Fresh Off the Boat Review: Fajita Man

“The downside of the greatest country in the world: entitled children feeling like they don’t have to work to get what they want.” Oof. You hit the nail right on the head, Louis Huang.

This week’s FOTB went heavy on the morals, but fortunately it didn’t have to skimp on the humor to do so. In fact, much of “Fajita Man” reminded me of your typical Modern Family episode, from the amped-up family bonding time to the gifts of parental advice wrapped up in little bows, to even the fact that we now have a realtor in the family. Not that I would mind if FOTB took some cues from its ABC sister show, but at least it still has enough bite and sass to prevent it from becoming an actual clone.

Young Eddie (Hudson Yang) serves up fajitas at his dad's restaurant in ABC's Fresh Off the Boat.

Young Eddie (Hudson Yang) serves up fajitas at his dad’s restaurant in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat.

Wherefore the words of wisdom, Dad? When Young Eddie gets swept up in local fervor for the much-hyped Shaq Fu video game, his father refuses to simply give him “fifty small” to buy it. (I vaguely recall seeing a cartridge for this game in my brothers’ Sega collection, but we never played because we didn’t have Sega Genesis. Oh well.) Instead, he gets Eddie to work some shifts at Cattleman’s to earn the money himself, in the spirit of independence and nǔlì (努力) instilled in him by yéye (Grandfather, whose modest Egg Day smile made me laugh out loud).

I enjoyed the father-son dynamic here. We see a more responsible side of Louis, one who inches ever so slightly toward the tough-as-nails personality of the real Eddie’s father, as described in the memoir upon which this show is based. Eddie Huang has made no attempt to hide the fact that his parents’ childrearing methods were not only strict but also violent. In FOTB, we got just a shade of the Tiger Mom in Jessica’s adamancy toward her sons’ academics, but later on she relented. And now we have Louis trying his best to teach his son a valuable lesson about work ethic… but he relents, too. Why? As Louis hands his son a stern green Grant, he says, “You don’t have to be a hard man to be a hard worker.”

Wait, what does that actually mean? Louis’ own father was a hard man (難相處); it’s nǎinai who reminds him that despite her son’s respect, she saw that their relationship was quite strained in reality. As much as it had in hard work, it was sorely lacking in happiness. So Louis doesn’t seem to want to pass on the same kind of legacy; it’s he who wants to be able to relate to his son. But Eddie’s the one who needs to learn how to be a hard worker, right? Or maybe it’s Louis himself, realizing that he can combine the best of his father’s 努力 and his own charisma and loving nature to greater effect.

And the father’s moment of self-realization has an effect on the son. For the initial goal of buying a video game, but in the end in order to impress his dad, Young Eddie brings his game on and is a success at the restaurant. It was never about the game (which sucked, anyway); it was about the life lessons picked up along the way. Hm… cute, but predictable. Well, I tend to be the nitpicky type when it comes to morals being spouted from the TV. I think Modern Family does this very well, and FOTB could do worse than to follow in its footsteps, since it already seems to be heading in that direction regardless.

And now a moment for my own recollection: how did my Taiwanese parents treat me and my American entitlement when I was a kid? Well, they gave me tithing money for church in addition to an allowance, which I spent on… actually, I don’t remember what I spent money on. Clothes? Nope, all hand-me-downs for me. Video games? Not allowed. Toys? Maybe? Once, in fourth grade, I used my lunch money to buy a pack of Pokémon cards, and my mom flipped out. She really disapproved of frivolous purchases and shamed me for my worldliness. On the other hand, she unhesitatingly went all out to pay for endless cello lessons, academic tutors, Scouting camps, and the like. My parents were all about the hard work, but the lesson was in hard work for hard work’s sake, never for earning money. Sometimes they’d skip the cash transaction and just tell me that if I practiced piano for x days in a row and did a bunch of chores, a trip to Great America would be penciled in on the calendar.

My family was blessed never to have been in financial hardship, and that has played a big role in how I view money today, i.e. as not very important. (An ideology that I regret sometimes, such as when I realize I have no idea how to do my taxes.) It’d be foolish to deny that money isn’t an issue for me. I just have to remember the value of my slice of middle-class privilege; hopefully I’ve been able to grow up with a minimal sense of entitlement. That said, I do understand the tight-fisted Asian stereotype and where it comes from, and in many ways I’ve adopted the kind of thriftiness that my parents depended on when they were poor graduate students, too. But the trope of monetary wealth being the prime indicator of success is one that I actually strive to fight against today.

Switching gears now: Jessica’s story in this episode was much more lighthearted and entertaining, as she embarks on a job hunt and endures the double curse of a Floridian heat wave and the state of being overqualified for everything listed in the classifieds. Sometimes I wonder to myself what it is that makes her narcissism and unabashed flaunting of white people norms so chuckle-worthy, rather than annoying or embarrassing. Is it because I ally myself with her, or see some of my own mother in her? Eh… not really. Maybe it’s just endearing per se? Or maybe something in between. Oh, wait I take that back, the bit about not seeing my mom in Jessica Huang: my parents don’t believe in summer AC or winter heating, either. We got by on oscillating fans and popsicles, space heaters and layers of blankets. You can also blame poorly-insulated Californian houses for part of our climatic issues, but hey, I’ve taken to heart my parents’ habit (or goal?) of keeping the utility bills as close to zero as possible. AC is for the weak, even if, in Evan’s words, it feels “like being kissed by a snowman.”

Anyway. I’m just going to say for the fourth week in a row that Constance Wu is a riot in her role as Jessica Huang; every interaction with fed-up realtors, an earnest gay couple, ditzy neighbors, her mother-in-law (that nail-painting scene was the realest) is just a gem.

A few remaining notes: Ashley Alexander is the first and only person I have seen so far who actually wears a 90’s-era hairstyle. I was really hoping for more giant nerd glasses on everyone in this show. But all was forgiven when Eddie’s tips jar sported the Super S (!!!). And he drinks a Squeez-it at school!

Jessica: Eddie, I could get by with two sons. Think about that.

Open house visitor: We can always change the paint!
Jessica: But not the lousy school district.

Louis: That work ethic is how I’m able to keep the lights on.
Evan: But not the AC.


About Andrew C.

I'm a grad student at UC Berkeley.
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