The Huangs' Chinese New Year celebration turns out to be anything but traditional

By Will Robinson
February 02, 2016 at 10:23 PM EST
Ron Tom/ABC
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Fresh Off the Boat returns for 2016 where it left off in 2015: a holiday episode. There’s a chief difference between the two episodes: Christmas episodes have been seen before, but Chinese New Year ones haven’t.

This show’s version of Orlando hasn’t seen any semblance of the extremely important holiday. Cattleman’s employees guess Louis is leaving town Washington D.C. for President’s Day and/or Valentine’s Day and are absolutely dumbfounded to learn the Chinese have their own celebration after Jan. 1. Nancy literally says it aloud without any semblance of tact: “You guys have your own New Year?”

The Huangs couldn’t be more thrilled to escape Orlando for the long weekend to visit Jessica’s family up in Washington D.C. But a nine-hour wake-up call wasn’t early enough for the family to reach the airport on time — given that Louis booked the family’s tickets for the day before. He has to tell Connie and Big Auntie that he was solely responsible for ruining Chinese New Year 1996. No red envelopes from the generous relatives, no fireworks, no pork buns, nada.

The Huangs try to find a way to celebrate Chinese New Year locally, and one possible lifeline is found: the Asian-American Association of Orlando. A courteous phone call with the man in charge promises a respite from ignorant and uncaring Floridians.

It all started so promisingly upon reaching the Triple-A, Double-O. “Ignoring fire codes?” Louis notes from the outside of a smoky building. “So Chinese!” Going through the smoky threshold reveals a grab bag of members from Russia, India… and down the street. The leading member Rick (Rob Huebel) reveals this group is for Asian people and those hoping to associate with an Asian person. Their concept of Chinese New Year is a bastardized one, treating the essence of the holiday like loose fictional guidelines.

A palpable dejection sets in over everyone; Grandma Huang is nearly inconsolable. The Huangs are all alone, and no one understands their traditions on one of the most important days of the year. The next best thing can only be a pizza dinner at the restaurant.

But something special happens. Everyone bands together to help their caring boss and put on as good a New Year celebration as possible. Jessica and the kids enter to a loin dance, provided by Mitch and Nancy. Hector serves the food. Honey provided the lanterns, stolen from a Janet Jackson video. Jessica becomes exhausted and annoyed by answering all the questions concerning the holiday, but Louis’ words are hard to ignore. “It’s not that people didn’t care enough to get it right,” he told her, “it’s that they didn’t know.”

Now it’s time for the weekly dose of nostalgia in these recaps, the ’90s moments, ranked:

9. Autographed Short Round photo: Rick is proud of this piece of memorabilia in the hall of the AAAoO, pumping it up as proof of Asian authenticity. Not even the cute driving kid from the worst Indiana Jones movie (this was before Crystal Skull had been made) salvaged the horror that was their New Year shindig.

8. Tina Turner karaoke: When heading up to the airport counter, Jessica tells Louis she hopes karaoke is going down in D.C. so she can bust out the 1984 smash hit “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” That’s never realized, but fortunately the ticketing agent’s reaction was a good enough secondary reward.

7. Castle Grayskull: The toy is Eddie’s attempted bargaining chip with Emery and Evan to secure their future red envelope money. Not even the hallowed He-Man fortress was enough to swindle his Nike down payment.

6. Bad Simpsons impressions: Mitch has been pilfering olives from the salad bar to affix on his fingers. Who hasn’t? He takes it a step further to bust out a fan-boy Montgomery Burns “excellent” that’s not even remotely good. When told to stop by Louis, a sad “D’oh” is all he can muster. Homer is ashamed.

5. Eddie’s desired haircut: A New Year’s haircut is essential to retaining good luck, according to Jessica. Young Eddie wants to make the most of his 1996 with a very specific ‘do request: half New York Knicks player Anthony Mason (RIP), half rapper Kwamé the Boy Genius. The combination would have broken this recap. Alas, Eddie only gets a trim by use of Jessica’s preferred tool: the vacuum cleaner.

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4. Incorrect Chinese lettering tattoos: A couple of the bros at the AAAoO show off their ink, supposedly all meaning “understanding.” Grandma clears it up by revealing one means “toaster,” while the other rocks a tic-tac-toe board on his forearm. Neither understands her, remaining blissfully ignorant.

3. Janet Jackson’s “If” music video: Honey claims to have stolen lanterns from this production. It checks out.

2. “One of Us” by Joan Osborne: The song made infamous by Dr. Evil‘s take is sung by Honey as she’s on her cleaning/jog. The slight twang of the electric guitars and oozing easy listening makes this a song aggressively of its time.

1. Bringing whatever you want on an airplane: “Are you traveling with any hazardous materials?” the aforementioned American Airlines employee asks the Huangs. “No, just the bag of fireworks, a pocket knife, and some crème brûlée torches we’re giving as gifts,” Louis replies. Her only hang-up was citrus! What a time.

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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