Since their seasons tend to be so long, most network sitcoms end up recycling plot devices at a certain point in their run. But Fresh Off The Boat’s doing it earlier than usual by essentially repeating the central concept of “Success Perm,” an episode that aired a little over a year ago. Both installments deal with unwanted siblings from the Huangs’ extended family coming to visit—siblings who present themselves as being more conventionally successful than they truly are.
In “Bring The Pain,” Jessica’s sister Connie and—more similarly—her husband Steve get switched out with Louis’ brother Gene (Ken Jeong). And as with Connie and Steve, there’s a considerable rivalry twisted up in Louis and Gene’s relationship. Of the two siblings, Gene’s more of the needling fuck-up, having spent most of his adult life dreaming up doomed business ventures and aimlessly playing in a ragtime band. But things have since turned around for him. He’s become a pilot for Delta, and is soon to be married to a woman other than his Thai masseuse.
Like the Chens (though to a lesser extent), he can’t resist rubbing his newfound success in Louis’ face just a little bit, balking at his brother’s suggestion of eating at Cattleman’s Ranch and instead taking them all out to a restaurant themed around—of all things—the city of Orlando. Throughout their feud, Jeong and Randall Park play the verbal barbs and relentless generosity with just the right mix of pleasantries and passive-aggression—a lethal brew that should be familiar to anyone who has a love-hate relationship with their sibling.
But Fresh Off The Boat can’t escape the fact that the first three-fourths of the episode rely on a dynamic we’ve already seen, albeit with a slightly less cartoonish presentation. While it’s amusing to watch Jessica and Louis politely scrap with Gene, it’s not all that different from what they did with the Chens. And considering that “Bring The Pain” is the finale to a mostly stellar second season, it can’t help but end on a minor note when stacked against a high-concept episode like “Jessica Place” or the emotional warmth of “The Fall Ball.”
In its final stretch, a reveal does get dropped that deepens Louis and Gene’s relationship, as well as the tension between them. It turns out that, while soaking in the hot springs back in Taiwan, their father announced to both sons that he had saved enough money for one of them to migrate to America. Louis, breaking the rules of Chinese Polite Fighting, accepted the proposal shortly after he and Gene started “no-no”-ing. Gene claims Louis’ quick and unexpected response is what sent him into his spiral of resentment and failure, something Louis has tried to make up for by secretly mailing thousands of dollars to him over the years to help him out.
Even though the revelation of Gene’s former financial situation feels too close to the Chens’ circumstances in “Success Perm,” his arc nicely ties into “Bring The Pain”’s b-story surrounding the Huang children. Evan and Emery have been trying to prevent Eddie from watching the seminal Chris Rock HBO special that gives the episode its title. But after witnessing all the conflict between their dad and uncle, they agree to Eddie’s suggestion that, as brothers, they all need to stick together. It’s a small yet important moment—an example of how the mistakes of parents can end up affecting their children in a positive way. Louis and Gene are both wrong in their ongoing fight with one another, and the Huang sons’ Voltron-like assemblage is a clear effort to not be like their elders.
The other late-in-the-game benefit of “Bring The Pain” arrives in its ending. After Louis and Gene’s blowup, the latter takes back the Huangs’ wedding invitation (along with Louis’ role as Best Man) and flees to Taiwan in the middle of the night with Grandma Huang in tow. Realizing how out-of-hand everything has gotten with his brother, Louis vows to bring the whole family to his homeland so he can set things right. That lays some fertile ground for next year, creating an opportunity to expand upon some of the blunter race-related conversations explored in season one. Now that the Huangs have been in America so long, what’s it going to be like for Louis and Jessica to go back to their native country? Is there going to be a challenge of reverse assimilation, a sense of not being able to truly go home? I have no idea, but if it’s tackled with the same light yet heartfelt touch as most of this season, Fresh Off The Boat could continue to perfect its balance of family friendliness and cultural identity.
- Trent mourns his Cleveland Browns jacket the same way Bone Thugs-N-Harmony mourn their dead loved ones. In addition to being the best gag of the night, it also makes room for one last Mask joke from Brian. Our prayers have been answered.
- Bring The Pain really did cause that much of a cultural groundswell in 1996, even if its broadcast doesn’t quite match up with the Browns joke: Team owner Art Modell announced the team’s relocation to Baltimore in November of 1995, several months before the Chris Rock special aired.
- Randall Park appeared on Jeong’s show Dr. Ken earlier this year. If that hadn’t happened, and if Dr. Ken took place in the ‘90s and the title character was supposed to be Chinese instead of Korean, ABC could take a note from several of its TGIF programs and link the two shows.
- God, I wish Orlando’s was real.
- In case any of you Constance Wu fans missed it…
- I wonder if Eddie’s first exposure to Voltron came from the cartoon itself or the Wu-Tang Clan.
- I accidentally deleted the quotes I wrote down for Stray Observations and didn’t DVR the episode, so feel free to leave your favorite lines in the comments section. I do, however, remember this one:
- “No-no-no-no-no. No-no-no-no-no.”
- Fresh Off The Boat is one of the few programs to have survived ABC’s mass culling of most of their newer shows, so we’ll see you next year.