Fresh Off the Boat
The show I know and love is back! The past couple of weeks have felt a little stilted, but “Doing It Right” packed just the kind of punch Fresh Off the Boat needed. One of the greatest joys of this show is seeing the imperfections of its characters, and finding the comedy and vulnerability within those imperfections is its greatest strength.
My general sense is that Louis is Jessica’s opposite in every way: understanding in the face of her obstinance, kind and easy-going as an antidote to her sharpness. This episode proves they’re actually a lot more alike then either one of them would have you believe.
The Northern Orlando Chili Cook-Off is imminent, and Louis, as the owner of a relatively successful restaurant that serves watered-down “Western” (?) food is ready to give it his all. Ghost peppers are secured in a shadowy parking garage during a cold open that went on just long enough for me to type frantically in my notes, “GET LOUIS A SPIN-OFF, THIS IS GREAT.” Also, his leather jacket deserves an Emmy. Anyway! Louis is no stranger to chili cookouts. After a scintillating trash-talk sesh about Yankee chili with five-time Golden Stock pot winner Marvin, he’s ready to pick an apprentice.
In a story line that feels like a big ol’ nod to the source — IRL Eddie Huang’s memoir, Fresh Off the Boat — TV Eddie and TV Louis enter the Flavordome (a.k.a the Cattleman’s kitchen) so father can teach son to follow in his chili-loving footsteps. Louis loves rules. He’s precise. He likes measuring and formulas and tablespoons. Eddie? He knows food. He’s one of those people who can pick up a spoon, dip it into a pot of something simmering on the stove, taste it, and tell you immediately if it needs more garlic. Instinct is everything, and Eddie’s got it.
The first batch of chili is fine. “Not bad,” say the Huang men, then into the trash it goes. “Not bad” is the first loser. It doesn’t win cook-offs, so it certainly won’t do. But when Eddie makes a suggestion, Louis balks. Jessica, impetuous and prone to improvisation in the kitchen, futzes. This isn’t a bowl of jazz, guys. It’s chili.
This chili cook-off is a huge deal, and it’s one that Eddie isn’t treating with the respect it deserves. After two days as a chili apprentice, he already has suggestions, thereby breaking the official rules of being a kid: shutting up, listening, and learning. But if Louis is so intractable and unwilling to listen to any suggestions, then, much like Ariana Grande, Eddie will break free. When the day of the cook-off arrives, the twist arrives: There are two Huangs in the running.
In case you’ve never seen an episode of Throwdown With Bobby Flay, we then get a cooking montage: Louis measures! Eddie guesses. Marvin, wearing a hat that looks like a wild boar, chops. Good Morning, Orlando! hosts Mey-Mey (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and Gus (Ken Marino) judge. Marvin gets DQ’ed for using chopped-up burgers from Burger King, and Eddie and Louis are in the finals! In the end, they lose to the other finalist, Gloria, but luckily she thinks pride is a sin, so the Huangs get the trophy.
While Louis and Eddie are bonding, Jessica is finding new, creative ways to channel her, uh, Jessica-ness. This time, it’s the school drop-off procedure, governed by a crossing guard whose singular job appears to be preventing rage-y moms from killing each other as they deposit their kin at the curb. All is not chaos, despite what Jessica thinks. Zippering — cars waiting their turn to merge in a single file line for maximum efficiency — should work, but any casual viewer of this show understands that Jessica will find a problem, even where one doesn’t really exist.
When a car cuts her off, Jessica does her thing: She walks up to the window to give the offender a piece of her mind. Oh look, it’s Casey Wilson, listening to “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” and rightfully ignoring the salty woman banging on her window! It seems that zippering is a suggestion, not a hard and fast rule, so, in the words of Shawn Spencer, from USA’s comedy-drama Psych, “Calm down, sir.”
“Calm down” is the wrong thing to tell anyone who’s fussed about something. Watching half an episode of any Real Housewives show will teach you as much. It’s definitely the wrong thing to say to Jessica Huang. Instead of reacting like a normie and walking away from the vehicle, Jessica attempts to get inside this woman’s car, only to realize that her intended victim is the mother of Evan’s best friend, J.J.
Because of Jessica’s behavior, Evan is uninvited from J.J.’s birthday party. After talking it over with her husband, she attempts a mea culpa. J.J.’s mom Helen — rhymes with melon, a sweet fruit! — accepts the apology, though it’s not really an apology, merely an acknowledgement of perceived wrongdoing. Still, it’s good enough. Despite Jessica’s best intentions, however, Evan’s still not allowed to attend the birthday party. This is why you should never apologize! It never works out the way you want it to, so best to cling to your pettiness like a life raft and go about your day.
Once again, Jessica’s facing the consequences of her actions. Evan, her precious angel, will be denied the singular childhood pleasure of attending his best friend’s birthday party because she couldn’t admit that she’s wrong. When she tries to tell her little cherub that he can’t go because of what she did, she chickens out.
Strong-arming her kid into a 7-year-old’s party is one way to do things, but Jessica’s heart seems to be in the right place. “Evan doesn’t deserve to miss out because you have a problem with me,” she says, and she’s right. But! It turns out that Evan is the real problem. He’s … bossier than Jessica? He tells J.J. what to do and how to do it and why he’s doing it wrong, all together crushing the kid’s gentle spirit.
Time to fix it. A quick heart-to-heart at the chili cook-off reveals the real reason behind Evan’s bossy boots. It’s not because he idolizes his mother, as she’d love to think, but because literally no one in the family listens to him — and J.J. does. Them’s the breaks when you’re the youngest and telling J.J. how to live his life feels good. Let’s be real, though: Telling anyone how to live their life and having them actually listen to you feels good. Evan almost cries because being the youngest is hard, Jessica almost cries with him, and I definitely cried, but all is well. Evan lets J.J. fumble through life the wrong way, content with knowledge that his family will actually start to listen to him, too.
+90 ghost peppers for Louis’s very accurate assessment of Jessica’s entire outlook: “You do have an eye for other people’s mistakes.” Seriously, I love her, but part of the reason I identify with the show so much is because I was raised by a woman who is the embodiment of #Actually Twitter. That’s Jessica: She’ll tell you what you’re doing wrong before you actually do it.
+10,000 Golden Stock pots for father-son bonding via food. If you want to ask someone how they’re doing, or what they’re thinking, or just to check in and see how things are going, in Chinese you ask them if they’ve eaten. (Ni chi fan le ma?) Food is love.