Fresh Off the Boat
Fresh Off the Boat’s greatest strength lies in its teachable moments, when it can get sensible without being hokey. “The Flush” is an episode that hits that sweet spot: By illuminating a humorous aspect of the Asian-American experience and showing how that experience functions on a macro level in all aspects of life, the show deftly navigates tricky waters without veering too far into showy, overt sentimentality.
Honey and the Huangs are shopping for a recliner for Grandma, setting the events of “The Flush” into motion. As a former furniture salesperson, she sees through the various lies of the man selling the furniture. The $75 handling fee, which covers the armchair’s transport from Georgia to Orlando, is way too high! Doing some quick math, Jessica figures she can just drive to Georgia and get it herself. With Honey, Emery, and Evan in tow, she does just that, leaving Eddie and Louis at home for a guys’ weekend with unbrushed teeth and no pants, just how they like it.
Jessica is a horrifying road-trip leader, as evidenced by the fact that she cannot handle any deviation from her preferences. The first example: Honey tries to make a passing truck driver honk his horn via the universal “truck-driver honk” sign, which proves to be too disruptive. At a pit stop, Evan and Emery get real. If Jessica doesn’t get her way on road trips, she turns into a “road grump,” which sounds like a nice way of saying “a heinous monster.” This sensitivity to external forces is the reason Emery and Evan missed seeing the world’s biggest peanut in Georgia on the way from D.C. to Orlando. They willingly embarked on this road trip despite the hardships, knowing that it might be their only chance.
The second example: Honey kindly requests that they not listen to Sarah McLachlan’s “Ice Cream” on repeat — a perfectly fair request! — which causes Jessica to fume. Then there’s traffic. And old people driving. Fearing DEFCON 1 levels of rage, Honey suggests a diversion. How about they go get ice cream? She’ll even pay! Then they get a parking ticket, which Honey and the kids hide from Jessica. Eventually, they end up at a fruit stand on the side of the road, distracting Jessica with cut-rate produce, but another parking ticket proves to be too hard to hide. Honey takes one for the team, telling Jessica that she’s kind of a maniac on the road and that it’s terrifying and stressful to be essentially held hostage by one woman’s rage. The great thing about Jessica is that once you tell her she’s doing something bad, she generally stops. She doesn’t want to be this way! She honestly had no idea. They’re going to make it to that peanut, after all — just gotta tear up the parking tickets, switch out the license plate of the minivan, and they’re back on their way.
While Jessica commits petty crimes on the road with her children, Eddie is up to some nonsense of his own. When his friends hear that they’re having a bro weekend, they invite themselves over so they can do the one thing that teenage boys want to do that isn’t watching scrambled Skinemax after their parents have gone to sleep: drink, of course.
One of Eddie’s friends bought a single beer for $60 off his sister, and by God, these boys are going to drink that beer. But first, they must evade Louis’s good-intentioned attempts at bonding. After feigning sleepiness, they retire to Eddie’s room to sit in a circle and stare at a bottle of beer. Someone’s gotta take the first sip, and that someone is Eddie. He opens it, takes two sips, and things go downhill pretty rapidly from there.
Tipped off by Marvin, who was stopping by to drop off some golf clubs, Louis busts open the door of Eddie’s room and sees all of his son’s friends sitting in a circle on the floor, with Eddie nowhere to be found. Eddie is in the bathroom — not throwing up, but contending with the fact that the two sips of alcohol he had have turned his face red and blotchy in a way that is both confusing and mildly unattractive. He’s ashamed to open the door to meet his father, but when he does — boom! They’ve both got it. The flush.
After a brief bit of explanation about what the Asian flush is — the body’s inability to process alcohol due to a missing enzyme — Eddie views this as yet another way he’s different from everybody else. Here’s some flashbacks to make this better: College Louis wears a red sweater and a terrible wig, and takes his first sip of beer at a dorm-room party, turning red and mottled and not understanding why. But like any other person faced with adversity, he found a way to cope. Among his white friends, he just pretended to be drunk, throwing shots of liquor on the floor and laughing big and loud. But among his Chinese friends, he could be himself, red face and all. As a grown man, he’s got a whole routine down pat. He does what he needs to do to get by and it works for him. Eddie will have to find his own way.
+10 lukewarm beers for the acknowledgment of the Asian Glow and the way it’s deftly spun into a larger lesson about weathering spaces where you are the only one. It’s always nice when Fresh Off the Boat picks up on tiny bits of the Asian-American experience and handles them not with kid gloves, but as facts of life. Also, the Glow is real for some — but not for everyone. Keep that in mind.
+1,000 Sarah McLachlan B-sides for the final stage of Jessica’s transformation from regular human to road grump, as she mutters in Mandarin to police officers while gripping the steering wheel of a giant minivan.