Now that it’s six episodes in and has found its footing, Fresh Off The Boat can relax a little. Such a recess would apply to any network sitcom—a genre where most shows find their identity about halfway through the first season—but it’s especially true here since there was so much racially loaded anticipation surrounding the series before it even aired. The writers have since proven they’re capable of treating the Asian-American experience (and any outsider’s experience, really) with humor and even vulnerability, which frees them up to pen a more minor episode from time to time.

It’s not like the topics covered so far have been particularly heavy, but they have dealt rather explicitly with the characters wanting to fit in. Whether it’s Eddie wanting friends, wanting to impress those friends once he gets them, or his parents wanting familial respect, every week has seen the Huang clan acting out of desperation, insecurity, and hurt feelings, no matter how funny the situations are that result from these emotions.

In “Fajita Man,” however, Eddie just wants a video game. While you could equate this to him trying to obtain a porno tape last week, that storyline ended up being tied to the very grownup topic of sexuality. At the end of tonight though, he and his father have both learned a valuable, not quite as heady lesson about working hard at your job versus acting hard at your job. It’s a sweet moment between the two, if a touch less significant than the episodes that have come before.

Eddie’s venture into the Cattleman’s Ranch workforce comes with the release of Shaq Fu, a notoriously crappy fighting game that combines Shaquille O’Neal’s very real basketball skills with his very made-up karate ones. Despite its eventual infamy, there was a lot of hype when it came out on Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, especially if you lived in Orlando, where at the time, Shaq was still playing for the Magic and at the height of his powers. Eddie and his lunchroom pals all want the game in that consumerism-as-life-or-death way that only middle-schoolers can. The only problem is that the thing is $50.

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Of course, Eddie refers to the money as “skrill,” his rap vocabulary more pronounced than ever. I know it’s somewhat counterproductive to play another round of “How annoying is Eddie this week?” —especially after Hudson Yang so deftly displayed the character’s more tender side in “Persistent Romeo”—but I also can’t deny that the show is hardest to watch when he puffs out his chest or, even worse, does his “pimp walk” (his family’s words, not mine).

The cold truth of it is that, at 11, Eddie Huang was still a middle-school twerp. Hell, we all were. I did all sorts of annoying shit as an 11-year-old, and I’m sure it would be aggravating to watch my friends and I at the lunch table, too. The same probably goes for you and your adolescent friends. Also—and I’ve brought this up before—the show never delves too deep into why Eddie likes hip-hop and pulls much of his speech from its music. Yeah, there’s the whole “I’m an outsider, and hip-hop is for outsiders” thing that gets mentioned in the first episode, but at one sentence, it feels a little glossed over and keeps 11-year-old Huang trapped in a cycle of perpetual poser-dom. Judging from his real-life persona, his love of rap culture isn’t supposed to be fake, and some more in-depth discussion from him on the topic—maybe an impassioned rant about an album he loves instead of just strolling into the living room with swagger—would go a long way to eradicate this.

Thankfully, the writers seem aware that young Huang acts annoying around his friends, and make an effort to further humanize him during his exchanges with Louis in tonight’s second half. After Eddie’s first few shifts as a “fajita boy” at the restaurant, Louis pays him $18—forced to dock some of his pay after a few broken dishes. But following a talk with Grandma Huang, who reminds Louis that his own father was a hard worker, but also an unnecessarily hard man, he decides to reward Eddie by buying him Shaq Fu anyway. In a reverse lesson, Eddie ends up asking his dad to hold onto the game after he buys it until he’s saved up the remaining money.

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Besides springing from Grandma Huang’s most developed moment on the show so far and showing us that underneath Eddie’s bluster is a strong work ethic, the gesture reminds us that he’s capable of maturing. But as a whole, Fresh Off The Boat’s much more enjoyable when Eddie’s young-man-to-annoying-middle-schooler ratio is 75:25—as was the case last week—and not the other way around.

Stray Observations

  • We didn’t get to talk about it, but Florida heat waves really are the worst. I sympathize with Jessica, Emery, and Evan’s quest to get out of the sun by any means possible. And hey, it led to Jessica becoming a (sort of) real-estate agent, which probably means lots of more great stuff to come from Constance Wu.
  • And yes, fajitas were all the rage at family restaurants back in 1995. I remember Chili’s advertising them like they had just discovered the Rosetta Stone.
  • Other favorite 1995 moment of the week: the stylized “S” on the tips jar at Cattleman’s Ranch. Does that type of lettering have a proper name? It should. Those things were everywhere on trapper keepers and bathroom walls.
  • Has anyone actually played Shaq Fu? I have no reason to believe it’s good, but I’m curious.
  • I love the squabbling/camaraderie between Mitch and Nancy (Jillian Armenante) at Cattleman’s, but thought them burning each other with fajita skillets was a bit much (and painful!).
  • I hated that the whole Huang family did a group pimp walk at the end of the episode.
  • “The limes…they turn on their handler!”
  • “You know what your grandfather’s first job was? Selling bread that was so hot, it burned off all his fingerprints.”

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