Fresh Off the Boat recap: Michael Chang Fever
Billie Jean King takes Emery under her wing as her tennis apprentice
There wasn’t a Super Bowl episode of Fresh Off the Boat a few weeks back; that could have been for any number of legal or creative reasons. But that didn’t really matter to the Huangs, especially compared to what Louis called “the Asian Super Bowl.” Meet tennis pro Michael Chang and his exciting 1996 run at the Australian Open. (Ignore, for the sake of TV magic, that this episode takes place chronologically before Chinese New Year. It was actually 12th in production, whereas “Year of the Rat” was No. 13.)
Louis was thrilled to have a successful Asian athlete for the kids to be inspired by; all he had in his early U.S. days was a subpar soccer referee. How stoked is he? He made “Chang Gang” headbands to wear while watching matches on a tiny tube TV. He rallies his kids to cheer on the fellow Taiwanese-American’s Grand Slam run.
Eddie and Evan could not care less, but Emery takes to it. He’s also into taking up the sport itself, a prospect Jessica instantly pushes because it’s better than what the school’s career test spat out for him: flight attendant. “It tells us what job is a good fit for our personality,” Evan tells her of the test. “It’s my job to tell you that!” she incredulously replies.
The first day on the court goes about as well as possible. Emery’s first two swings at a ball are aces that fly past Jessica. His incendiary serves catch the eye of one of the sport’s all-time greats, Billie Jean King, who spends 183 days in Florida to avoid paying income tax (probably). The former No. 1 women’s player in the world tells the Huangs that Emery is a natural. Her co-sign prompts Jessica and Louis into full sideline parent mode, which is like stage parents but more outwardly aggressive, like berating refs. In the aftermath both of their plotting and scheming, Jessica and Louis force Eddie to move in with Evan, so Emery can be as close to a lonely child as possible while mowing down the U16 tournament competition.
And Emery kicks ass; he’s making opponents hit only air, and because he’s so nice, he ushers a “sorry” after each opponent topples. Eventually, the 10-year-old is so locked in that he cans his pops to receive better training (with Jessica’s ushering). He chooses to move his workout montages led by Louis in the living room to those facilitated by King, outside, for hours on end. He even adopts the success perm before his final, which helps him land a victory — but as much as he loves the sport, he’s not ready to give up his life for tennis (per Billie Jean King’s recommendation).
While Emery is in his own room, the house’s other room presented an interesting dynamic between the most and least ambitious kids. Eddie uncovers a threat letter to Evan that demands he ponies up pogs as part of a bullying scheme. Upset that someone is picking on his little brother besides him, Eddie decides there’s only one ’90s appropriate way to handle this: REGULATE!
Once his crew is assembled, they learn the true source of Evan’s problems: a pog bookie. The kid’s deep in the red and wants to gamble his way out (terrible idea). Fortunately, there’s an in-house Huang who’s a pro gambler. Grandma susses out the game without ever playing and secures Evan’s pog future — even as he tries to double down and throw it all away. Kids these days.
Now it’s time for the weekly dose of nostalgia in these recaps, the ’90s moments, ranked:
7. Matching sibling accessories: Jessica bought four identical blue backpacks with “Cool” sewn into it. Eddie astutely notes the aesthetic: like their aunt recently discovered the magical power of sewing machines. The only thing more uncool than not being cool is to have something tell the world you’re “Cool.”
6. Creating your own fan gear: “Chang Gang” is the best fan group name ever.
5. “Regulate” by Warren G and Nate Dogg: This served as a friendly reminder on how great Nate Dogg was. R.I.P. Nate Dogg. This gets any crew ready to hit the town and cause havoc with Bomb Pops and The Mask suit. Or merely the ice cream component.
4. Glowing ceiling stars: These were a bedroom staple. They provided enough light to stave off any fear of the dark, but not too much, to avoid being called a scaredy cat. Evan organized his plastic constellation to mimic the night’s sky. Eddie ignored his little bro’s plea and reorganized them into a perfect Wu-Tang Clan logo, a true winning constellation.
3. Pogs: Pogs, like many other children’s toys or fascinations, were silly. Apparently, this gambling fascination caught on in schools across the country.
2. Michael Chang: Chang was a big deal after winning the 1989 French Open at 17 years old, becoming the youngest men’s player to win a Grand Slam. Though he never won another major tournament, he reached the finals in the Australian Open and U.S. Open, losing to Boris Becker and Pete Sampras, respectively.
1. Citing Def Jam mogul Russell Simmons’ financial advice found in Vibe magazine: Yup.
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.