Fresh Off the Boat
After two and a half seasons, Fresh Off the Boat has finally shed some of its responsibility for educating America about how a Taiwanese family lives, eats, and breathes. The show has come into its own as a solid, reliable, and thoroughly funny family sitcom. Having watched closely for its entirety, the first and second seasons felt like service in a lot of ways: Each episode would combine plot points with authentic details, those little Easter eggs for Asian-American viewers to grab without alienating white people in the process. The experience of watching those seasons felt a bit like keeping score, which is why the Authenticity Index in each of these recaps neatly catalogued the throwaway bits and shout-outs to East Asian culture that other viewers like me would recognize.
The show’s dedication to authenticity made the first two seasons a treat, but the episodes that led up to the fall finale suggest that the show is shifted more toward the mainstream. Fresh Off the Boat now inhabits an identity instead of performing one; it doesn’t have to work so hard to prove it belongs. As Christmas episodes go, “Where Are the Giggles?” is fine. (Nothing will ever come close to last year’s zany masterpiece “The Real Santa.” Lao Ban Santa forever!) Still, it is a pleasant Christmas episode, saccharine in the right places and funny everywhere else. In other words, it’s pretty mainstream stuff.
The Huangs have finally settled into Orlando and gotten comfortable with doing Christmas traditions their way. One such tradition is seeing a movie on Christmas Eve, complete with Evan’s cargo-pants pockets full of snacks. Unfortunately, amid the hustle and bustle to get everyone to the theater on time to get the good seats for Jingle All the Way, Jessica manages to forget the most precious cargo of all — Evan.
In a rightful nod to Home Alone, Evan sets a trap for any unsuspecting robbers, kidnappers, or hooligans that might stumble into the Huang house and find him alone, talking to his Beanie Babies. That person happens to be Marvin, who comes over to check on Evan per Jessica’s request. He slips on the marbles in the foyer (has anyone ever actually stepped on marbles and fell down in real life?) and gets a bucket of feathers in the face, just like in the movie, but it’s much less violent. Once the Huangs come home, Marvin assures them that he’s fine.
Afterward, Evan’s disappointment in the fact that his mother left him at home manifests in a request for a Tickle Me Elmo. (Really, kid? If that’s your only disappointment, than your life is quite easy.) When Jessica and Louis go to a toy store to try to find one, Louis gets served with papers, cleverly concealed in a Tickle Me Elmo box. Uh-oh! Marvin’s insurance is suing Louis’s insurance for the injury he sustained from Evan’s booby trap.
Friends don’t sue friends; this is the golden rule. Alas, Marvin is suing like any litigious American would and that just doesn’t jibe with the Huangs. Also, he’s hopped up on muscle relaxers for his injury and during his benzo-induced reveries, so he’s greeted by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
The first ghost is Emery, who takes Marvin on a stroll down memory lane, way back to a time when the Huang household was occupied by Ronaldo, a swarthy Latin dance instructor with the hots for Honey. Ronaldo moved out and the Huangs moved in, Honey is no longer taking pasodoble lessons, and really, shouldn’t Marvin be grateful? The second ghost is Eddie, newly woke and ready to celebrate Kwanzaa, clad in a dashiki. As the Ghost of Christmas Present, he watches as Louis tells his family that Marvin’s suing them. Jessica urges forgiveness — an uncharacteristic move, even for Dream Jessica — which should have been Marv’s first tip that this whole lawsuit thing is a bad idea. The third and final ghost is Grandma Huang, standing on two legs, speaking English and wearing a cloak that is supposed to make her resemble the Angel of Death but really makes her look like Sith Kermit instead.
As Grandma Huang reveals, the repercussions of Marvin’s lawsuit are darker than he’d imagined. Louis closes up Cattleman’s because he’s too depressed to attract new customers. Cut to Marvin’s sparsely attended funeral, featuring Honey and Ronaldo, doing a somber tango on his grave. Nice.
While Marv reconsiders his life choices, Jessica’s quest for a Tickle Me Elmo doll leads her straight to neighbor Deidre, who has two of the giggly red monsters in her toy room. She’s saving one for her terrible niece Janis and one for her toy vault. Jessica will stop at nothing to get this present for Evan, so she offers her services as Santa for the holiday party. She fails to mention that she’ll be dressing up as Lao Ban Santa, who terrifies the children even though Jessica as Lao Ban Santa is really just Mrs. Claus with a very large mole.
On Christmas Day, everything works out, like it always does on sitcom Christmas. Marvin drops his lawsuit! Evan gets a Tickle-Me-Elmo, then tells his mom the real reason he asked for it is because he knows it makes her happy to chase the impossible! Eddie gives up on Kwanzaa! And the whole family gets to see Jingle All the Way, as it should be.
This might be the end of the Authenticity Index, unless the show comes back strong next year with a two-episode Chinese school plot or something involving lion dancers for the New Year. To be totally honest, the very specific winks intended for viewers like me are no longer necessary. Fresh Off The Boat is established. It’s safe. It’s a success. People watch it because they want to watch it, not because they’re counting the seconds until they see Sidras in the fridge or dan bing for breakfast. I’ll retire this for now, but hopefully there will be reason to bring it back. See you in 2017!