During last week’s two-episode premiere of Fresh Off the Boat, it became immediately apparent that one of the sitcom’s strengths is its ability to pull double-duty between telling the story of our protagonist Eddie Huang and telling the larger story of the entire Huang family's struggles to adjust to their new life in Florida. “The Shunning” does this brilliantly with dual, parallel narratives about Eddie and his mother’s similar attempts to make friends, impress their peers, and basically just get some respect.
Eddie is still having trouble in school and desperately wants to find a way to get his classmates to like him. At a loss — and with no hope of getting a fresh pair of Jordans — Eddie turns to the man he respects the most: Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The resulting scene is simultaneously an example of how well Fresh Off the Boat portrays Eddie’s relationship with hip-hop and an example of how network television tends to lack nuance when it comes to such a relationship. To Eddie, ODB is the champ, the man with all the answers, and the man who helps Eddie feels more like he belongs rather than feeling like an Other (which is his place in school, as he appears to be one of only two minority students in his grade). When Eddie feels out of place and seeks the familiar, he turns to his rap CDs and headphones. It’s a nice sentiment that remarks on Eddie’s strong connection with music, but then, unfortunately, the episode slips into overcooked rap-video clichés: Young Eddie fantasizes about being in a music video, throwing money around and spraying juice on half-naked women. It’s chuckle-worthy on the surface, but if last week’s two episodes are any indication, Fresh Off the Boat is definitely smarter than a cheap, lazy visual gag like this. Still, it did provide us with some wonderful advice delivered brilliantly by Randall Park: “Water doesn’t project success. Capri Sun does.”
Fortunately, “The Shunning” has so much going for it that it’s easy to forgive a minor misstep, especially so early in the series’ run. With the help of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Eddie comes to the conclusion that the way to impressing his peers is by hooking up with a fly lady — specifically, fly lady Honey, his neighbor, who is much too old for him and only responds with polite bafflement when Eddie drops pickup lines like, “I am so hung-over” and “How you livin’?” Neither of them work, of course, but Eddie doesn’t give up so easily.
Meanwhile, Jessica is having her own troubles with her peers. She's trying to adjust to this strange new group of "friends," which consists almost entirely of identical blondes who refuse her food, casually drop “knowledge” of Asian culture, and throw huge parties for the Daytona 500 in which they and their husbands watch cars drive around in circles for hours. She knows she doesn’t fit in here, and she knows that her attempts to do so will be futile, all of which just makes her miss the screaming conversations she’d have with her old friends back in D.C. (Side note: The cutaway flashback gags are hilarious and so far are done so sparingly that I can’t see them getting old.) But Jessica does find one kindred spirit in Honey (yep, Eddie’s Honey) when the two bond over a love of Stephen King in a video-rental store.
Jessica and Honey immediately hit it off, but this is a sitcom, so of course there has to be some obstacle lurking around the corner. It turns out that the rest of the women in the neighborhood all despise Honey because she allegedly split up Sarah and her husband. Honey is a homewrecker, which has turned the entire neighborhood against her. When Louis learns of everyone’s hatred, he rushes to break up Jessica and Honey’s friendship because he worries that the women will turn against Jessica and then, even worse, stop eating at Louis’s restaurant. It is tempting to write this off as a selfish decision on Louis’s part, or at least an indication that Louis cares far more about his restaurant than his wife’s happiness. Louis isn’t heartless, though: He just knows that his family’s finances depend on whether or not the restaurant is successful. As Jessica pointed out multiple times in last week's episodes, Louis has put everything into building this restaurant, moving his family all the way to Florida to do so, so it would be absolutely devastating if the business fails — devastating for the entire family. Jessica knows this, too, and reluctantly agrees to end the friendship.
Both story lines — Eddie’s and Jessica’s — converge at the big Daytona 500 block party barbecue, where everyone (the Huangs, Honey, Eddie’s school friends, and Jessica’s obnoxious white friends) is in attendance. Jessica tries her best to give Honey the cold shoulder while Eddie tries his best to, well, basically rub up on her. It’s an impressive feat to have these two separate story lines effortlessly collide in the third act in a way that's incredibly funny without feeling at all forced. It’s also pretty poignant, too, but not in a cloying way. When Jessica spots Honey eating Jessica’s homemade food — something that’s incredibly important to her — she makes the decision to continue her friendship with her, the rest of the neighborhood be damned. In fact, she doesn’t just make up with Honey — she publicly serenades her in karaoke with Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” While the NASCAR crash-and-burn that happens on the television behind Louis is a little too on-the-nose, it’s still a lovely scene. Plus, Louis recovers quickly when he realizes that he can use his wife’s amazing singing voice to help bring people to the restaurant, so he begins telling everyone that she’ll be performing there regularly.
As for Eddie, he gets a win, too, when Honey — who is far more perceptive than we originally believed — throws him a bone. She knows that Eddie’s crushing on her, and she knows that he’s trying to impress his classmates so she agrees to hug him for a few seconds so everyone can see. It’s actually reminiscent of episode screenwriter Nahnatchka Khan's sense of humor from her work on Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23; I'm' so happy that she has a new show to work on. After the hug, Eddie gets another love pang in the form of Honey’s stepdaughter Nicole, a total badass who flips Eddie off and steals his heart in one fell swoop. Fresh Off the Boat is off to a great start, and adding a love interest is only going to make it better.
- This episode's Constance Wu moment: Snapping, “This is not a duet!” during her karaoke performance.
- Louis’s advice to Jessica on how to make friends in Orlando includes, “Swing a cat. Hit a white woman.”
- Eddie’s outfit at the barbeue is nothing less than amazing, if not a bit too LL Cool J.
- “She’s cutting equally sized pieces because of Communism.” Oof.