Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Fresh Off The Boat: “License To Sell”

Illustration for article titled Fresh Off The Boat: “License To Sell”
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A lot of viewers have been bothered by Fresh Off The Boat’s portrayal of Eddie hitting on Nicole, viewing it as creepy and encouraging of objectification. I’ve never interpreted it as either of those things, mainly because Nicole has always seen right through Eddie’s bullshit. His antics and faux gangsterisms never fail to come off as boneheaded, which leads to me laughing at him and not with him. And the one time we did see the two youngsters actually connect was over love for an Ice Cube album, a final cap to “Showdown At The Golden Saddle” that felt subtle, real, and more than earned.

Tonight, unfortunately, their relationship finally started to bug me, as, for some reason, Eddie’s act actually works in “License To Sell”. After purposely landing himself in detention to get closer to Nicole, he continues his thuggish posturing—I really can’t take much more of him saying “Girl” followed by an annoying reverse nod—and lies about being interested in anything she brings up. Granted, he’s being slightly more strategic by actually paying attention to what Nicole cares about, but it’s still an even more manipulative variation on the same old song and dance.

It’s not that Eddie’s tactics could never work. They just wouldn’t work so abruptly. It’s the exact same issue I had with he and Walter suddenly becoming buddy-buddy over a Beastie Boys t-shirt last week. Fresh Off The Boat is about a family struggling to be accepted, and overcoming such adversarial relationships usually takes time. Although we’re nearly ten episodes in, we haven’t gotten enough fleshed out scenes between Eddie and Nicole to justify such a quick change of heart from her.

It also doesn’t help that Luna Blaise is much less convincing when portraying Nicole as being nice to Eddie than she is when shooting him down. When he comes over to her house to get his ears pierced and have her apply henna tattoos, all of her lines sound forced and read straight from the script. Part of it is her performance, and part of it is the falsity of the situation. Having things go so smoothly with their relationship just feels unearned. It does, however, result in a great bit from Jessica, who hates Eddie’s earring when he comes home, but is dazzled by Nicole’s elaborate henna art.

Speaking of Jessica, “License To Sell”’s strongest storyline once again comes from the parents. In addition to making good on her status as a new real-estate agent at the end of “Fajita Man”, Jessica’s predictably ruthless to boot, someone who has no bones about stealing potential buyers from under fellow agents’ noses, then strong-arming them into purchasing a home. The only problem is that she still doesn’t have an actual license. After she’s forced to get one, a much more seasoned, much more successful real-estate agent intimidates her to the point where she’s too nervous to take the test.

In a way, it’s the complete opposite of the Eddie/Nicole storyline. Where as Nicole’s suddenly shifting feelings towards Eddie come off as a cheap storytelling trick, Jessica’s display of fear plays into everything we know about her as a character while still being completely surprising. Over nine episodes, she’s bossed others around, staked her claim as an independent woman in the alien society she finds herself in and—let’s face it—sometimes ignored what others have to say (don’t forget that Louis warned her she needed a license back in “Fajita Man”). Suddenly we realize that as much as her aggression and no-nonsense attitude make her a distinct, likable individual (not to mention a good mom), these characteristics also may be masking some pretty significant insecurities, or at least a mounting sense of familial obligation.


What’s especially rewarding is that she’s able to take and pass the exam after finally opening up to her family about it. She’s able to recognize her weakness and overcome her fear, and that’s what makes her strong. If Fresh Off The Boat could apply this same principle of consistency and surprise to all their characters, they’d have a fully good episode instead of just half of one.

Stray Observations:

  • Some pitch-perfect “Hey, it’s 1995!” moments: Jessica listening to Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” while sulking in the van, Eddie’s teacher reading Michael Crichton’s Congo, and Eddie’s friends trying to find Shaq in an Orlando shopping mall.
  • I have to say, Louis tends to give terrible advice to Eddie when it comes to women. Even worse, it borders on being pretty gross and conflicts with the rest of his character.
  • Did anyone else think it was strange that the teacher called the students “Little turds”? There were definitely harsh instructors at my middle school, but this felt a little out of nowhere. Then again, that was the name of the game with tonight’s episode.
  • So Jessica really hates Martin Sheen, huh? I wonder why.
  • “There’s flies making love in your hot-dog case!”
  • “We forgive you for Shaq Fu!” Nice callback.