Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fresh Off the Boat 2.01: "Family Business Trip"

“Woman, I’ve been soft!”

While I didn’t blog it until now, “Fresh off the Boat” (along with “Empire”) was one of my favorite new shows of last season. It provides a unique voice in the television landscape on multiple levels, telling the story of a Taiwanese family with a South Asian woman as showrunner. The show is a very highly fictionalized take on the autobiography of chef Eddie Huang, also called “Fresh Off the Boat.” While Huang has significantly distanced himself from the show (he narrated every episode in the first season, but he did not narrate this episode), saying that it really isn’t anything like his experience growing up in Orlando, Florida, I think the show does have something of an edge to it compared to most network comedy fare. I personally, at least, am not taking it as a complete account of the real Eddie Huang’s life. I am taking it as the story of a fictional family loosely based/inspired by the real Eddie and his family.

This episode begins at the end of the school year, where students are signing yearbooks and conspiring about how they are going to make their mark when they return back to school in the fall. Some of the other kids warn Eddie that he needs to return to school with either some awesome new clothes or a great story about his summer adventures. Eddie assures his friends that he has this in the bag. When he returns home, we learn that Eddie used his money from working at his dad’s restaurant to buy himself a new pair of Reebok Pumps. He is so confident that these shoes will ensure his status at school that he spends all summer on the couch watching television. Unfortunately, though, the shoes aren’t going to be the popularity guarantee he thought they were going to be. He sees a special report on MTV that John Stockton is now wearing Pumps, making them no longer cool.

Back to school shopping also creates a bit of a crisis for the youngest Huang, Evan. In his bag of hand-me-downs from middle child Emery, Evan receives a pair of lace-up shoes. Jessica tells Evan that he doesn’t need Velcro shoes anymore – he is officially a big kid. Evan is devastated because being the “baby” was his brand. Louis doesn’t quite understand his son’s existential crisis, because he’s too busy planning for a “business trip” to a convention held by a trade association for franchise owners. Louis is excited because the trip is really a secret vacation – he plans to enjoy beers and unhealthy food with the other franchise owners. It’s his one chance a year to be out from under Jessica’s micromanaging thumb.

Jessica herself has been feeling burnt out lately, trying to balance her real estate job with keeping up the house and taking care of the kids. One of her friends suggests she take a vacation. At first she laughs it off, but eventually, she decides that the entire Huang family is going to go on a “family business trip” to Gator World, where the franchisee convention is being held. Eddie is super pumped about this, because he’s hoping that riding the “Death Roll” roller coaster and earning the T-shirt will be a sufficiently kickass story to ensure his popularity back at school. Every member of the family (except Emery, maybe) has an agenda with this trip. Louis still wants to sneak in some beers with the guys. Eddie wants a good story. Evan wants to regain “baby” status. And Jessica wants to make sure they aren’t “suckers” by paying a penny more than necessary.

Jessica’s obsession with not being taken advantage of is ruining the trip for everyone. She turns the AC to freezing because it’s free. She throws away the key to the minibar. She burns the room service menu. Poor Louis has to cancel all of his pampering plans, like his massage and steak dinner. Jessica also tries to take the kids to the hotel pool with packed lunches, but as soon as she finds out there’s a surcharge for bringing your own food to the pool, it’s finally off to Gator World. Unfortunately for Eddie, the trip to the amusement park lasts only until Jessica learns the price of tickets. Grandma Huang is the only member of the family to enter the park. Since she is in a wheelchair, she gets in for free, and there is an especially hilarious bit where we see her enjoying a roller coaster. Jessica instead tries to convince her kids that riding the tram around the Gator World parking lot counts as an amusement park ride.

When Jessica and the kids return from Gator World, she catches Louis living it up with the rest of the guys. She is furious, and the rest of the guys make a run for it. Louis convinces Jessica that she needs to let go a bit and actually enjoy vacation. She is so tightly wound that she seems incapable of enjoying life. Louis’s plan to help Jessica relax begins with a massage, and even though she has to keep her purse in her light of sight the whole time, the massage does the trick. The family enjoys room service, and Eddie gets to actually go to Gator World. When Louis goes to pay the bill, though, he is appalled by all the hidden charges. When Jessica lets down her guard, the family is easily taken advantage of.

Jessica decides to take back control of the situation just enough to get them out of the jam. She pulls out Evan’s loose tooth, and she presents Evan to the hotel staff, claiming he injured himself at the pool. It’s a chance for Evan to be the baby again, and Jessica gets most of the extra fees waived, so the Huangs are all winners. I’ll be interested to see if Jessica takes the “control in moderation” approach back to Orlando, but something tells me it was for vacation only.

Eddie doesn’t actually end up riding Death Roll. He chickens out when he sees a kid taken away on a stretcher, about to vomit. Back at school, he tries to make up a cool summer story, but the other kids aren’t buying it. Eddie is saved by an appearance from his pretty neighbor, Nicole, who will be repeating the eighth grade. The other guys are impressed that someone like Nicole considers Eddie her friend. Eddie tries to take advantage of that momentum, and he tells the guys the truth – he spent most of the summer on the couch watching TV. The other guys, after thinking about it, think that seem like a pretty awesome way to spend a summer. So Eddie’s status in the cool kid club continues for another year.

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