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I think both fans and detractors of Fresh Off The Boat can agree that young Eddie Huang has easily been the worst part of the show. Don’t get me wrong; Hudson Yang has done as best he can with the role, even earning some more tender moments here and there. At the end of the day though, he’s been characterized as a poser, frequently misogynistic, and just kind of annoying—not all that different from many middle-school boys, mind you, but I still get how it can be hard for everyone to empathize with the little guy. I’ve even felt more sympathetic toward him than many other viewers, as exhibited in last week’s review, and the kid still gets on my nerves.

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While Eddie isn’t a saint by any means in “Persistent Romeo,” his faux street lingo is thankfully toned down (either consciously or unconsciously on the writers’ part), and we got to see another trait that’s inherent to the standard adolescent male: awkwardness. For all his bravado and fantasy rap videos about his mom’s hot friend, Eddie actually knows jack shit about sex, something we discover when he mistakes a sexual-harassment industrial from his father’s workplace for a porno. He shows it to his tentative new pals, and what follows is both a little sweet and a little sad. As they’re waiting for the clunky VHS to start playing, Eddie looks at all the other guys’ faces in desperation. Is he dreading that they know a lot more about sex than he does? Is he worried the tape won’t impress them, preventing him from ever being his true friend? Judging from the subtle “eep!” in Yang’s eyes and his clenched lip, it’s probably a mixture of both.

Of course, none of the boys know the first thing about love or sex, and are blown away by the grainy scenes of office workers aggressively hitting on each other. To their credit, the video was distributed by a former exhibitionist turned professional instructor named Dusty Nugget (played to oily perfection by Brett Gelman), so the footage has a palpable coat of sleaze on it. And come to think of it, low-budget porn and low-budget sexual harassment PSAs do have similar aesthetic qualities, even in real life. But I’d wager Eddie and the other guys are pretending to be into the tape because they just don’t know any better.

Seeing Eddie act like this, so naive and eager to be liked, softens some of his more abrasive qualities. We’ve always been told that, for all his intelligence, he is just a clueless kid, but this is the first time his lack of knowledge has taken on an air of vulnerability. It’s the first time it feels like we’re getting to see the real 11-year-old Eddie Huang. It’s also nice to see him finally bonding with other people his age.

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Some of the sweetness does get undercut later on when the boys all start hitting on their classmates in the same fashion as the actors in the video. Their inappropriate flirting comes to the principal’s attention, who forces Louis to tell Eddie the truth about sex. But their conversation, while played for laughs, veers toward more than a little creepy when Louis starts getting excited for Eddie’s future spring breaks, then gives advice on how to get the woman to do all the work in bed. Louis is a kind character, and I’m sure his enthusiasm is meant to further highlight his awkwardness, but it just feels like a bit much for a first-time conversation about sex, especially when Eddie’s so impressed by the dirty details and, as we’ve seen before, is susceptible to misinterpreting them. The show’s writers would have been wise to go the Freaks And Geeks route with their birds-and-the-bees montage, scoring it only with music and no dialogue.

The series also continues to falter with its treatment of Grandma Huang. I get that it’s only a 22-minute show, but it would be nice to give her a storyline that furthers her character instead of just reminding us that old people are cool, too. Her schooling Evan and Emery—two roles that could also use some more development—in poker was harmless, but also felt like unnecessary padding. Then again, if them getting shortchanged as characters means we get to keep adding complexity to the show’s protagonist, I’m all for it. After all, it takes some growing pains for a series to start actually growing up. Just ask Eddie Huang.

Stray Observations:

  • The show continues to hire Earwolf’s finest to bring some color to Cattleman’s Ranch, although hearing Brett Gelman talk about sex will forever remind me of “iBrain.” I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
  • I’m glad they brought back Nicole, if only for a second. I’m guessing she’ll figure into later episodes more prominently, and it would have been weird if we only saw her that one time in “The Shunning.” I’m also glad she scoffed at Eddie’s lame attempt to try to film her washing her dad’s car.
  • Does anyone know if Squiddies are a real thing? Google gave me zilch.
  • I had to double-check that Family Matters was still on in 1995, and indeed it was. It was still pretty good, too, or at least as good as Family Matters can be.
  • “We’re sorry if you felt sexually harassed by our last sexual-harassment training session.” So true.
  • “How do you sleep at night?” “With two night lights. I’ve got a big room.”

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