Fresh Off the Boat
While I love Jessica Huang more than my own mother sometimes, I love the kids of Fresh Off the Boat, too. I’m rooting for them. I want them to succeed. I want to see them do well in school. That’s why this episode fills me with such delight: It’s kid-centric, full of heart, and features #TaiwansFinest, Jeremy Lin.
Eddie and his crew are prepping themselves for their first school dance, an exciting time for hormonal middle-schoolers everywhere. This is also a very exciting time for Louis, who never got the pleasure of putting on a silk dress shirt and sweatily clutching the shoulders of his crush in a darkened gymnasium while swaying to Tevin Campbell. When the principal calls him to provide food for the dance, he drops everything and runs home. Louis learned everything there is to know about American dances from John Hughes movies, watched while making those plastic tables that hold up pizza boxes in a factory with Jeremy Lin. Eddie’s first dance is his first dance, too, and he’s going to do everything he can to make it awesome.
The first essential element for a successful school dance is the actual dancing. Like any other kid raised on the glory of mid-’90s MTV, Eddie and his friends got all their moves from The Grind. That’s the only reasonable explanation for the horror and beauty of their one and only dance move: a slow, offbeat body-roll with finger guns and R&B face to Shaggy’s best single, “Boombastic.” It’s just as incredible as it sounds. I’m not sure that Louis’s repurposed fight move, the “surprise dip,” is any better than the finger-gun-body-roll seduction technique, but if they really wanted to go for accuracy, these kids would’ve been air-humping the nearest houseplants instead. This is a family show, though. There are standards.
Once the dance moves are on lock, it’s on to your ’fit. If you’re a woman, you can buy all the crop tops, crushed velvet, and overalls of your 1997 dreams at Urban Outfitters today. There’s a reason that men’s fashion from the mid-’90s hasn’t enjoyed a revival: It was hideous. Louis’s best advice is to wear what makes you feel confident. For Eddie’s friends, it’s a fairly standard combination of wide-cut dress pants, a blousy button-down, and vests yanked from the wardrobe of a third-rate traveling magician. Ever the iconoclast, Eddie prefers the classic dress-shirt–Orlando Magic–jersey-untied-Timbs look. Like a good parent, Louis doesn’t really get it, but he approves.
Once you look fly as hell and know how to move, you gotta get the girl. Eddie’s friends show up to the dance, but Eddie opts to sit this out, playing video games in basketball shorts at home. See, there’s this girl named Allison whom he likes. Going to the dance itself is fine, but interacting with the girl is riskier business. Because Louis’s understanding of American courting rituals comes from Pretty in Pink, he knows school dances change lives. This could change Eddie’s life, for better or for worse. But the odds of Eddie and Allison hanging out and being chill with the whole thing are the same as the odds of her throwing an entire beverage into his face and running away screaming. Those are bad odds. Life! It’s a shitty gamble, but we all have to do it, and Jesus, Eddie, man up. Because this is a sitcom and everything works out for the best, Eddie rolls through and asks Allison to dance. Instead of being at the receiving end of a body-roll performed by a 12-year-old, Allison and Eddie join in the ecstatic reverie of kids and their crazy hormones “mooshing,” just like it should be.
While her eldest navigates the murky waters of middle school, Jessica’s got bigger problems. Her relationship with Grandma Huang is chilly at best. She’s the only one in the family who didn’t realize Grandma had a boyfriend despite all the classic signs: late nights wheeling into the house drunk at 7:30; giggly phone conversations; pointed queries about borrowing pantyhose. And now that boyfriend is dead, and Grandma’s got some extra cash he left her to stash under her mattress. When Jessica realizes that she could level up in her real-estate game and start flipping houses, it’s clear what she has to do: fake being nice to Grandma while shaking her down for a loan.
A brief note: I would watch the shit out of a spinoff with Jessica and Grandma Huang flipping houses in Orlando. It’d be like Property Brothers: Buying and Selling, but with less furniture from Wayfair and more cunning and yelling. I’m The Secret–ing this to life. Universe, please hear my cry.
Anyway! In order to get Grandma’s money, Jessica has to, you know, interact with her. After a failed attempt at a lunch date, she tags along on Grandma’s busy days fishing change out of a fountain, and uses the opportunity to ask of her money. Grandma’s not here for it. See, the thing is, being “nice” to your in-laws means actually being nice, not gamely pushing their wheelchair while faking a smile. This all comes to a head, however, when Jessica finds Grandma at Honey’s house, playing CPA.
What follows is the realest of the real. Jessica lets Grandma live in her house because it’s her obligation, a filial piety that’s an inevitability. When your parents are old and can no longer care for themselves, it’s your obligation to clear out the guest room, throw a TV in there, and let your salty-ass mom shuffle around in house slippers while criticizing your dishwashing technique. Grandma knows how the cookie crumbles. But she’s not afraid to call Jessica out for being the teensiest bit spoiled and selfish every now and then. This display of pride and pigheadedness runs through every argument I’ve ever had with my mother. No one concedes readily because, above all, you want to save face. But this is television, and we can’t have these two fighting for the rest of their lives. All is well after Jessica extends a coin-grabber-robot-arm of peace. They decide to go into business as house flippers with Honey, as partners. Flipping Out: Huang’s House will be incredible.
+1,001 for Louis’s throwaway line, “Anyone could die at any time.” If every person learned this lesson early in life, as I did, we’d all be better off.
+65 for Jeremy Lin’s haircut.
+infinity for Grandma Huang speaking mostly in Chinese, with a few exceptions. I cannot remember the last time I heard this much Chinese on network television from a real, normal person, and not a scientist or an evil dictator. America can read subtitles, people.