Things are looking up for the Huangs in Fresh Off the Boat, as Evan’s rambling yearbook recounts. It was a difficult first year to adjust to the Orlando life, a city in which the immigrant family felt even more like outsiders. But Louis has built up the business; Jessica digs her real estate job; Emery is still a lady-killer; Evan faces an existential crisis; and Eddie is going to make a strongly positive post-summer break impression on his classmates.
But things aren’t all the same in season 2. Louis seeks to have some more American niceties Jessica initially bucked in the season 1 finale. She, and everyone else are anti-vacation. Evan faces an existential and #brand crisis. And Eddie’s dope Reebok Pumps are sported by a tragically uncool player, sabotaging his back-to-school fashion. (Jessica doesn’t help by grabbing a LeVar Burton/Reading Rainbow shirt when Eddie says he likes rappers. Her reply? “They were the gangsters of the sales bin.”)
Off screen, though, real-life inspiration Eddie Huang is absent. He penned the memoir of the same name the show is adapted from and narrated much of the first season. But he’s publicly spoken against how the show has depicted his life and his family and admits he does not watch it.
The real Huang’s departure isn’t felt in the first episode, where the precocious Evan pens an ambitiously long entry for a classmate ahead of the family’s first summer in Orlando. At middle school, Eddie and his friends stress the importance of having a cool experience or clean clothes to make an impression as a seventh grader — or else another Dollywood situation is in play. He spends most of it on the couch, watching MTV, snacking, and all-around chilling as everyone else hustles and stays busy.
His great summer is jeopardized when his sneakers are deemed lame, so Eddie needs something else. Emery and Evan are set with new (read: hand-me-down) clothes, but the latter brushes up against impending non-childhood. Emery gives a congratulatory hug, but the little one is more concerned about dropping his moniker in a very millennial way: “But I’m the baby. ‘Baby Evan?’ That’s my brand!”
After investigating Louis’ odd packing choices — swim trunks and tennis balls — Jessica opens an opportunity for Eddie: accompany Louis on his “business trip” to the National Franchise Convention and ride the Death Roll at Gator World. An idea once laughed off by Eddie and Jessica, the Huangs all road trip and make a vacation out of it.
It’s impossible for Jessica to turn off her skepticism and frugality for even a moment. She battles Gator Carol (the acerbic Sarah Baker) to prevent hidden fees and seeks to extract every cent of value from the trip. Undersized room? Deal with it. A/C charges included? Crank it to high. Grab the toiletries — those are definitely complimentary. Since coming along, Jessica and the kids lounge poolside while Louis freezes in the room working, pining to join the fellow franchisees for hot tubs and Bud Lights. Jessica, the kids, and grandma all head to Gator World and are stymied by Gator Dan (a resolute Rob Riggle) to gain entry with high fees — except Grandma. She gets a free ticket and enjoys the rides.
But that gives Louis his chance to join the crew, including a trip to Csonka’s Steakhouse that he may/may not have sent in his driver’s license for a reservation, for a night with the guys. But Jessica catches him, and he’s forced to admit: Vacations are fun, and he likes them to cool down! Both of them work so much and so often, that it’s all they’re used to. It’s difficult for Jessica to slow down and accept that relaxing for a short while won’t dissolve her family. She takes Louis’ advice and reluctantly gets a massage scored to subaquatic whale sounds (or atmospheric John Tesh, either/or) by Arielle (Riki Lindhome). “What do you do for fun, Jessica?” she genuinely asks. “I micromanage my family,” Jessica volleys back.
There are also shades of drawing in the personas of the real Louis and Jessica. In Huang’s book, Louis loves the American lifestyle and wants the best for his family when he becomes a successful restaurateur, and Jessica is a dedicated mother who flirted with packing up and leaving (although show Jessica is more humorous with her wild fantasies about leaving that she reveals to Honey). But when show Louis is fleeced by Chekhov’s hidden fees, a mellowed out Jessica reassures him and elicits this realization from her husband: “I can be me, because I have you.” Just as Eddie feels about Nicole needing to repeat eighth grade and stick around Abraham Lincoln Middle School, it’s nice to see Fresh Off the Boat back.
Now it’s time for the weekly dose of nostalgia in these recaps: This Week In 1995:
- A stand-in “This Is How We Do It” music video is interrupted by former MTV VJ Ed Lover to crush Eddie’s dreams that uncool, NBA player (and future Hall of Famer) John Stockton was seen rocking Pumps. “Better give those to your dad, or your white neighbor, ’cause they over,” Lover urges, before gifting his pair to a white production assistant. For the record, Stockton had dope kicks.
- The Cross Colours shirt makes another appearance, as the Huangs hop in the van.
- Also, that van’s wood paneling could be mentioned every week, but let’s get it out of the way in the premiere.
- Only one rap song this week: “Born to Roll” by Masta Ace.
- It bears noting that the ride Eddie so badly wants to experience sounds an awful lot like a certain hip-hop label.
- The yellow suit from The Mask (1994) that Brian wears in the tag is better than any of the movie’s sequels.