She gets to roll her eyes while her brother, Washington, says and does ridiculous things.
NOTE: I am not related to this family despite our common last name.
After the success of the film “Crazy Rich Asians,” reality show producers began hunting for a real-life version. The first result: “House of Ho” on HBO Max featuring the very rich Ho family of Houston.
The show debuted last week on the streaming service with seven episodes.
Washington Ho was the initial draw. He is a self-proclaimed playboy and lover of excessive partying and drinking.
“Boozing goes with schmoozing, and I love the schmoozing,” Washington said on the show. “My dad was a playboy. My grandfather was playboy. It’s always going to be in my blood.”
He’s also a mama’s boy. “I’m 99.9% sure my mom loves me more than my siblings,” he proclaims in an entirely matter-of-fact way in the second episode. Then he adds, “Who has fun being a good boy? Being a bad boy is way more fun.”
His father, Binh Ho, is a Vietnamese immigrant who came to the United States in 1975 with no money in his pocket, worked at a gas station, then owned a convenience store. He and his wife, Hue, invested their money wisely and became independently wealthy by the 1990s, running a bank and a real estate development company. The Ho story is very much the epitome of the vaunted American dream.
But the person who viewers will likely relate to most is Judy Ho, their only daughter, who graduated from Emory University in 2002 and became an attorney. She is now 40 and recently divorced, raising three young kids. She gave up her career to focus on the kids. Her vibe is down to earth and likable, without the attitude of entitlement that can come with being super-wealthy.
“We didn’t grow up rich,” said Judy in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “I knew what it was like to struggle. We counted dollar bills and coupons. We rolled up pennies and brought them to the bank. It wasn’t until high school that my parents started doing really well. I was old enough to realize we were living differently from our friends. We moved to a bigger house in a better neighborhood. I never took all this for granted.”
It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy the lifestyle. While Washington’s wife, Lesley, decorates a Christmas tree and insists on not over-filling the tree, she says, “Less is more.” Judy scoffs. “You’re definitely not a Ho. More is more!”
Judy was unhappily married for seven years. For her, being single has been freeing. And her major life change happened around the time of the show, which shot in late 2019, finishing up in February, just before the pandemic. (Some of the follow-up interviews were done remotely under COVID-19 restrictions.)
She chose not to include her soon-to-be ex-husband in the show at all. She never mentions him by name. The producers reveal a wedding photo of them with his face blurred out.
She also had to move in with Washington and his wife, Lesley, for six months while her father built her a new home. She knew her parents frowned upon her divorce as both a cultural and religious taboo. (They are all Catholic.)
“They were born in Vietnam, very conservative,” Judy said. “If you were unhappy, you sucked it up for the kids.” Judy, who is American born, does not think that way, believing her own happiness will benefit her kids more.
After she filed for divorce, Judy wasted no time falling in love with a new guy, a doctor she has known for 20 years. She said her marriage was dead for so long, she was ready to move on pretty quickly. She said her divorce now is almost finalized.
The family is also facing another juncture point: Washington is supposed to take over the family business. But his father is reluctant to do so because he perceives his son, who is in his mid-30s, as too immature.
During a scene in the first episode, Washington enters an indoor space donning sunglasses.
Judy asks him: “Why are you wearing sunglasses inside?”
Channeling Tom Cruise’s character in “Risky Business,” he says, “I’m just trying to look cool.”
Judy, in pure sarcasm mode, responds; “Oh. It’s very on brand, Washington!”
She said Washington, as the elder son, is “the favorite. We grew up in the same household under different systems. I had to look out for him in some ways to shield my parents from his bad behavior. I had to play middleman. Even though we’re siblings, he’s very different from me.”
To be fair to Washington, she does genuinely love him, and he does show a softer side in later episodes for the sake of his marriage and his family.
Two secondary characters are also featured: carousing Aunt Tina and cousin Sammy, who works with Washington. Judy is very close to Tina, who encouraged her to get out and date after her divorce.
“She’s comic relief,” Judy said. “I tell my friends she’s like Nicki Minaj. My dad is the oldest of 11 siblings. She’s one of the younger ones and is closer to age to us, so it’s easy for us to relate to her. It’s hard for me to confide [in] my parents. She can go and break it down and mediate.”
Judy’s other brother Reagan chose not to show up much on the show. He also doesn’t like to deal with his family’s weighty expectations. He appears in the fifth episode briefly to duck hunt and have dinner.
She still has plenty of friends in Atlanta after four years at Emory two decades ago. At the time, she deliberately chose schools far from home.
“I needed to branch out, find a new place outside of Texas to meet new people,” she said. “I loved Atlanta. I was in Buckhead a lot. And Midtown was getting hot.”
She did a Zoom viewing party last Thursday night with some of her Emory friends to watch the show.
And after viewing season one, Judy said she has no regrets. “Everything I put out there is the truth I was living at the time,” she said. “Watching it again had me reliving things like telling my parents about the divorce and feeling their disappointment.”
WHERE TO WATCH
“House of Ho,” all seven episodes available for HBO Max subscribers.
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.