If your friends haven’t raved about it yet, Fresh Off the Boat is a hugely-popular sitcom first released by ABC in 2014. Based on a memoire by celebrated foodie Eddie Huang, it’s the first Asian-American family on mainstream TV since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl.
After long break, Season 2 of Fresh Off the Boat reopens with the Huang family taking a vacation themselves. This season premiere is the perfect call for fans to return from their “business trips” and for new viewers to jump onto the bandwagon boat.
“Family Business Trip” starts off with the end of the school year. In youthful bravado, stupidity, or both, Eddie tells his friends that he will do something really cool this summer. Unimpressed, they warn him that he’d better have proof, or be shunned forever. (Luckily, these kids never had to deal with the hardships of living with social media – the ultimate proof of your cool or uncool activities).
Undeterred, Eddie spends his whole summer playing video games, which seems like a pretty sweet deal considering how many Asian kids move straight onto summer school and MathSmart workbooks instead.
Meanwhile, Louis is busy packing for a business conference. He shows off his new Sharkskin suit to Jessica, hoping that people will notice him for his impeccable style and not for being Chinese, but she snaps that it will only make him stand out even more. I love this moment because even naïve, optimistic Louis—so often blinded by the American dream—is conscious of being perceived as someone different.
Noticing that her husband has packed his swimming trunks and tennis balls, Jessica gets increasingly suspicious that Louis is not leaving for work, but a holiday. Eddie, overhearing the resort center “Gator World,” is overjoyed to finally have a great vacation story.
Sticking to his claim that this is strictly for business, Louis has no choice when Jessica announces that the whole family is going on a “family business trip.” “Vacation” obviously does not exist in the Huang family vocabulary.
Once at the hotel, Jessica brings the “stingy Asian matron” trope to a whole new level. She does everything in her power to get their “money’s worth” and avoid incurring additional charges. She turns the AC up to max and burns the hotel room service pamphlet. The boys camp on the floor (literally, they get sleeping bags) in order to save on room fees and the pool valet is dismissed with a stern “we will be using God’s towels—the sun.”
Back at the hotel, Louis is having the time of life enjoying wine and steak with his business buddies, that is, until Jessica storms in and catches him red-handed. Uh-oh. In the ensuing showdown, Louis confesses that he has been taking business vacations on the sly for years. Sneaky. Jessica responds in anguish that she can’t escape because the family needs her.
This is by far the most powerful scene in the entire episode. In twenty seconds, this brief exchange manages to encapsulate an Asian-American woman’s conflicted sense of family duty, desire for personal freedom, and need for self-validation. Definitely rice for thought.
Louis convinces his wife to “loosen the reins” and have some fun, which she reluctantly (but successfully) does at the end, with a hilarious massage session (fully clothed).
At the end of their stay, Louis freaks out over the ridiculous hotel bill while Jessica listens unperturbed—and a little smugly—in her bubble bath. It seems like Louis was ready to file for bankruptcy until he humbly recognizes the important role she plays by looking after the family.
Fresh Off the Boat continues to keep things lighthearted and droll while being unafraid to address the deeper aspects of the immigrant experience, such as the struggle to fit in. Yet, the show’s true charm lies in the fact that it does not shy away from tactfully critiquing the underdog culture either. Jessica’s obsession with saving money may come across as a little over-the-top, but an “all work and no play” mentality was prevalent for many immigrant families as they struggled financially in their new homes. Thanks to Fresh Off the Boat though, we’ll get to see more playful sides of the immigrant experience this season.