The in-laws come to town.

By Ray Rahman
Updated February 11, 2015 at 06:03 PM EST
Gilles Mingasson/ABC

Fresh Off the Boat

S1 E4
  • TV Show

A few months after the Huang clan’s move to Orlando, they get an unpleasant surprise: Jessica’s more-successful sister and family is coming to visit. The news puts everyone’s insecurities on blast because, as Jessica points out, “They’re family. They’re coming to gloat about all of our misfortunes: the restaurant, Eddie…”

So in a bid to look well-to-do, the whole family teams up to clean up the house, put up fake lemon trees, and plant loose change in the couches. (Well, everyone except grandma, who sits on the couch shaking her head at the O.J. Simpson trial.) Jessica even prepares child-size bedding in the pantry for the kids to sleep in, so that her relatives won’t know that they don’t have extra bedrooms. Louis comes up with a money-losing plan that can fill up The Cattleman’s Ranch. The Huangs even go to the nuclear option: getting perms. “In addition to fake lemon trees, another thing Chinese people did to show prosperity was get a perm,” says older Eddie. Or as Jessica calls them, success perms.

But while Louis and Jessica are fretting, Eddie is psyched—his cousin Justin is coming. He’s the kid responsible for introducing Eddie to rap (an NWA cassette, to be specific), thus changing his life forever.

There’s a hitch, though: The visitors arrive, and Eddie discovers that Justin’s not into rap anymore. Wearing a loose flannel, a Nirvana tee, and a gloomy frown, Justin has moved on to grunge. “It reflects what I’m feeling inside,” he mumbles to Eddie, with all the enthusiasm of a male Daria.

Meanwhile, Justin’s mom Connie has a new look, too—in the form of breast implants, much to Jessica’s dismay. “Now you’re equipped with airbags!” Jessica says with resent. Can success perms compete with success boobs?

The final visitor arrives late. It’s Steve (a.k.a. Louis’ former boss at the furniture store), who skids into the neighborhood in his Miata (which may or may not be used). And he’s got an even curlier success perm.

But the worst news is yet to come. Jessica’s mom is here too, but she has a new favorite daughter—Connie. She’s upset at Jessica for having “abandoned” her by moving to Orlando. “Connie, can you help me into the house of this stranger?” she shouts from Jessica’s doorstep. Jessica’s just lost the only thing she was able to lord over Connie.

Inside the house, the curly-haired men are going head-to-head to show off their success. Louis casually points out his Lazy Susan and his in-house fax machine. Steve, however, has him beat. “I brought along my Internet computer,” he says, gesturing at the fully setup PC he’s installed in the Huang family’s kitchen. Cue the 56k-modem. The one-upmanship between Louis and Steve provided some of the night’s best laughs, and it’s the first FOTB episode so far to give Randall Park as much good material as Constance Wu.

As for the kids? Justin’s slouched on his bed, looking forlornly at nothing at all. “I’m thinking of moving to Seattle,” he sighs. Eddie suggests they listen to 2Pac, but Justin puts in some “real music”: Live’s “Lightning Crashes.” “This woman’s terrible!” Eddie protests.

Looks like the Huangs are losing to the Chens, with their “tatas and Miatas,” Jessica says. But there is one way she can win back her mom’s love: discounts. She and Connie enter a competition as to who can find a better deal, thus winning their frugal mother’s respect and maybe even love. “Let’s take this to the Hole!” Jessica says. “Tammy’s Fashion Hole, where they have an unprecedented selection of only left shoes.”

But first, they go to dinner at The Cattleman’s Ranch, which gets Louis worried. He’d planned to fill the restaurant with customers the next day, not tonight, and the joint is all but empty when they stroll in.

The ladies use the dinner as a chance to show off their newest, cheapest threads to their mother. “Mom, you like my jacket?” Connie asks. “It was 60 percent off and it glows in the dark, so I save money on electricity too.” Jessica counters with “Look, mom—someone died in this.”

Eddie and Justin start hashing out their musical differences (“You’re not old enough to appreciate the emotion of grunge,” Justin tells Eddie. “You’ve still got baby ears”), while Steve starts exposing Louis’ restaurant for the customer-less sham that it is.

But the tables turn the next day when the Chens’ own success begin to unravel. Connie reveals to Jessica that she’s having trouble adjusting to the pressure that comes with being mom’s favorite daughter. Steve’s “new” Miata has been repo’d… and the cops inform him that it isn’t even new in the first place. The Chens, it turns out, are in debt.

“People lie,” Louis says later to Steve, as they part ways. “Sometimes even to themselves.” It’s their way of hugging it out. Jessica and Connie also find a way to make up, via subtext-laden insults. “By the way, you’re hair looks terrible” really means, “Mom wasn’t the only one hurt by you moving away.” And Eddie finally cracks Justin’s hard exterior. Concludes Narrator Eddie, “We learned that just like O.J., people aren’t always what they seem.”

Freshest Moments:

  • “The way my parents were acting, you would’ve thought Mariah Carey was coming to visit. I mean hot, pre-Nick Cannon in the Washington Wizards dress Mariah Carey!” —Narrator Eddie
  • “I feel like a curly-haired lion surveying my kingdom.” —a success-perm’d Louis
  • “Your shirt looks like a picnic blanket!” —Emery, on Justin’s flannel
  • Eddie: Yo, you want to help me with this? Justin: I’ve got my own baggage. Emotional.
  • Of all the ‘90s riffs on the show so far, Louis’ dedicated fax line might be the funniest. “FAXES ONLY!!!” the label reads.
  • “Wait till I show her these silk throw pillows—90 percent off from a condemned hospital.” —Jessica
  • Louis: Steve has a fancy noise box. Jessica: Yeah, it’s called Connie. [high-five ensues]
  • Louis: We’re the big party of 10! Mitch: You and me?
  • “Well, I probably should’ve hung up already, but I didn’t. So I heard all that. I’ll mail you some literature about the Miata Queens of Orlando. We meet every other month, but, whatever—you’ll read about it.” —the Miata-owning cop on the phone
  • The grandmas had a goofy O.J. Simpson subplot tonight, but I’m not sure I loved it… O.J. humor just seems too… easy? Overdone? But maybe you guys liked it more than I did?

Episode Recaps

Fresh Off the Boat

Eddie Huang’s memoir adaptation tells the comical adjustments of a Taiwanese-American family settling into the wild ways of ’90s Orlando, Florida.

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