With this Season 1 closer, the Huang family find themselves torn between two cultural identities in a way they have not experienced before.
Even if this was a terrible show, there is no denying the fact that Fresh Off The Boat marks an important moment in television history as well as Asian American culture. Thankfully, the show is heartfelt, sweet, and funny enough to back itself up. This isn’t to say that Fresh Off The Boat is a perfect show by any means. There were a few episodes here and there where the show didn’t know exactly where it wanted to go. Whether to go balls out and proclaim itself as part of the vanguard of race, culture, and identity commentary or remain a safe, take-no-risks, family sitcom. Because of this, plot structure and dialogue sometimes take a hit for it.
Regardless of all this though, ABC has a decision to make now: to renew or not to renew. That is the question.
If the majority of the episodes of the first season, as well as the finale, tell us anything though, it is that we haven’t seen the ends of the Huangs yet, not by a long shot. They have, so far, been able to remain family friendly enough for ABC’s standards yet remain edgy while speaking on the matters of race and culture, as well as the immigrant experience in America -well, at least as well as a thirty minute sitcom on ABC can.
Which brings us to the season finale, appropriately titled So Chineez. After all, that is what the Huangs were when they first came to Orlando, and that’s what they have been trying so hard to get away from. With Eddie assimilating quickly into hip-hop culture and Louis opening up his steak restaurant, it is like the family is doing their best to assimilate as best as they can in the most prototypical American ways as possible.
As much as they have been trying to adjust though, in this episode we find them coming to terms with the fact that they may have overdone their American assimilation like a steak at Cattleman’s Ranch. And it is pretty cool. In this way, the season came full circle very nicely.
Showrunner Nahnatchka Khan said it best in an interview with Vulture recently:
“Okay, we have 13 episodes, but we don’t know if we’re going to get any more beyond that. So if these are the only opportunities we get to tell stories, let’s do something that would feel satisfying to viewers that have watched this family from the beginning.
Especially because we make such a point in the pilot of showing the Huangs struggling in Orlando (particularly Jessica and Eddie), we thought it made sense to check back in with them at the end of the first 13 to see how far they’ve come.
Which led us to ask the question that we address in the finale: What happens if Jessica feels they’ve come too far?”
The realization from the Huang family matriarch first comes during a couples’ dinner date between Jessica and Louis and their neighbors, Honey and Marvin, when Marvin lets it drop that he forgets that they’re Chinese sometimes. This spurs a change in Jessica to backpedal in a big way in attempt to reclaim a heritage she feels as though her family’s losing. For much of the episode then, we see her in a traditional Chinese long dress, cooking chicken feet, and forcing her kids to take Mandarin classes (much to everyone’s dismay). She also puts up road blocks to Louis’s attempts at joining the country club (despite the fact that it was her idea in the first place).
Due to this, Eddie is forced by Mama Jessica to represent China during his school’s World Cultures Day. In doing so, he grows a disdain for his native Asia the likes of which this first generation Asian-American can relate to. This all leads to a scene of Eddie sulking at his China table (complete with bowl, soy sauce, and a xerox picture of Ling Ling the panda) as he watches enviously as his friends have their own Caribbean Union (including a pretty dorky rendition of The Beach Boys’ Kokomo).
It all comes to a head eventually when Mama Jessica comes to terms with the facts that she has turned into an American just like any of the other women on her block (watching Melrose Place and rollerblading around like it’s a roller disco). Eddie is allowed to claim Jamaica as his Cultures Day country. However, when one of his buddies jabs at China, Eddie drops some serious knowledge on him, defending the country and his heritage too.
Meanwhile, Evan and Emery have their cute, but less than memorable, subplot as they vie for a place on Mama Jessica’s refrigerator. This is used to eventually set up the climax when Eddie comes home dejectedly requesting that Jessica sign a paper that says he received an F for having spent more time schooling his friend than presenting about Jamaica. This earns respect from Jessica who proudly places the paper up on the fridge much to Evan and Emery’s dismay.
The episode ends with the family putting on their new vanity license plate which proudly says, “So Chineez.” Because after all, you can take the family out of Asia but you can’t take Asia out of the family.
What struck me most about the episode was how it was a great one to end on, especially if you didn’t know if you were being renewed for the next season. Though I wouldn’t say everything was resolved (we never found out if Nicole will ever return Eddie’s love or if Cattleman’s new location does well), it does wrap everything up in a sweet enough package that if it did end on that episode, it wouldn’t be the worst thing ever.
Though the episode did have its flaws, what we are seeing is a show that is finding where it fits in amongst a sea of comedies which focus on the white and black experiences of America. Much like the Huangs themselves, the show is also trying to find its place in this crazy thing called American culture and it’s doing it in its own quirky way, and it’s doing it pretty darn well so far.
- Juicy by the Notorious B.I.G. sounding off tonight’s episode was spot on.
- “We were never going to leave our heritage behind…” he says as grandma gets left behind.
- The kids who represented Switzerland accurately opted to stay out of the conflict between Eddie and Trent. Hilarious.
- Don’t knock it until you try it. Chicken feet are delicious.
- Favorite gag of the episode: Louis shaking hands with other guys in various places at the Country Club wearing nothing but a towel.
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