Fresh Off the Boat
Jessica and Louis are fantastic parents, but honestly, they can be kind of rude. But, the show never villainizes them for their rudeness, instead opting to gently chastise them for their indiscretions. Like every sitcom before Fresh Off the Boat, it all serves to teach the characters a lesson. This week, the lesson is a bit muddled, but hey, now we know: Cyberbullying is very real. It started with the Huangs.
There’s a new member of the Huang family: a hulking Gateway desktop computer, newly hooked up to the vast chasm of the ’90s internet. The first thing they discover — thanks to Evan, who naturally understands these things — is Phil’s Phaves, a pre-Yelp that has an anonymous review of Cattleman’s Ranch. The long of it: The food is okay, but the ambiance is dull. The short? The restaurant got a B-minus — a Chinese F!
This will not stand. The Huangs will not let this stand. After Evan briefly teaches them about email, they reach out to Phil for a culinary rematch of sorts. Cattleman’s Ranch is plenty festive. Louis is fun. And so, like the grim two-step of a couple who desperately wants you to think that they’re enjoying themselves, Louis and Jessica will do everything in their power to prove just how “fun” and “festive” the ambiance is. Game on, Phil. Game on.
How exactly do they plan to prove that Cattleman’s Ranch is “fun” and not a weirdly dark place full of goofy taxidermy and saloon doors? It’s simple: They put googly eyes on the toothpick dispenser and Mitch wears a comically small hat. When Phil finally shows his face — surprise! — it’s Phil Goldstein, the Chinese-Jewish kid who abandoned Eddie at a Beastie Boys show. You know, the one who Jessica and Louis want Eddie to hang out with because he’s Chinese. He’s wearing a blazer and an indoor scarf and he is ready to re-review Cattleman’s.
What follows is like the end of Ratatouille, except instead of Phil being transported back to his childhood via food cooked by a tiny, talking rat, he’s just “meh” on the whole thing. That, at least, is what we learn when Jessica and Louis check on Phils Phave’s again. They’ve been downgraded from a B-minus to a C-plus. If the former is a Chinese F, then the latter is reasonable grounds for Kumon and social exile.
Imagine a middle-school student is terrorizing your livelihood through a low-trafficked Geocities website that features the Ally McBeal dancing baby. Naturally, you do what any sane person would — you register www.PhilGoldsteinHasBadOpinions.com, then start an illustrious new career as an e-vigilante. With Evan at the helm, the Huangs do exactly that.
Pearls are probably being clutched at the thought of adults bullying a child, especially one who just wants to share his opinions with the world. And yes, if you want to be alarmist about this, you can look at “Phil’s Phaves” that way. For me, this entire plot line speaks to the larger desire that all immigrant families have to assimilate as quietly and as smoothly as possible. Yes, Jessica and Louis want their restaurant to do well because success is awesome, but they also want to thrive because it’s the American way.
Immigrant parents want their children to succeed because accomplishment is the one metric that transcends all language barriers. Being the odd one out sucks. Our parents know this before we realize it ourselves. They push us because they love us, but also because success is power. It makes you bulletproof; it’s hater insulation. As a wise woman once said, “The best revenge is your paper.” The Huangs take this to heart.
And that goes … as well as two adults e-bullying a child can go. Phil wasn’t born yesterday. He knows who made the site, so he goes straight to the source. To their credit (I think?), Phil’s intimidation tactics don’t work. What does work, however, is a newly launched campaign against compu-teasing, introduced to a group of concerned parents at a school rally.
The victim presents his case: Restaurant criticism was his passion, but now, as a result of the compu-teasing, his fire is dead. Journalistic and personal integrity prevent him from revealing the perpetrators, but don’t worry — Louis and Jessica out themselves once they see that the Orlando Police department has a cybercrime division on the case, headed up by a sullen teen named Pete drinking a Big Gulp. The threat of trouble is enough for Jessica to squeal. The jig is up. The Gateway disappears, banished to a closet, but it’ll be back. Computers: You buy one once, and that’s the only one you’ll ever need!
While the Huang parents deal with their mess, Eddie is dealing with his own. He’s got a steady girlfriend, Allison, whom he likes an awful lot. And, he has Reba, a well-intentioned girl who smells like egg salad and keeps a picture of him in her Trapper Keeper.
Here’s the lowdown: Everyone wants a piece of Huang. Eddie wants Allison and doesn’t want Reba. Allison wants Eddie to call him on the phone, like an adult, which does not go well. Eddie makes Allison a mixtape because if he can’t say it with his words, he can certainly say it with “Summertime in the LBC” and SWV’s “Weak.” Eddie puts Allison’s mixtape in his science folder, thinking he’s slick.
Pay attention here: Eddie thinks he’s partnering with Allison to dissect an oyster, but the science teacher does that thing teachers do when they think they’re being “fun” and matches Eddie with Reba, who is so sprung that she offers to do his work for him. When she takes his science folder, what does she get? The mixtape meant for Allison, that’s full of love songs and whatnot.
So, Reba now thinks Eddie loves her. Allison’s in the dark. Eddie, in a stroke of “genius,” makes Reba a bad mixtape — a “nixtape” if you will — and gives it to Reba. Sure, this is how you should solve problems, Eddie. Good looking out. But the new tape is intercepted by the teacher, put on blast for the entire class to hear, and opens with a dedication to Reba from “the real” Eddie. Allison hates this. Reba, to her credit, hates this too. When Eddie calls to apologize, she dumps him because she’s confident and doesn’t need a man like that. When Eddie calls Allison, she’s not happy at first, but eventually caves to the power of a live apology mix. Ah, youth.
+10 dial-up modems for a B-minus being a Chinese F. Thankfully, my mother realized that her little underachiever was smart but lazy way before I did, so while I understand the reasoning behind this, I’m just grateful that I never incurred any wrath as a result.
+2 Gateway computers for how easily Jessica flips when confronted with authority and public shame. I feel you, sister. Living on the edge rules until you get caught.
+300 stolen computer mice for Jessica’s halfhearted attempt at leveling with Phil Goldstein in Mandarin and …
+4 mint-editions of Mavis Beacon Teaches Touch Typing for Phil Goldstein not speaking a lick of Mandarin. Nice try!