Whenever I tell people that Fresh Off The Boat tends to delve into broadness and unoriginality during its weaker episodes, they often say something like “What do you expect? It’s an ABC sitcom.” But I refuse to give the show a pass for that. ABC sitcom or not, the series has proved it can draw effective humor from character development and long-form story arcs rather than solely from pop-culture references and over-the-top stereotypes. Tonight’s episode was proof of such strengths, with almost every joke stemming from something we’ve come to know about the Huangs and their place in the Orlando community.
Much of the comedy also comes from the main storyline being centered around—or at least ignited by—Jessica. Things are going well at the real-estate office, with her having managed to sell the supposedly haunted Allen house. “No one ever goes in. No one ever goes out,” a janitor at the office tells her. “Well that makes sense if no one ever goes in,” she retorts. Despite this initial brush-off, Jessica, too, becomes freaked out when she discovers the home has the number 4 in its address. Eddie, in narrator mode, tells us that in Chinese culture, 4 is considered unlucky because it sounds almost identical to the Chinese word for “death.” She even goes as far to tear up her commission check when it arrives, simply because its check number is 4444.
From what I remember, we haven’t been outright told that Jessica is superstitious, and yet the gag makes complete sense given her penchant for Stephen King novels and her perpetual struggle to break free of tradition. Watching her shift from her usual coolly insulting self at the real-estate office to a tetraphobic maniac isn’t just amusing—it allows Constance Wu to add more colors to her already considerable range.
Jessica’s actions set off a chain of events that only heighten her fear of the number 4. After Louis—unbeknownst to her—tapes the torn-apart check back together so he can purchase a creepy electronic mooing bull for Cattleman’s Ranch, Eddie trips over it at the restaurant and breaks his arm. Louis asks his son to lie about how the injury happened so Jessica won’t find out he cashed the possibly cursed check. Like most of Louis’ advice—he explains it’s alright to tell a little white lie if it’s for a good reason—it backfires, prompting Eddie to tell everyone at school he got into a street fight. Besides allowing him to do exactly what his father told him, the fib earns him some much needed street cred in the upcoming student-council election.
But the extravagant tale also raises the suspicions of Ray (Judah Friedlander), the new hippy-dippy guidance counselor who now thinks Eddie’s parents are abusing him. This of course results in an awkward, unwanted visit from Child Protective Services that unravels Eddie and Louis’ web of lies to Jessica. This final revelation in the Huangs’ living room marks one of the only times Fresh Off The Boat’s A and B stories have converged by the episode’s end. I criticized the show last week for its frequent lack of connection between its narratives, and it was rewarding as a viewer to see every thread woven together by the time the credits started rolling tonight.
“Very Superstitious” also benefits from callbacks to many of the show’s secondary characters. At Cattleman’s, Vanessa (Amanda Lund)—the young server who couldn’t stop keeping Louis’ knee warm last week—continues to say inappropriately sexual things at the workplace, much to the chagrin of Mitch. We get a spot-on cheesy family steakhouse commercial from Finnegan over at The Golden Saddle (“Just like the food, the fun is well-done!”), Phillip Goldstein running against Eddie for student council, and even an appearance from a certain famous basketball player. No, it’s not Shaquille O’Neal, but Scottie Pippen (temporarily in Orlando for a tax break), which makes his cameo all the funnier. Where most shows would have the characters in awe of the basketball legend, “Very Superstitious” plays into Orlando’s culture by having everyone disappointed that Pippen isn’t Shaq. The script pays attention to how the characters would actually react—not how just anyone would react, but how these specific people in this specific place at this specific time would react. It shows that Fresh Off The Boat is starting to build a consistent, well-developed world. Maybe the writers have a long game in mind after all.
- A tip of the hat to whoever found those Garfield mugs used by Grandma Huang to rid her family of their bad-luck streak. My grandparents had those exact same cups in the ‘90s.
- I know I ragged on it before, but if Grandma Huang blasting rap music while Eddie struts into the room with good news is going to become a regular gag, then I’m okay with it. And I do love how unimpressed his siblings and parents are by his swagger.
- Another fantastic Grandma moment: the camera making us think she’s meditating in some kind of mystic chamber, only to pull back and reveal she’s just lighting incense while on the toilet.
- I actually have a friend who just this past weekend thought the third eye is a euphemism for someone’s butt hole.
- “The garbage man is right. Promote him to garbage boss.”
- “You have to be patient with grandma. Every generation gets less superstitious, just like every generation gets less racist.”