Fresh Off the Boat Recap: Let’s Talk About Sex

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Jessica gives a sexual harassment seminar at the Ranch. It doesn't go very well. Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC
Fresh Off the Boat
Episode Title
Persistent Romeo
Season
1
Episode
5
Editor’s Rating
4/5

According to the official rules of family sitcoms, all series in this genre must, at some point during their run, include a scene featuring a parent awkwardly giving their child “The Talk.” The birds and the bees conversation — or “Flowers and Watering Cans,” according to a school-district-approved textbook — is always a good seed (no pun intended) for comedy.

In “Persistent Romeo,” this conversation isn’t the centerpiece of the episode, but it’s definitely one of the highlights, and not just because of how funny it is. There are multiple ways in which a show can go about portraying this conversation; Fresh Off the Boat chooses to go the route where Louis shares too much information with his son. While it’s a scene played for laughs (and it certainly delivers on that) with Louis being a little too open with Eddie — “I like having the lights out so we can pretend like we’re in a castle” — it also simultaneously delivers on a higher, smarter level.

Louis begins the talk by telling Eddie, “Taiwan was so conservative.” He explains how, in Taiwan, you couldn’t have sex before marriage, and therefore you couldn’t tell if you and your partner were compatible in the bedroom. It’s a jarringly refreshing conversation on a sitcom, one that expands on Louis’s past life in Taiwan while also being sex-positive: Louis obviously doesn’t want his very young son to start having sex right now, but he does want Eddie to know that it’s okay to have sex outside of marriage — in fact, Louis encourages it — despite what their culture’s norms may preach. What’s more, Louis never bashes Taiwan’s conservative approach to sex; he just gently nudges his son to understand why, in this matter, Eddie is pretty lucky to live in Florida.

But let’s rewind to figure out what exactly brought our Huang men to the Talk. Eddie is still having a tough time trying to make friends in school and is feeling left out about all the sleepovers that his peers have seemingly every weekend. It turns out that last week’s plan to look cool by hugging Honey worked, and he now has the attention of popular, polo-shirt-wearing Brock, who invites him to a sleepover. (He even has a dirty magazine: the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue! Ah, adolescent boys.) Eddie’s joy about finally being included quickly comes to a screeching halt when his mother, who is obsessed with fear-mongering television and therefore paranoid about the world around her, refuses to let Eddie go to Brock’s house “because pedophiles” and instead suggests that they all come to Eddie’s instead. When Eddie brings this up to the boys, they decline until Eddie panics and proclaims that he has a “dirty movie” for them to watch, although he clearly doesn’t. (Random side note: While watching this, I immediately thought back to Issa Rae’s autobiographical book The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and an essay centered on how Rae once lied about having an R-rated movie to watch in order to get her peers to come over for a sleepover. It’s fascinating how many children — particularly diverse ones who feel on the outside — have such eerily similar experiences while struggling to make friends with the cooler clique.)

Eddie’s big mouth now has him tasked with finding an adult movie for he and his friends to watch. He attempts to steal one from the video store while his brothers perform ridiculous distractions (doing push-ups, yelling “Raisins! They used to be grapes!”) but can’t complete the task … and gets caught by Brock in the process, who correctly deduces that Eddie was lying and planning on stealing a dirty movie. Rather than rat him out, however, Brock prefers to wait to watch Eddie crash and burn in front of everyone at sleepover, and I’m reminded of just how creatively cruel some adolescents can be.

While all of this is going on, Jessica is now worrying about her husband’s suddenly popular restaurant as she remembers the wise adage “the fat brown man” Eddie listens to once said: “mo’ money, mo’ problems.” Because of her television-induced paranoia, Jessica focuses her worry on sexual-harassment lawsuits because she knows that one could destroy the Huangs’ good fortune at Cattleman Ranch. She gives a sexual-harassment seminar to the Cattleman employees — a rule of workplace sitcoms — in which she accidentally ends up harassing them instead. So Louis hires a “professional,” a.k.a. a convicted “sexual harassment offender” named Dusty Nugget (Bret Gelman!) who is now working for the good guys because of a “complicated plea deal.” Somewhere, a USA network executive jots down this idea on a list of possible replacements for White Collar.

Creepy Nugget shows up with a VHS about sexual harassment (can someone make a supercut of all the funny/bad workplace harassment videos that sitcoms re-create?) and Eddie seizes the opportunity to steal the video and present it to his friends as a dirty movie. Surprisingly, it works (“I don’t know what ‘harassment’ means but it’s got the word ‘ass’ in it,” one of the boys states), because no one actually has any idea what a dirty movie entails. Brock makes copies of the tape and distributes them throughout the school, prompting an epidemic of hilariously creepy young boys attempting to hit on their confused female classmates by reenacting the stiff, confusing scenarios from the sexual-harassment video. The principal calls in the Huangs (again) and tells them it’s time to give Eddie the Talk, which brings us back to that aforementioned standout scene. 

“Persistent Romeo” was another strong episode in this already strong season of television. It was not without fault: a tacked on C-plot involving Emery, Evan, and Grandma Huang playing poker went nowhere, leaving me impatiently waiting for all three to become better-developed characters, which I’m optimistically hoping will happen soon enough; ditto a scene with Nicole that was all too quick and mostly only served as a reminder that she exists, and is Eddie’s love interest, and that eventually they’ll get around to having her do something. But it was funny throughout and provided an interesting juxtaposition between the person that Eddie believes he is — a smooth, hip-hop influenced ladies’ man with an impressive knowledge of sex owing to the music he obsesses over — and the person that Eddie really is — another confused preteen who doesn’t even know what the hell a dirty movie is and who is visibly uncomfortable with the sex talk. It’s a recurring motif throughout the series: Eddie is never as cool as he wants to be, but he’ll keep on pretending that he is. It’s a defense mechanism for him as an outsider, a way to combat all the shitty feelings that come along with not fitting in. Fresh Off the Boat is proving to be just as smart as it is funny.

Other notes:

  • This episode’s Constance Wu Moment: A tie between her cursory “That bitch” reply in regards to her sister, and this laugh-out-loud funny exchange with the principal after she causes him about to worry about wearing blue in a gang-heavy neighborhood: “I’m going to Applebee's after this. Do you think I’ll be okay?” “No. I don’t.” 
  • “Prepare to sploosh,” says one of the boys as they all sit on Eddie’s bed, eagerly awaiting to watch porn with each other. I see similar scenes like this a lot with teen boys in television/movies, and I still refuse it’s a thing you all did.
  • “How do you sleep at night?” “With two night lights. I got a big room!”