Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fresh off the Boat 2.20: "Hi, My Name Is . . ."

“It’s not a big deal. Names are meaningless. Did I ever tell you the story of how I got my name?”

“Hello, My Name Is . . .” is another great example of a “Fresh off the Boat” story that most other shows on television right now couldn’t do. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” or “Dr. Ken,” perhaps, but that’s it. Neither of those shows could tackle this topic in quite the way “Fresh off the Boat” does, however. As per usual, this episode struck a great mix of comedy and treating the topic at hand and the characters with respect. The topic, as you might have guessed, is the importance of names. Many Chinese immigrants, including the Huangs, choose “American” names when they immigrate. This episode is a funny and thought provoking look at the connection between names and identity, particularly as it relates to immigrants and second generation Americans. We also get to learn the stories behind the names of all the Huangs, so there’s some nice character history wrapped in as well.

It’s breakfast time in the Huang household, and Eddie has decided it would be a good idea to make a Pop Tart and bagel sandwich, with Pop Tarts being the “bread” and a bagel being the “meat.” Unfortunately, Eddie’s experiment breaks the family toaster. You can get a free toaster for opening a bank account, so Jessica and Louis decide it is time to open an account for Evan. They can teach their youngest about money and replace the toaster for free all at the same time. Evan is super excited. He hasn’t bought candy in three years, so he has a substantial amount of money to deposit at the bank. The whole Huang family goes to the bank together to open Evan’s account. Evan says how excited he is to sign his name to his first official document because his name flows so well. Louis and Jessica have disappointing news, though. They really didn’t put that much thought into Evan’s name. They named him after one of the nurses at the hospital – Nurse Evans. This throws Evan into a serious identity crisis.

Jessica tries to tell Evan that names aren’t important, and to illustrate her point, she tells the story of changing her name when she arrived in the United States. At first, she was committed to keeping her Chinese name. She though people should make the effort to learn how to pronounce it (which is probably right). When she arrived at “Maryland College,” however (which looks suspiciously like my grad school alma mater, aka the Old Line State’s flagship research university), this becomes a problem. The other students in Jessica’s lecture are all played by Jessica’s current neighbors. I loved the little detail that Marvin is wearing a Maryland Lacrosse hoodie, because there isn’t much that’s more Maryland than lacrosse, except maybe crabs. Somebody involved in the production is a Marylander for sure! Anyway, Jessica’s business professor refuses to call on her, even though she is the only person to raise her hand in response to most of his questions. When prompted, the professor says he doesn’t call on Jessica because he can’t pronounce her name. He suggests Jessica “rebrand” herself. She’d still be the same person, just with a name that makes people more comfortable. She eventually takes the advice and chooses Jessica because of her love for the Allman Brothers.

Jessica’s story just makes Evan more confused. Now he has to decide if he should use Evan or his Chinese name when he signs the documents for the bank account. Jessica tries to strengthen her case that names aren’t important. Apparently Emery’s name was inspired by Jessica using an emery board, and Eddie was named after Edward from the Chronicles of Narnia. Eddie thinks that’s pretty awesome, actually. Louis tries to tell Evan that he chose his American name just because he liked Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk. Evan starts to buy the whole name is unimportant thing until Eddie calls Louis on lying. Louis actually hates the Incredible Hulk because he gets so angry all the time.

Effectively called out, Louis tells the real story behind his American name. There was a bigshot aquarium owner who was a frequent customer at the restaurant where Louis worked when he first moved to the United States. His name was Louis, and he had serious swagger. Louis decided, naturally, that he should imitate this guy. Louis and his friend Barry are having dinner at a low-rent seafood place when Louis feels sick to his stomach. It’s food poisoning, and there’s a whole lot of similarly situated people waiting in line for the rest room. Next to Louis in line is Jessica. He lets her go ahead of him, and when he tells her his name is Louis, he never wants to use another name again. The “real” Louis is at the restaurant too, and he’s pissed that Louis is trying to imitate him. They go into the alley to fight for who will get to use the name, and our Louis manages to win basically by projectile vomiting all over the original.

Eddie offers a third alternative. Instead of his American or Chinese names, Evan can use the name “the streets” gave him. We get a pretty hilarious sequence where Eddie imagines himself as a mogul named Topaz in the future. He talks with President Shaq and does a deal for fly military uniforms. He also gets Busta Rhymes to agree to do a concert on the Moon. The rest of the family, of course, thinks this whole thing is ridiculous. Evan goes to the restroom, where he runs into Grandma. She has the best advice of the bunch, of course. She says that your name doesn’t make you, you make your name. She also says that Evan will always be thoughtful and trustworthy. Evan returns to the desk and says he’s ready to sign the forms, but we don’t see what name he signs. And, of course, Eddie manages to break the new toaster almost as soon as they get it home.

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