I believe it was Mark Twain who wrote, in the twilight years of his long life, “The meter of a truly great TV episode is marked by the viewer yelling from the couch: ‘Now we’re cookin’ with fire! Wooo-ey this is some good TV!’” A wise man; true words. As relevant the day he wrote them as last night, when my roommate asked me to stop cackling at 2 am, because she has “work” in the morning. Fresh Off The Boat is in rare form for “Doing It Right”–whereas the last couple episodes have felt off for the crew, chemistry and heart oozes out of the episode’s pores.
We enter in on the episode mid-shady dealings with Louis and Hector: Louis is obsessing over winning the North Orlando Chili Cook-Off–going so far as to buy Ghost Peppers for 1.75$…each. Turns out he’s not the only chili man in town: neighbor Marvin currently has a boar in his garage he’s “honoring.” Louis, adorned in his Hard Rock Cafe apron, pulls Eddie in under his wing as his Chili Apprentice for the week. Mama Louis passes on the family recipe to Eddie, over-emphasizing the use of measuring cups and exact proportions in a recipe. But, unlike Louis, Eddie doesn’t dabble in exactitudes: he knows food. Suggesting they add a little toasted cumin (dope), he’s succinctly shut down by his father. While the real Eddie Huang left the Fresh Off The Boat project long ago, this feels like a nice nod to the source material, and a reminder that the main kid in question has a specific skill and talent that is in and of itself story-worthy. While father and son bond over the stockpot, Jessica deals with the ramifications of her latest actions.
Jessica’s fascination with “zippering” coincides with her “eye for other people’s mistakes” after getting cut off in the after school pick-up line (a serious offense). She gets into a confrontation with the cutter (putting it very nicely)…who turns out to be Evan’s best friend’s mom, Helen (guest star Casey Wilson). JJ’s mom un-invites Evan to her son’s birthday party, leading to a tacit apology, AKA a mutual misunderstanding of the situation, from Jessica. But Helen’s acceptance of the apology doesn’t translate to an invite for Evan. When Jessica can’t bring herself to break the news to Evan, they crash JJ’s party, where Helen explains that she doesn’t want Evan there because all he does is boss JJ around (although, for the record, sweet simple JJ doesn’t seem much to mind), forcing Jessica to confront her own bossy ways.
The day of the NO-CO finally arrives for the Chili Boys. Louis is shocked when he sees a new entry on the list: It’s Eddie–”Big Daddy Huang”– who shows up ready to show up his dad. Sick of his dad not listening to him, he cooks his way, not even touching the measuring cups. During a sit down with Evan at the cookoff, during which Jessica tries to empathize with Evan’s obsession of her–obviously the reason why he’s bossy–it’s revealed that Evan bosses JJ around because he listens. As the youngest child, Evan feels constantly ignored by his family, so he finds an outlet in controlling the kids around him.
Both Louis and Jessica learn a lesson in their children’s autonomy: Eventually, kids grow into their people, which is hard to remember since a few short years ago they were a bundle of screaming, pooping blankets. And by hinting back at the show’s source material, it seems that Fresh Off The Boat isn’t shying away from exploring the other facets of being a hip-hop loving chef. Much like Jessica and Louis, the show itself acknowledges its characters traits and talents, heralding room for growth for the family sitcom in (hopefully many, many) years to come.
- Hector has never let Louis down: “Did you bring any hard candy, like I asked?” “No.” “Well. There you go.”
- Louis’s methodical approach to cooking: “This isn’t a bowl of jazz.”
- Grandma’s reaction to the school traffic line is accurate: “I am in Hell”
- “You balance me out JJ, that’s why we’re best friends.” Oh, sweet, beautiful boy JJ! Where hath they hid you from me?
- The chili trash talk is a 5-alarm burn: “You know, we have a saying about southern chili. When I’m eating it, I think ‘This could use a little Northern Chili’”
- Grandma still loves Garfield: “Your frog has achieved nothing!”
- “Hold on, he’s letting you chili apprentice?” This kid is earning his keep!
- Jessica’s surprise/subtle nod by writers that Emory has nothing to do this episode: “Emory we have to get you a cat bell! Announce yourself when I come into the room!”
- The perfect quick cut to signify Gus and Mey-Mey’s change from morning show anchors to chili judges
- Jessica’s misread of the situation: “You worship your mommy.”
- Eddie can’t believe Gloria gave her their trophy, but “Pride is a sin.”