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

Fresh Off The Boat takes a long walk to Gatorworld

Hudson Yang, Reebok Pumps, and Randall Park
Hudson Yang, Reebok Pumps, and Randall Park
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

Like many of my favorite episodes from the first season, Fresh Off The Boat’s second season premiere revolves around a cultural difference: Eddie’s friends believe that the summer after seventh grade sets the stage for their whole eighth-grade career, but his working-class immigrant parents do not “believe in vacations.” Of course, secretly dad does; mom finds out; hijinks almost ensue.

Full disclosure: I write for TV shows—sometimes sitcom, sometimes variety—but I’ve never been hired on a Network Show (emphasis added by the author: Me, Shelby!) But, from idle chatter—and/or eavesdropping—as well as being fluent in basic cable television, I have to assume that network tv is really, stupid hard sometimes. There’s no luxury or safety of “niche” with network television—no “Louis CK” creative control. A network show has to be accessible to the widest audience possible, and sometimes that means laying good ol’ expositional pipe. So… much… pipe. The issue with “Family Business Trip” is how long the walk is—through a first-season recap, false Reebok Pump MacGuffin, and reintroduction of tertiary characters—before we finally get to the meat of the episode.

Which is disappointing, because after a water-logged first act, there’s not much time left over to explore the very fertile ground that is Louis and Jessica’s (and, by extension, any immigrant or person not-too-far-removed from hardships’) attitudes towards vacation.

The glimpses we do get are more than good: Louis’ reticence to admit that he needs a vacation in front of his wife; Jessica’s continued reluctance to buy into Whiteness (or be “taken for a sucker”); Eddie and Evan’s separate but tangental fears and anxieties over growing up —but the episode felt lacking. Boiled down, the plotlines end up as “husband caught in a lie, mom needs to relax, mom doesn’t need to relax because her family needs her.” It’s not bad, but it’s not exactly new either. In the past, Fresh Off The Boat has taken rote or tired setups and reinvigorated them through the lens of a Chinese-American family. This episode felt stale.

Is Jessica’s refusal to be “taken for a sucker” really a superior backlash against assimilation and Western “culture” (what little we have, that is) or is it couched in the more sinister fact that many immigrants are regularly exploited, abused, and generally screwed over in a new country? Does Louis—ever ready to be American—realize he’s backsliding into one of our proudest traditions of being a husband that forgets his wife is an autonomous being with wants and needs, instead of just a nagging bore? How do the parent’s attitudes on fun and money affect their children? Am I asking too much of a 20-minute family-based situational comedy? Maybe! But Fresh Off The Boat is capable of amazing thematic exploration—not to mention banger jokes—and I’m optimistic that they’ll be able to hit, and surpass, the bar they’ve set. This one just fell a little short.

Stray observations

  • Hello! Shelby here: I’ll be recapping Fresh Off The Boat for its second season. While a ’90s baby myself, I am not a Taiwanese-Chinese-American immigrant, so if I ever comment on something that you find off or I seem uneducated about, feel free to let me know here or over on Twitter.
  • MTV VJ Ed Lover’s decisive words on Reebok Pumps: “Give those to your dad or your white neighbor ’cause they’re over.”
  • Louis excitedly packing for his business trip: “Which one is Louis Huang? Ah, he’s the steakhouse owner in the sharkskin suit.” And Jessica’s perfect eye-roll response: “Or, he’s the Chinese one.”
  • Louis defends his love of vacation to Jessica/finally reveals a deeply shameful facet of his personality with: “Woman, I’ve been soft!”
  • Jessica channeling my own mom in her confusion as to how to relax: “I could be marinating meat, or driving!”
  • Actually Jessica’s whole “relaxing” scene deserves an Emmy.
  • Nicole is low-key the bleakest/most “Florida” character on the show.
  • Evan’s fear of growing up and how that will affect his place in the family/life felt tacked on, although knowing other mothers and fathers have forcibly ripped teeth from their children’s mouths makes me feel better.