s only when his business expands that we see how those skills help or hinder him in other contexts. He may be insanely creative, but if he starts working for clients, he has to be able to communicate his ideas. Same thing with micro-management. The more business he brings in, the less personal control he can have over everything.
We begin as Jeff is having his realtor and sister-in-law Carrie over for drink, and to celebrate Carrie’s recent sale of a house. But Sarah is late with Carrie’s drink and Jeff gets irritated with her. Right in the middle of the good vibes.
No detail goes unnoticed, important or otherwise
Aside from being amusing, this moment is in the episode to remind us of how much Sarah screws up at things. Keep this in mind for later.
Then we get to the main objective of this episode…Jeff is going to travel to New York City for a meeting with House Beautiful magazine. He has agreed to design their “2010 Kitchen of the Year.”
And not only is House Beautiful commissioning the design, they also plan to build a life-size, fully working unit and put it in Rockefeller Center.
Jeff has apparently been working on his design for a while, because the purpose of the meeting is for him to pitch a rough outline of it. He also has a smaller task on this trip, which is touring a condo in Brooklyn to see if he wants to flip it.
Jenni is tagging along on the trip. She’s not too thrilled about having to sit next to Jeff on a plane for six hours. She recalls previous plane travel with Jeff, when he would periodically flick her, or “lick his finger and touch her hair,” or pick fights with her for “talking too much.” Thank god there are TVs and booze on board.
Would you call this a brother-sister relationship? Being a brother myself, fucking with the hair is a textbook move.
Before they leave for New York, Jeff wants to stop by all the LA projects so he can let the owners know he’ll be gone. He admits here that, although he’s very excited about all these new business opportunities out of state, he hates not being able to personally oversee everything. And since Jenni is tagging along, management duties fall to Sarah who, as Bravo would like to remind us, usually makes a mess of things.
But to Sarah, this is an opportunity to prove her mettle. Or, as she says, “It’s a small test…actually it’s a big test, ‘cause if I eff up, psssssh, I mean, come on.”
Jeff and Sarah spend a lot of time at the Royal Woods renovation, because this is the week when the demo crews will be working in the house—i.e. ripping out pretty much everything so Jeff can renovate later.
Jeff’s confidence in Sarah is already shaky, so he impresses upon her how it’s really important not to destroy the wrong things. Except he does this right in front of the homeowner, Tracey, which serves to transfer all of his own anxieties onto her.
“I think Tracey was more nervous than I was,” Jeff amazingly says later.
And now Jeff can travel in peace.
Back at Valley Oak, Jeff is bitching out Zoila for leaving food scraps in the sink instead of washing them down the drain, which grosses him OUT. (Me too, actually). But then Zoila reminds him today is her birthday, and his gift to her was that he’d be quiet all day. He shuts up.
Jeff throws an informal birthday celebration for all the employees’ birthdays, so today everyone sits down to some lasagna and mini-cupcakes.
Maybe acting anxious about Sarah in front of Tracey wasn’t the best idea, but the birthday celebrations and the daily employee lunches are great managerial moves.
Here, Jeff announces to everyone that Zoila has another birthday gift—they are taking her along to New York. Jeff says it’s because she always needles him about never leaving Valley Oak, and he ribs her back about how he wants to keep her on a tight leash so she can’t escape, but it’s clearly an affectionate gesture.
Still, when Jeff asks Zoila where she wants to sit on the plane, even though she’s never taken a trip with him before, she knows from experience not to sit next to him in a confined space for that long. Doesn’t even have to think about it.
Before they leave for New York, Jeff and Jenni visit Citrus, Jeff’s income property—it’s a condo he’s renovating so he can then rent it out. They want to check it over one last time. When they arrive, they discover that someone has tracked mud all through one of the units. The most likely culprit is the painter, Jesse. Jeff zeroes in on him.
Say what you want about Jeff, but the man isn’t shy about airing a grievance.
Even though he’s the only person around, Jesse tries to deny it, (by blaming it on some “black woman”), so Jeff makes Jesse show the soles of his boots. Guilty. A nice little bit of ass kicking before the big trip.
Then Jeff, Jenni, and Zoila fly to New York—apparently no cameras allowed on the plane, because we don’t see any of that. When they arrive, they have some time to hang out, and they head to Bloomingdales. Zoila claims she doesn’t have any non-uniform outfits, so Jeff is treating her.
In a talking-head Jeff acts like he hates shopping, and the only reason he’s even going along is because he doesn’t want Jenni’s terrible taste inflicted on Zoila. But he’s pretty clearly having fun with it. He keeps trying to get Zoila to try on outfits that accentuate her bust, even if some of them are “sleazy.”
Eventually they find a salesperson, Leticia, to help things along, and they all head to the dressing rooms to try some things on. When Zoila comes out to show one off to Jeff, his designer instincts kick in and he starts giving notes:
I don’t know anything about clothes, so this looks great!
He thought the first top was too tight, so Zoila tries out another one. And his advice appears to have worked, because Zoila digs it, and tries to sing “Milkshake.”
It’s been a successful shopping trip. On their way out Zoila says she’s excited to try on her “GD dress,” “GD” being “goddamn.”
Back in LA, Sarah is on her way over to Royal Woods. Bravo sets it up to look like like she hasn’t got a handle on things, because they show her getting a little lost on the way. But once Sarah gets to showing the demo guys what to take out, it goes fine. Everything’s fine.
Next Jeff and Jenni head over to Brooklyn for the “business opportunity” mentioned earlier. Jeff says he hasn’t been given much info heading into this so he’s not totally sure what it’s about. The building is a cutting-edge kind of place:
And so is the building manager, Don. He’s got a smooth yet formidable presence. It seems like everything he says has been reworked four or five times beforehand. He has a euphemism for the recession: it’s when everything “retreated from the market.”
I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do know I want to buy something from him
Don takes Jeff and Jenni upstairs to see the unit. To demonstrate the best attribute, he has everyone just listen to the room in silence. They don’t hear anything, and that’s the point—Don actually pumps air into the rooms, insulating them from outside noise.
But it soon becomes clear what Don’s really after. He doesn’t want to hire Jeff, he wants Jeff to buy this unit and flip it, dangling huge profits before Jeff’s eyes.
Jeff isn’t interested. The business isn’t ready to take on this project right now, because Jeff’s so new to the New York market.
Still, that Don guy was like a spider. The smallest disturbance in the web, like Jeff coming into the market, and he’s on the scene with a pitch. Crazy. Let’s see what Zoila is up to…
So just now I looked up what “Zoila” means. In Spanish it’s “Life,” and in English it’s a genus of sea snail.
She’s just chilling in Times Square. Then she cabs it to Little Italy and hits a sidewalk café. And then it’s back uptown to the 30 Rock observation deck. She’s enjoying her vacation from work and Jeff.
Jeff and Jenni are now on their way to the House Beautiful meeting. It’s at Hearst Tower.
This is supposed to be a casual “kickoff meeting” to discuss the direction of the project. Jeff says he’s excited.
They get upstairs to the conference room. All the magazine overlords are there, like this guy:
Jeff is grateful they’re giving him this opportunity. Then, they throw him a curve. While he thought the kitchen would be on display for a week, it’ll actually be up for six. That’s longer than Rockefeller Center puts up the Christmas tree. Sheeit.
And if you’re talking pressure, while this is going on, Sarah is ordering a lamp from a fixture store.
A big day
Back to Jeff. He’s going over the basic direction he’s thinking about, a modern-style kitchen, and he seems kind of tentative, willing to accept whatever direction they want to go in. But they reassure him that he’s the guy, and they’ll be following his lead.
Then they throw another curve. Apparently there’s a second meeting upstairs in the penthouse, a bigger meeting, and it starts right after the current one. But don’t worry, they say. It’ll be “fun.”
Jeff, of course, is totally unprepared and scared shitless. Which, I thought, was the point. My gut tells me the House Beautiful people cooked this up to see how well Jeff handles pressure. Verrrrrrrry devilish.
Oh yeah, there’s the fourth-act vignette right now. I wasn’t even anticipating it because of what Jeff is going through right now.
Sarah discovers one of the dogs is eating cat shit.
OK, now it’s back to New York. Jeff, Jenni, and the editors arrive at the penthouse conference room, where about forty-five people are waiting. It also has big windows.
He’s in front of the entire WORLD
He sits at his seat. They’ve made up a name-card for him.
Is that Jeff’s title? Why not “Jeff Lewis: Human”?
He and Jenni shuffle their papers around but Jeff still has no idea what’s coming. Then he is introduced. The editor introducing him says he is there to give the “vision for the kitchen.” So it’s a speech.
Everyone turns to Jeff. He starts stammering through some thank-you’s, and they edit it to look pretty excruciating.
But before we go any further, let’s check in with Sarah one last time. The demo at Royal Woods has gone well and they are now installing the flooring. Sarah’s pleased, and she’s even enjoyed being on her own, because there was no Jeff hovering over her. She enjoyed being the HBIC, or Head Bitch In Charge.
Whatever. Back to Jeff. After his introduction, he starts rambling about vague goals like having a design that “accommodates a lot of people without becoming dangerous.” It looks bad
But then he makes a joke about how the editor-in-chief only gave him the kitchen because he wanted to meet Zoila. And it goes over! That gives Jeff enough confidence to start working the magic.
He gets up out of the chair, pretending the room is the kitchen, and starts demonstrating where everything is going to go. People are digging it.
Then it’s back to Zoila. She’s concluding her New York day by purchasing some cheapo luggage to carry all her new clothes in. It’s been a nice experience for her…the traffic and commotion remind her of her hometown back in Nicaragua, but overall a good time.
Jeff is wrapping up his impromptu demonstration, too. Everyone is eating out of his hand by this point. In a talking-head he lets himself bask for a moment…“This is like the designer Academy Awards, and I’m up for Best Picture slash Best Actor…and I have a good chance of winning…actually, I won. I won them both.”
But really he hasn’t lost sight of his main goal, to grow the business and
And on the last night of the trip, Jeff takes Jenni and Zoila to his favorite Italian restaurant so they can celebrate. But Jeff also has something to offer Zoila, which he’s been thinking about for a while. When he has his kid in a couple years, Zoila can help him take care of the kid and he’ll hire someone else clean the house. And when the kid is old enough, Zoila retires and he’ll take care of her.
Jenni offers some perspective in a talking-head. Zoila’s been a loyal employee for years, but she’s also been something of a maternal figure in his life. He lost his mother at a young age and Zoila has filled some of the void. That’s one reason why he’s given her this amazing birthday gift, to show his gratitude.
Normally we only see them dealing with their day-to-day irritation with each other, but a rare moment like this reveals how much they do care. And as much as this episode has been about testing Jeff’s character, I’d venture to guess he wouldn’t be here without people who care about him.