Fresh Off the Boat
Eddie has been an outsider from the very beginning. He’s an unapologetically unique adolescent who doesn’t fit in with his town, his school (where he is the only Asian kid), or even his family (“I don’t understand you,” his mother says, “The music you listen to, the way you talk, your clothes”). Eddie is a tough kid, but he is still a kid, so he’s on the lookout to find friends (a crew) at school — and it certainly isn’t going to be the group of well-off white boys who love L.L. Bean. For a split second in “Phillip Goldstein,” Eddie thinks he might actually make a friend: the titular Phillip (Albert Tsai, Trophy Wife), a new Chinese student (and the only other Chinese student in the entire school), but they have little else in common.
Eddie is called into the principal’s office to be a “first-day friend” for Phillip and to show him around the school. Principal Hunter claims he chose Eddie because he thinks the two might have plenty in common, but Eddie sees right through that nonsense and predicts that Phillip must be another Chinese student. Eddie can’t get too mad at Principal Hunter because Eddie is mostly just happy: Phillip is the first Chinese kid that Eddie has met since moving from D.C. to Orlando, and he’s stoked at the idea that he’ll finally have his own crew. But Phillip and Eddie aren’t just dissimilar — they’re practically polar opposites. Phillip is an adoptee, raised by strict Jewish parents, and basically a miniature adult with his hair slicked back, a stylish scarf, a nice sports coat, and an interest in musicals and Tolstoy. The only thing they have in common, according to Eddie, is that they both eat Chinese food on Christmas. “We don’t like each other, do we?” Eddie straight-up asks. “I find your company undesirable,” Phillip curtly responds without missing a beat. This isn’t exactly the crew that Eddie was searching for.
Our B-plot focuses on Louis trying to replace Mitch (Paul Scheer), who jumped ship to the Golden Saddle last week (continuity!). He hires Wyatt (Parker Young), a hat-wearing cowboy who has experience working on an actual cattle ranch and lassos the chairs for customers. He is a perfect fit for the restaurant, but he’s too perfect, better than Louis, and Louis quickly realizes that Wyatt has to go. But he doesn’t have the heart to fire him — Louis and Jessica have a good cop/bad cop approach to everything. I’m actually really interested to hear Eddie Huang’s thoughts on the Louis character because he seems so vastly different from the Mr. Huang in Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat memoir. Jessica refuses to do his dirty work, and his attempt to role-play the firing with Emery and Evan goes awry, too (“I got no butt”). As it turns out, Mitch is unhappy at his new job, too, and Louis rehires him — but it’s up to Mitch to fire Wyatt. Mitch can’t do it either so the two share hosting duties for a bit until Louis informs him that they will also then have to share paychecks. Wyatt is fired, Mitch is back, and everything is back to normal.
This B-plot may have been largely inconsequential to the overall narrative of the episode but it was a nice example of how to balance two disparate plots within one episode, and how to use that secondary plot to keep things light and airy when the main story is doing a bit of heavy lifting. There was nothing really at stake for Louis — worst-case scenario, he is stuck with a very good employee that his customers adore — but it was certainly an urgent matter for him. I also liked that Fresh Off the Boat is seemingly committed to keeping Paul Scheer around; he’s a fantastic and funny actor, but it’s occasionally hard to remember that considering he spends the vast majority of his television time getting repeatedly shit on in episodes of The League. Plus, we get some cool, simplistic jokes: Wyatt’s frequent lassoing, Emery’s strange “My butt fell off!” response to being “fired” by his father.
That brings us back to the meat of the episode. Eddie and Phillip aren’t friends but are constantly being mistaken for friends solely because they are both Chinese. It’s a weird and offensive thing that tends to happen when you are one of two or three people of the same race existing in an overwhelming sea of whiteness: People will always lump you together in their minds and therefore lump you together in reality, such as when Eddie and Phillip get paired up in gym class. Predictably, Jessica takes an instant liking to Phillip because she views him as the model Chinese son. He is well put-together, he doesn’t listen to hip-hop, he is almost aggressively polite, and he goes straight home to do his homework so he will have time to practice his cello that night. For such a funny sitcom, there is some real heaviness to this plot, and a real sadness, too; for much of “Phillip Goldstein,” Eddie is being unfavorably compared to this virtual stranger, watching his mother fawn over someone else while pointing out all of Eddie’s flaws and, what’s more, highlighting the differences that make Eddie an outsider in his family.
But Eddie’s a pretty clever kid and realizes he can use this to his advantage, easily convincing his mother to let him go to the Beastie Boys concert (that she was once firmly against) by saying Phillip is going, too. Phillip, equally smart, uses Eddie as well: He’ll cover for Eddie and see the Beastie Boys if Eddie agrees to Les Misérables with him first. While neither Eddie nor Phillip would ever admit it, it’s actually is a pretty good depiction of true friendship: sitting through something awful that you hate for your friend. But after Les Misérables is over, Phillip disappears while Eddie is in the bathroom, prompting Eddie to miss Beastie Boys in order to try and find him. At the Goldstein house, however, Eddie and Jessica find Phillip perfectly safe — he had just ditched Eddie because he didn’t need him any longer. Eddie watches Jessica berate Phillip for not being a “good Chinese boy” (which, oof, especially since he’s adopted) and the two leave.
“Phillip Goldstein” ends on two very sweet moments that completely work: Jessica takes Eddie to the Beastie Boys show the next night, and then, in school, Eddie bonds with Walter (Prophet Bolden) over their mutual Beastie Boys T-shirts — which, as we all know, is usually the easiest way to make fast friends with someone. “An Asian kid and a black kid bonding over music by white Jewish rappers,” Eddie’s voice-over marvels, remarking on the strong bonds that come along with music.
- This episode’s Constance Wu Moment: “Why do you want to be a letter that’s only worth two points in Scrabble?” mostly because it’s such a telling character detail that Jessica knows the Scrabble points breakdown.
- The happiest I’ve been watching Fresh Off the Boat during the last eight episodes was tonight’s reference to Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.
- Eddie tried to sell his mother on various concerts by claiming Wu-Tang Clan are “sort of Asian” and that Dr. Dre is “a doctor!”
- “You made a powerful enemy today.” I want to say that I want so much more of Evan and Emery, but I think they are currently used in the perfect amount.
- It was really awesome seeing two prior ABC actors of beloved canceled sitcoms: Albert Tsai from Trophy Wife and Parker Young from Suburgatory. Maybe John Cho from Selfie will pop up next?
- “I love L.L. Bean.”
- Oh man, that “I can be open-minded” picture gag was a little jarring, but in a good way. It was certainly an example of Nahnatchka Khan’s humor.
- Pacific Rim Club! This school is terrible.