Immediately in this week’s episode, we’re treated to a home video from Eddie’s eleventh birthday party, wherein everything is done decidedly Huang-style. There’s old streamers and scallion pancakes and an ancient, over-used piñata (best, there’s Grandma constantly rolling into frame to smile straight into the camera lens). Flash forward 51 weeks: It’s Eddie’s twelfth birthday, and he sits Jessica and Louis down to inform them that he will not be needing their party services this year. Confused, but elated by the prospect of a free Saturday (to work, obviously), they agree to let this birthday fade into the wind like so much smoke from a tiny, colored candle. It’s because of this that Evan and Emery hatch a plan to be “bad,” as their family has forgotten to inform them there will be no party for Eddie.

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However, after Honey has a talk with Jessica — detailing how Nicole said she didn’t want a party then cried for weeks over not receiving one, so the next year Honey “showed up with horses and [they] rode to the Olive Garden” — Jessica and Louis decide to go ahead and throw Eddie a party, along with a brand new piñata (Jessica’s thinking “a frog with some sort of hat”). Shopping for decorations at the mall, the two glimpse Eddie and his friends donning their literal party hats while eating cake. Maybe his friends threw him a surprise party? Nope: Eddie thanks everyone for RSVPing “in a timely manner.” Or, maybe he just didn’t want adults there! Think again, because Mitch *Elvis voice* has arrived.

While Eddie — and Mitch — break Jessica and Louis’s hearts at the mall, Emery and Evan run through a solid entry into the joke-montage-Hall-Of-Fame, which includes them seeing the PG-13 Ace Venture: When Nature Calls (although Louis and Jessica are so concerned for their eldest son, they don’t notice).

At dinner that night, Jessica and Louis confront Eddie about his secret party — Jessica would be happy to host his friends at their house. But Eddie asserts that he doesn’t like being around his family, he doesn’t get to “be himself” the way he can around friends. Jessica’s understandably hurt by this: What does he mean he “can’t be himself” but is also hurt by how clearly hurt Eddie seems. Eddie maintains that he feels uncomfortable in his own home, because he can never live up to the standards set by his little brothers…whose own problems are wholly ignored thanks to their older brother’s grievances. So, Jessica and Louis decide to relax the reins a bit, allowing Eddie to go to Dave’s for a sleepover. There, we see that Dave has a “cool mom,” who’s just fine with tiny cookies for dinner and light swords in the house.

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The sleepover reveals a couple things: One, that Jessica’s rules and structure come from a deep-seated need for control…which itself only comes from an even deeper-seated love for her family, and two, that having a “cool mom” can’t replace the comfort and security of your own.

I love Fresh Off The Boat for being a family show that tackles problems a real family goes through. Even when the situations sound overdone — for instance, “kids behave bad for attention” — Fresh Off The Boat manages to find a new, nuanced facet to it. Coupled with a million jokes a minute, these little moments of clarity make the Huang family overwhelmingly engaging, and entertaining, to watch.

At first, the A-story seems to revolve around Eddie’s reluctance to have a party with his family — assumedly out of embarrassment over the second-(or ninth-)hand piñata Jessica strings up, or his dad filming the whole thing a little too up close and personally, while the B-story should simply be Evan and Emery “acting out” so their parents don’t forget to tell them news. But it’s a lot more than that: It’s Eddie’s insecurities as an older brother to two perfect children in a house full of stifling rules; It’s Jessica’s anxieties as a parent and her expression of love as control; It’s Evan and Emery’s frustration at being ignored by the people they want to make happy, ironically because they succeed so well in doing so; It’s realizing there’s no place like home. It’s messy familial dynamics and sibling hierarchies, without any preaching or melodrama. But plenty of Mitch.

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Stray observations

  • Jessica’s casual observation that Chewbacca is a bad name because it’s “Too Greek.”
  • And Evan and Emery’s answer to how much wrapping paper they used: “The perfect amount.” Then, Evan’s shock at seeing the family piñata used as a planter: “Porque tu tienes tomatoes?”
  • Louis pretending the cluster of helium balloons is too much for him, as Jessica screams “just let go of a few!”
  • When confronting Eddie about his secret party, Louis’s sudden declaration: “Why was Mitch there?! I made Mitch.” Finding out they’re old buddies from the [fajita] service could not be more delightful.
  • After Jessica says they can relax the rules, Eddie’s immediate “Can I stop wearing underwear?” and her indignant, “No! We’re not poets.”
  • Honey is a dream in this entire episode. Her reactions to Jessica barging into her home (despite there being a death in the family), while remaining on the phone took some solid comedic acting. Do you know how hard it is to pretend like there’s someone on the other end of a phone? Very.
  • Fun Fact: Jessica making Eddie six-hour birthday noodles at like midnight made me tear up a little. I watched the episode with my grandma and she asked me if my eye-rash was bothering me. Apparently when she got her new hip they removed her heart.

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