The quirky humour and fresh ingenuity of Fresh Off the Boat have so charmed viewers of all ages and upbringings that it’s easy to forget that two decades have passed since the Huangs were living in Orlando. However, this episode’s return to the era of neon spandex track suits, nineties music, and earlier Stephen King novels reminds us once again this is 1996. Fans of the American vocal group Boyz II Men will be especially delighted by the Huang men’s cover of the band’s classic, “End of the Road.” Need a refresher? Check out the original tune here.
For all the nostalgic references to nineties R&B, this episode starts off with the piccolo, or rather, Jessica’s attempt to coerce Eddie into taking up the undersized flute, “because 2,000 marching-band scholarships go unclaimed every year.” Despite Eddie’s vehement protests, Jessica is immovable. As she tells Honey, parenting is like a chess game, “Children are the pawns and you are the queen. They are never too old to be controlled.” I love these classic Jessica moments. There’s a certain charm to the Asian matron’s unwavering faith in the soundness of her parenting system, but really, would you want her for a mother?
Fortunately for Eddie, school has never been better, even with the disgrace of piccolo lessons, because cool, hipster Nicole is repeating eighth grade. Under her patronage, Eddie and the gang are free to show off their kilts and teddy bears unharassed by school bullies. Nicole even convinces Eddie to “tutor” him so that he can get out of band class and chill with her to Boyz II Men all block. Well, easier said than done.
Eddie might as well have told Jessica that he had decided to spend the rest of his days as a Himalayan hermit (not to say that this is a poor occupation). Tutor is “one step away from teacher, which is one missed paycheck away from homeless man with dirty dog and socks for gloves,” declares an offended Jessica.
But this time, Eddie does not so easily backing down. In an unheard of, open act of defiance, the pre-teen blurts out, “NO!” Eddie might as well have just thrown away his inheritance, but there’s no going back. “I said, ‘No.’” Oh for the good old days when blatant teenage rebellion was an earth-shaking occurrence…
If you’re wondering where Louis has been this whole time, the American Dreamer has been fantasizing about having daughter. “You know who wouldn’t have disrespected you like that?” he asks Jessica, “A girl.” In an ‘ingenious’ plan to get his wife “in the mood,” Louis starts hiding Anne Geddes calendars all around the house (think photos of babies in disturbingly-oversized pea pods and pumpkins). Granted, subtlety has never been Louis’s forte. However, the only delivery this produces is Jessica’s a hilarious fairy tale about “cabbage-faced baby.” Moral of the story: “Shop is closed! Do you know what baby girls turn into? Teenage girls, and, Louis, trust me, neither of us want that.” Evan and Emery, mortified that they would then have to give up their room for the new girl, take matters into their own hands. Following the advice of littlest Huang’s power-walking, spandex-loving neighbourhood ladies, they go so far as to buy a drill and a puppy for their baffled father.
Poor Jessica. Challenging matriarchal rule basically ranks as the cardinal Asian sin, but Her Highness is not abdicating without a fight—or a game of chess. A brief ‘visit’ with her son’s teacher effectively persuades him to give Eddie multiple students to tutor. In short, Nicole meets a new boy and Eddie is quickly forgotten.
Mama Huang may have recovered her crown, but with Eddie devastated by his first heartbreak, Louis disappointed by her shutdowns, and the babies distraught over being displaced by a new sister, the Huang kingdom has fallen into a state of “unhappily ever after.” (My favourite scene: Emery leads the Huang men in a pathetic rendition of “End of the Road” which quickly transforms into a parody of the Boyz II Men music video starring Eddie as the tragic, teenage heartthrob. Perfectly cringe-worthy, but only because we can all relate.)
In the end, there are just some things that even superhuman moms cannot micro-manage for their children, like their relationships. Jessica learns to express her empathy—well, sort of: “I lost weight. My grades suffered. I cut my hair. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life.” She even comes to see chess in a different light, “Life is a lot like chess, you can’t win every game.”
Or maybe you can, because Eddie decides to drown his sorrows in… piccolo lessons, after all.
This week’s episode marks a milestone in Huang family history: Eddie’s first major fallout with Jessica and his first heartbreak. Is this a foreshadowing of some troubled teenage years to come? Yet Eddie is not the only character who experienced growth this week. It was also refreshing to see Jessica become more dynamic as she moves away from “OP mother” and tries on the role of “friend.” Spinning original tales from a twenty-year-old family history, Fresh Off the Boat is a guaranteed “fresh” for viewers every time.