Fresh Off the Boat | Episode Eight: When looking alike doesn’t mean being alike

Posted by Karen Ng & filed under Pop Culture, Television.


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So far I have been generally disinterested in Eddie’s storyline. I don’t relate to him very much; I am in no way as invested in rap music and rap culture as Eddie is, and the environment at my kindergarten-to-grade-seven elementary school didn’t quite foster the same experiences as his middle school. Broadly speaking, our similarities end at having been the new kid at school and being Chinese—wait, that’s kind of like the resemblances between Eddie and Phillip Goldstein.

Fresh Off the Boat‘s eighth episode (“Phillip Goldstein”) focuses primarily on Louis having to deal with replacing Mitch’s position as the host at the restaurant, and Eddie’s, Jessica’s, and the school’s reaction to Phillip Goldstein, the new kid at school, a Jewish boy who is ethnically Chinese.

“Phillip Goldstein” introduces handsome and charismatic Parker Young as Wyatt to replace Mitch after his shocking betrayal in “Showdown at the Golden Saddle” (ep. 7). Wyatt is perfect for Cattleman’s Ranch; he’s got that southern American accent, he’s humble during the job interview, he’s good-looking, and he is a charming host—the guests love him. He’s also got a cowboy hat; even Louis doesn’t have a hat. He’s so perfect that when Mitch comes by the restaurant to visit (with his increased salary at the Golden Saddle he has more free time), Louis realizes how much he misses his clumsy former host, and Mitch misses his old job. Now the problem is having to fire Wyatt.

Meanwhile, the teachers at Abraham Lincoln Middle School declare Eddie and Phillip to be best friends after Eddie spends the day showing the new kid around, and also because both of them are ethnically Chinese. Suddenly there are two students who look alike. Phillip’s arrival makes Eddie slightly less of a minority than Walter, who is apparently the only black kid at the school.

Phillip was adopted by Jewish parents, hence the name Goldstein. It’s also the reason for his practice of Shabbat, and he uses it to his advantage when Eddie desperately wants to go to the Beastie Boys concert, but his mother won’t allow it, not unless Phillip the “good Chinese boy” comes along. The episode demonstrates some common expectations or wishes of children from Asian parents. Jessica wonders despairingly why Eddie can’t be like his (adorable) brothers Evan and Emery. “Why can’t you be a good Chinese boy, like Evan and Emery? They both study hard, play violin, wear button-up shirts properly…” Eddie had only buttoned up the single top button of his shirt and “letting the rest flop out like a cape,” to which Eddie snaps, “It’s called being a G, Mom!” (“Why do you want to be a letter?” asks Jessica. “It’s only worth two points in Scrabble!”) There’s a generation and a cultural gap.

Albert Tsai as Phillip does a great job at being Jessica Huang’s dream child, and overall quite unlikeable. He is pretentious and everything that Jessica seems to want Eddie to be—here is one of my favourite dialogue exchanges:

Jessica: “What instrument do you play?
Phillip: “Cello.”
Jessica: “Orchestra?”
Phillip: “Solo.”
Jessica: “Practice?”
Phillip: “Daily.”
Jessica: “How much?”
Phillip: “Five times perfect in a row. If I make a mistake on the fifth time, I start over.”

He’s the good Chinese boy who identifies as Jewish. He’s so perfect that Jessica allows Eddie to go to the Beastie Boys concert because Phillip has agreed to go on the condition that Eddie takes him to see Les Misérables. (The rules of Shabbat don’t allow him to handle money.)

Phillip needs Eddie to help him buy a souvenir t-shirt. When Eddie goes to the bathroom, Phillip decides that Shabbat has ended since it is evening, and he buys the shirt himself and leaves without Eddie and without going to the Beastie Boys concert with him. Eddie, being a decent human who possesses moral fibre, spends the evening, and thus missing his concert, searching for Phillip, only to find that he just went home. Jessica is shocked and angry, telling Phillip that he should be ashamed because he broke his promise. To make it up to Eddie, she takes him to see the Beastie Boys the very next night wherever they are playing (she hates it as much as Eddie hated Les Misérables.)

Phillip makes the story more interesting. As visible minorities in the school, Eddie and Walter haven’t been getting along. They acknowledge that they are both at the bottom (of the food chain at school, I suppose), but it ends there. To what extent do we choose our friends based on appearance or cultural background?

Something I noticed during high school was that ethnic groups seemed to stick together. My sister reported likewise when I asked about her experiences in school right now, but she also says that most of her friends are Asian because there are just more Asian students in the school (not entirely surprising for a school in the Metro Vancouver or BC area). Nonetheless, do we feel more comfortable around people who look like ourselves?

The real life Eddie Huang narrates at the beginning and end of the episode about how important it is when we find someone with whom we identify, and he’s not talking about Eddie and Phillip just because they look alike. Phillip looks Chinese but as the episode shows, he is very much Jewish. Eddie finds something in common with Walter: the Beastie Boys. “Sometimes the more meaningful way to connect with somebody isn’t the most obvious one,” says adult Eddie through the voice-over. “Check this out: an Asian kid and a black kid bonding over music by white Jewish rappers.”

To quote Eddie: “Hell yeah!”

Watch Fresh Off the Boat on ABC on Tuesdays at 8/7c.

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