Fresh Off the Boat
Daaaaaaaaaamn, Fresh Off the Boat. You aimed for my heart, and you did. not. miss.
Is there anything more second-generation Asian than Fatherly FOMO? I was low-key wrecked by “Four Funerals and a Wedding,” which tackled a reality many Asian Americans experience but few of us want to talk about. A lot of us don’t know our fathers very well and aren’t sure how to have a normal conversation with them. The older we get, the more we fear that we’ll never truly learn who they are as people, and yet we remain clueless about how to break down the walls that have been built up over decades. At the same time, many of us are given signals that our fathers aren’t all that interested in a closer relationship — they never had one with their parents, and may not see or admit the value in a more intimate and equal bond. And so we’re stuck with the brief conversations about the weather and the polite questions about each other’s health, the wall growing taller with each passing year.
As the episode title suggests, “Four Funerals” is a more solemn installment, but I’m into it. The half-hour opens in Houston, at great aunt Trina’s memorial service. Grandma Huang advises Emery to ditch his jinxed year by giving it to the deceased woman in front of him. “Spit your bad luck out, and Trina will carry it with her into the afterlife,” she counsels. Grandma Huang had meant for her grandson to spit into a handkerchief and leave the soiled cloth in the coffin, but too late: Emery has spit on the corpse. Hope karma doesn’t mess you up too bad, kid.
The funeral is full of relatives the boys don’t know very well — one of them, it turns out, being their grandfather. “Have you eaten?” asks an older man to Jessica, to which she responds with her own question: “Are you warm enough?” “Nice to see you,” they both conclude. The three Es are gobsmacked that they have a maternal grandfather; they’d always assumed he was dead. When they ask if their maternal grandparents are divorced, Jessica admonishes them. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she says, explaining that her father is a diplomat who travels too much to see his wife more than once every few months (though he thoughtfully sends her plenty of Hard Rock Cafe memorabilia from each branch he visits). Jessica and Louis then mull over the fact that neither had much of a relationship with their fathers. I FEEL YA, GUYS.
Back home in Orlando, Louis overhears Jessica share her worries that she’s missed an important opportunity with her psychic, Madame Xing. (Of course Jessica has a psychic!!! Fittingly for this tiger mom, her zodiac sign is a tiger.) Louis immediately assumes that his wife is talking about her tepid relationship with her father, and so schemes to force father and daughter into a deeper bond. When one of Trina’s triplet sisters die, the return to Houston becomes an occasion for Louis to nudge Jessica and Mr. Chu toward one another. Louis tries to get his wife to sit next to her dad and to invite him for Christmas. When those ploys don’t work, he awkwardly proposes that Jessica and Mr. Chu dance together for the father-daughter dance they forwent because the older man didn’t attend his daughter’s wedding. Facing only defeat, Louis then goes for the nuclear option.
When the Huangs return to Houston for a third time for the other triplet sister’s wedding, Louis informs Jessica that her father is dying. Even when she believes that her father doesn’t have long to live, she can’t do more than engage in small talk with him. A frustrated Louis breaks down: How could Jessica be okay with her father knowing so little about her life and her family and her interests and vice versa, when they, unlike he and the deceased Mr. Huang, actually have the chance to get to know each other? Guilt-ridden, Jessica and her dad try things Louis’s way; Mr. Chu agrees to come over for Christmas, his daughter’s favorite holiday.
But here’s where this episode of Fresh Off the Boat doesn’t take the easy way out. Instead, it stays true to Jessica and to its commitment to cultural specificity by ultimately letting Jessica and Mr. Chu do things their way. Jessica’s father won’t spend Christmas with the Huangs after all, and father and daughter will mostly continue keeping tabs on each other through Mrs. Chu. But Jessica’s father shows that he cares about her by making arrangements for the inevitability of his death. Mr. Chu doesn’t want to be his daughter’s friend, but he won’t be a burden to her, either. That’s exactly what Jessica would prefer in her relationship with her father, even if I think she’d want a closer relationship with her own children. Via Louis, Fresh Off the Boat allows its audience to mourn the parent-child relationships that were never as close as one might have wished. But it also nods approvingly at more distant parent-child relationships via Jessica’s storyline, provided that both sides of that equation don’t mind the status quo. Jessica might wonder what she’s missing out on by not knowing her father better, but she also wants to give him the space he needs to feel comfortable. Oh, and that missed moment Jessica was hashing over with Madame Xing? Not trying Texas BBQ chicken. (Can psychics do astral tastings?)
The death in the family prompts Evan to revisit his will and seek a new executor for his last wishes. (Previously, he’d listed Honey as his executor, but he isn’t so sure now that she’d be able to handle it. She’s a raccoon-eyed, shopaholic mess when Princess Diana dies — hardly the calm, rational functionary Evan would favor.) The natural choice for will executor would seem to be Emery, but after the middle child loses their dad’s tie, Evan chooses Eddie instead. Sick of being looked over, Emery lashes out at Eddie by calling him selfish and irresponsible — the boy’s not wrong — and Eddie literally rubs it in his face by smearing tater-tot grease into Emery’s bangs.
The tater tots are courtesy of all the women in the neighborhood; Evan’s decision to update his will, which has to be notarized by his gossipy frenemy Deirdre, is interpreted by the HOA members as a sign that the little boy is on death’s door. While Evan’s busy juggling trays of casserole, Emery frets after his fight with Eddie that he’s “changing into a different person.” Grandma Huang might not be wrong that Emery’s zodiac year is messing with his luck, but Eddie has a more relatable diagnosis: “It’s just puberty.” It gets worse, Eddie warns, and it lasts way longer than a year. But as Eddie’s little brother, Emery’ll have all the help he needs.
Eddie, it turns out, was always just going to be a placeholder executor until Emery’s bad year ran its course. But the eldest Huang boy relished a feeling he doesn’t often feel: the pride from making a difference in his little brothers’ lives. It’s encouraging that the series seems to be maturing the brothers’ relationships with one another as the characters age up. With this episode, Fresh Off the Boat gave us possibly its dirtiest joke ever, when Evan tells Eddie, “I have a serious question for you,” and Eddie replies, “Just do it in the shower.” Ready or not, these boys are growing up.
Best ‘90s reference: Honey’s Princess Di commemorative plates, of course. If you’re so inclined, you can still buy for a cool $50,000 a first-edition porcelain platter with a picture of Diana in the satin dirigible she wore on her wedding day. Second place goes to: “I keep thinking about that robot from The Jetsons. Do you think Rosie wanted to be there?”
Worst ‘90s reference: This one isn’t bad per se, but Madame Xing’s recommendation to Louis that he check out Dana Carvey unexpectedly bummed me out. In the late ‘90s, the “Chopping Broccoli” song from Carvey’s HBO special was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. Carvey’s been searching his a comeback vehicle for at least a decade now, and the fact that he hasn’t found one yet amid this crest of ‘90s nostalgia is a disappointment.