Fresh Off the Boat Recap: Sticking It to the Man

Jessica, Eddie, and Louis on Fresh Off the Boat. Photo: Ron Tom/ABC
Fresh Off the Boat
Episode Title
Showdown at the Golden Saddle
Editor’s Rating

First things first: Is anyone else already incredibly invested in this adorable, but certainly doomed, unrequited crush Eddie has on his neighbor Nicole? It’s so beautifully adolescent: how he loses all of his self-perceived “cool” when he’s around her, the ways he tries to impress her — a CD with a parental advisory warning on it, the apex of sixth-grade badassery — and the tiny moments that he’ll hold close, like the “Hey” greeting she offers on the bus, short but loaded with promise. (There are strong Wonder Years vibes here, especially because of the older Eddie voice-over, but with its own distinct style.) This plot is also a nice example of the important role that music plays both within the series and within the characters’ lives. Even more telling than Nicole’s greeting is her smile when she puts on her headphones and enjoys the music. And that “Honey” music cue? Perfect song choice, perfect end to a solid episode.

But let’s rewind. Even despite all of my praise above, Eddie is far from my favorite character on Fresh Off the Boat. That honor belongs to Jessica (occasionally, from moment-to-moment, she’s just slightly usurped by Louis’s infectious optimism). “Showdown at the Golden Saddle” put the Huang parents front and center, resulting in a very funny and well-written half-hour. The big news of the day is the Cattleman’s Ranch billboard that Louis has put up. He’s very proud of it and has picked a perfect spot: at a long red light, near a homeless man with a sign that says “Hungry” who keeps a bird in his pocket, forcing drivers to switch their focus in the opposite direction and land directly on his advertisement. It’s actually brilliant and demonstrates that Louis is definitely business-savvy — though we later learn that he doesn’t always put these skills to good use.

Over in Eddie’s story line, he’s having problems on the school bus where the sixth graders are bullied unless they sit near the front and pretend to be asleep. This clearly isn’t Eddie’s thing, but he has no choice, even if it means not being able to sit near the back with his crush. He comes up with a new plan: convince his mother to have them all — the three brothers, Nicole — carpool to school from now on. Surprisingly, she agrees because she’s in a great mood due to an invite to the country club. Turns out that Jessica’s always wanted to visit a country club because Caddyshack is her favorite movie (“It’s so much yelling! It’s so good!”). She’s so excited that she even enlists Honey’s help to pick a dress that says “I am rich enough to be invited but not rich enough that you can ask me for money,” which is really just the perfect outfit to wear anywhere. Eddie’s plan backfires when Nicole declines the carpool and he ends up with only his brothers and his “best friend” Mark, a kid he doesn’t even recognize. But the car ride does serve another purpose, as they all realize the billboard has been defaced.

The bigger problem comes when the billboard has been defaced a second time, this time with the word thief spray-painted in large letters. Jessica believes it’s someone calling them sneaky, as in “sneaky Asians,” and considers it a hate crime. While this would certainly be a bold plot for Fresh Off the Boat to take on so early in its season (then again, it’s been bold since the pilot), it turns out there’s another explanation: Louis is a thief.

“Showdown at the Golden Saddle” opens with an explanation that Louis’s guilty pleasure is gangster movies, and that, similar to the characters he loves to watch, he’ll do whatever it takes to provide for his family. His original plan was to open up a Golden Saddle franchise, but upon learning it would cost $50,000 up front, Louis instead stole the manual and bolted out the bathroom window. His own restaurant is a total rip-off of Golden Saddle (though Jessica points out that the bears on the wall are a different brown) and it’s been pretty successful. But his decision finally comes back to bite him in the ass when a Golden Saddle franchise owner seeks revenge by vandalizing his billboards. Like I’ve come to expect from Fresh Off the Boat, there’s a pretty clean ending — Louis confesses to Jessica, who has his back because they are amazing together, and they both stand up to the Golden Saddle restaurant owner and everything goes back to normal — but we learn more about Louis and Jessica, both as individuals and as a couple.

We’ve already seen that Louis’s determination to make his restaurant succeed has a lot to do with him buying into the whole “American Dream” idea, and wanting to succeed in ways that his family didn’t. But now we’re also getting the more familial-focused side of him, the side that shows he will steal an entire restaurant’s concept just to do right for his wife and kids. With Jessica, we’re seeing how much she’ll stick by her husband (similar to how she stuck by Eddie in the pilot when he got sent to the principal’s office), even when he does something pretty dumb. This episode remarks on the two important things about Fresh Off the Boat: sticking by your family, and sticking it “to the rich man, just like Caddyshack.”

Other notes:

  • This episode's Constance Wu Moment: Every moment she talks about Caddyshack is brilliant.
  • “Nobody’s gonna believe I let a cow do that to me, right?”
  • Eddie describes Nicole as “tough as a stale Tootsie Roll,” and that’s now how I’m going to describe myself.
  • Apparently Louis and Jessica refer to each other as Scarface and Miller’s Crossing, and this little detail is wonderful.
  • Another wonderful detail: the bus driver reading the iconic Janet Jackson Rolling Stone issue from ’93.