"Fresh Off the Boat" recap: "So Chineez"

The season finale of Fresh Off the Boat has come and gone, and I’m already feeling the void! ABC, you’d better renew Fresh Off the Boat! According to this Vulture interview with Nahnatchka Khan, ABC won’t reveal what’s coming back until next month, so we have a few more days to wait, but I have to agree with Khan that I’m “cautiously optimistic” that Fresh Off the Boat will return. I don’t see why it wouldn’t; it outran the Cancellation Bear throughout its 13-episode season. 

Okay, enough numbers talk; let’s get to the recap, which involves the Huangs coming to terms with being “clear.”

There’s a quote from Space Jam that I adopted as my describing my place in America’s racial equation. During the golf scene, where Bill Murray is trying to get in the NBA, Murray tells Michael Jordan that he wants to be in the NBA and Jordan says he can’t play. Murray says, “It’s because I’m white, isn’t it?” Jordan says, “Larry [Bird]’s white!” Murray retorts with, “Larry’s not white. Larry’s clear.”

At first, I laughed hard at that. Then I stopped laughing and said, “You know…he’s on to something.” All of my life, I and my siblings have joked that we are  “clear.” Not because we want to be clear, but because society has labeled us as “clear” without using that term. We’re always “those black people.” We don’t do what people think black people are supposed to do (i.e. live in stereotypes), so we instantly become “those black people,” the “different” black people. “You don’t act like them.” “I forget you’re black.” Those kinds of things have been said to me in many different ways or even non-verbally.

Jessica had to confront that kind of feeling in this episode, when Honey’s husband makes the quip that he forgets the Huangs are Chinese. Because Jessica watches Melrose Place, Louis owns a prosperous Western-themed restaurant and not a nail salon, and the kids have non-Asian friends, they instantly become “those Chinese people,” the “different Chinese people.” “You don’t act like them.” “I forget you’re Chinese.” Cue the smiles frozen in disbelief and offense.

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Basically, when someone says something like “You act different” or “I forget you’re [insert minority here],” they’re saying, “You don’t act like what I assume minorities act like and to me, you’re acting more white, which I identify with.” Speaking as a minority, there are some minorities that have marinated in the “acting ‘white'” mentality and would probably view such a statement as a compliment. However, if you’re like a lot of minority people and you’re proud of your heritage, you’d feel insulted, like Jessica did, and like I have felt in various pockets of my childhood and adolescence.

That insult stings Jessica so much that she starts noticing all the ways in which her family has assimilated into society. She’s watching soap operas and cooks macaroni and cheese on a daily basis. She convinced Louis to join the country club to help expand the busienss (this was the main reason for having dinner with Honey and her husband). The kids don’t know Mandarin (or is it Cantonese? More on that later). Eddie’s school project is on Jamaica, and he’s walking around the house with a (borderline offensive) stereotypical Jamaican hat and fake dreadlocks and talking with a fake accent. Jessica’s had enough. She’s going to bring China to back into her family.

She starts wearing traditional clothes, cooks chicken feet, and enrolls her kids in Mandarin classes. She also gets the principal to give Eddie China for his school report and wants Louis to end his country club membership. However, Louis, who is fine with playing the game as long as it means he’s getting ahead, doesn’t want to get rid of it. He’s just about to get his Cattleman’s Express restaurant in the mall food court!

Eventually, when Louis undermines her wishes for getting rid of the country club, Jessica gives up and lets Eddie continue studying Jamaica (in other words, slacking) and is convinced her family has turned into another white suburban family. UNTIL Eddie defends China to his friends.

Eddie and his kids, who are glad to get Jamaica just so they can pretend to have accents and sit around in beach chairs, are laughing about how great Jamaica is. Eddie states that China is so boring, leading one of his friends to agree and say that all they have are pandas that, according to the sounds the kid made, make noise like the Swedish Chef. It’s at that moment that Eddie reminds him and the rest of them kids that China is great and that he’s proud to be Chinese! Jessica and Louis are intensely proud to see that despite the hip hop and lack of Mandarin skills, Eddie knows who he is as a person.

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Jessica’s so proud that she hangs up Eddie’s F on the refrigerator. The F, which came from Eddie defending China so much that he didn’t have anything to say about Jamaica, is probably the only F Jessica will allow her sons to have.

Some notes!

Mandarin or Cantonese? Evan cursing in Mandarin was the best. Evan has quickly become one of the best characters of the show, and him cursing out his young feelings makes him shine even brighter. But, as many viewers pointed out, Evan was cursing in both Mandarin and Cantonese. The viewers ask, “Which one is it?” I can’t speak either, so of course, I didn’t notice in my ignorance. But some consistency would have been good so viewers wouldn’t be scratching their heads.

Grandma as Topanga: That was interesting. I get the kid being fooled over the phone, but why would the kid still go along with the grandmother as Topanga when he sees her in person? I’m still thinking about this to figure out what I think.

Knowing where you come from: The struggle to know your heritage is a real one. I’ve written in the post linked above that my mom made sure my sisters and I played only with black dolls and dolls of other minorities. She didn’t want us to grow up with the idea that the Eurocentric idea of beauty was the only right one.

My mom also made us watch Roots and read the American Girl Addy books. (Well, technically, I started reading them just for fun, but once my mom found out about them, she was encouraged to keep buying them for us and heavily supported us reading them).There’s a story I could tell, but it’s not my story to tell, so I’ll just say, again, that the struggle to know your heritage is real. The temptation to forgo all of that and just live as a sheep, going along with the majority, is very alluring.

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So what am I saying here? I guess what I’m saying is that while I’m glad Jessica came to terms with the fact that she does like Melrose Place and loves Stephen King books and can still rep her culture, I wish there was more of a focus on finding that balance. I mean, Eddie repped his culture to his friends, which is great. But I wish there was something else that showed how tough it is as a kid to maintain a love for your culture without wanting to just go along with what the majority thinks and how the majority views your own culture. Minority kids have a huge burden that white kids don’t, and I wish that was examined a little bit more. But it is a 30-minute comedy and hindsight is 20/20.

Naked Louis: I have to admit that I didn’t know I needed that in my life. The crush on Louis intensifies!

What did you think about this episode? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Photo credit: ABC