Fresh Off the Boat
Last year, Fresh Off The Boat gave us a standard sitcom Thanksgiving, complete with family high jinks, turkey troubles, and a heartwarming conclusion that doubled down on the meaning of family. This year, I’m pleased to see the Huangs go in a different direction. Jessica rightfully acknowledges that Thanksgiving has no relevance to their family’s traditions or history. The squash she makes every year is disgusting and no one eats it. Their ancestors aren’t represented in the Thanksgiving painting they inexplicably have at home; they’re waiting a couple hundred years in the future, building the railroads under extreme duress.
The Huangs participate in Thanksgiving because it’s a tradition, but it’s not their tradition. So, in a nice acknowledgement of that old chestnut about how Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas because it isn’t a holiday that’s important to Chinese people, Cattleman’s Ranch will be open on Thanksgiving. In the Huang’s Orlando, Christmas is sacrosanct. Thanksgiving becomes the stand-in. No more family fighting and cooking at the scale Thanksgiving requires. No more sleeping on rice bags in the pantry for Evan and Emery.
Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving — or any other holiday, really — unless there was a Very Important Lesson to be learned. This week, it’s Eddie’s turn for a reckoning. (It’s always Eddie’s turn.) He’s finally figured out middle school doesn’t really matter. His grades are great! All he has to do is coast into ninth grade and he’ll be right as rain. Besides, Eddie is going to inherit Cattleman’s. The restaurant is his legacy and so it really doesn’t matter what he does, right?
Wrong. Are you surprised that Jessica Huang is apoplectic at the thought of her eldest son turning into a lazy, entitled bum after the years of hard work his parents endured so he could own four pairs of sneakers and a pile of T-shirts? Eddie is lucky; he just doesn’t know it yet. In an attempt to teach him a lesson about laziness and complacency, Jessica takes his bed. Yep, this will totally work out. Not sleeping before the Huang’s day of service at Cattleman’s will be fine and certainly won’t have wide-ranging consequences that topple Jessica’s cleverly laid plan.
Here we go! They put a Pilgrim hat on the stuffed bear, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is on TV, and Grandma’s wearing her Garfield shirt and talking to strangers. Emery and Evan, having overheard that Cattleman’s is a legacy that’s up for grabs, are adorably competing for the right to inherit it. Eddie, exhausted from sleeping on a pile of T-shirts while listening to Peabo Bryson, is selling raffle tickets for the turkey. Louis is beaming with pride. What could go wrong?
Well, Eddie, for starters. Jessica knows he’s exhausted, but won’t give in until he realizes that she’s right and he is wrong, wrong, wrong. Eddie is just as stubborn as his mother, so he drags Marvin and Honey into the mix to prove that eighth grade doesn’t matter. And if you listen to their missives, it’s kind of true! Honey had mono for the entire year and Marvin focused on football while a kid that looked like Eddie did his homework. And look at them now! They’re fine. Unfortunately, Eddie only succeeds in proving his knowledge of the scientific method with this little display. It’s helpful, but it’s not enough. Jessica doesn’t want her sons to inherit the restaurant. Plain and simple.
Enter Louis Huang. Louis, my dude. I have been waiting for you to get mad as hell at your wife who, bless her, is a nightmare. You did not disappoint tonight! You should be mad at her all the time! You should be mad at her for rigging the raffle, giving Eddie the winning ticket and attempting to swindle the patrons out of a free turkey! You should be mad at her. This is why I’m very glad to watch them finally hash out their anger in the Cattleman’s kitchen while they contemplate how best to kill the live turkey. (The woman who really won the raffle won’t take that thing in her LeBaron, lest she lose an eye.)
Jessica doesn’t get her husband’s anger at first. She thinks of the restaurant as a stepping stone, something to be built up and sold. But Louis takes pride in Cattleman’s. It makes him feel good to know that his children want to inherit it. To Jessica’s point, however, kids have no idea what they want. Eddie is in it for the convenience; Emery and Evan are clamoring because that’s what you do when you have siblings. The point of the restaurant is to insure a clear future for the kids — a future in which they can do whatever they want, but they’ll have to work for it. Jessica’s hopes for her babies are so high that the restaurant is just the beginning.
At the end, Eddie gets his bed back, the customers at Cattleman’s get free Thanksgiving dinner, and everyone’s happy. Lesson learned! Gobble gobble.
+9 free turkeys to Jessica’s mom, who congratulates her for picking work over family.
+100 maize-inspired mood boards for this line: “Who put you up to this? your white friends? No more white friends, new rule!”