This week we’re looking at Fresh Off the Boat episodes 7 and 8. A quick recap: In episode 7, Louis proudly shows off his new Cattleman’s Ranch billboard, only to get involved in a vandalism showdown with the owner of the huge franchise chain Golden Saddle. We later learn that Louis stole the manual from Golden Saddle to start Cattleman’s. Meanwhile, Eddie struggles to get Nicole to notice him. In episode 8, the show introduces us to Phillip, another Asian-American boy at Eddie’s school. The episode explores the school’s attempts to force them together as ‘best friends,’ competition between the two boys and the idea of being a “good Chinese boy.”
Esther: Episodes 7 and 8 had pretty different focuses and covered a lot of ground in terms of topics. Shall we start with episode 7 (“Showdown at the Golden Saddle”)? What did you guys think of the way this episode wove in two different pop-culture genres: the western and the gangster film? Was the episode satisfying in addressing the hypermasculinity of these two genres, translated into the sitcom lives of our characters?
Belinda: While those two genres are certainly hypermasculine, I didn’t quite see that aspect playing out in episode 7. Louis’ takeaway from his love of gangster films is that one needs to provide for his family at any cost, something in line with Asian-American (and other) immigrant values to a certain extent. What he ends up doing with the copyright infringement isn’t necessarily conventionally “masculine” (running away and essentially “stealing” an idea), but also isn’t illegal — it is actually not a bad entrepreneurial decision in the end, as Jessica points out. Jessica has such a strong voice and is so supportive of Louis that she softens his role as the patriarchal head. His need to provide for his family is undoubtedly masculine, but it’s not hypermasculine, akin to what we see in gangster movies.
Karen: First of all, full disclosure: I didn’t like episode 7 very much. I understand what they were trying to do, and it was interesting that they incorporated these classic film genres, but the episode as a whole wasn’t very funny (and that doesn’t even get into the weirdness of the b-plot, which we can talk about later). Anyway, I think Louis’ “competition” with the Golden Saddle can certainly be seen as a competition in hypermasculinity — especially because so far in the show, Louis has been all about what’s good for the business and by extension for his family financially (since he’s the de facto patriarchal head of the Huangs). I’m not so sure about the gangster film genre, but I agree with you, B, that it was nicely translated into an analogue for the (Asian-American) immigrant experience. Also a random, superficial aside: Jessica looks great with her curly hair and yellow dress!
E: Money and business have always been the ways in which Louis’ masculinity have been expressed, to me — especially since the whole show started with Louis moving the family away to avoid being under his brother-in-law’s thumb. I like that the show has attempted to subvert the narrative of the masculine patriarch with Jessica’s strong voice and character. Though I agree, K, this episode came across as pretty muddled and ultimately not that interesting to me. I did relate to Eddie’s bus struggle though, haha.
B: He wasn’t actively trying to compete with Golden Saddle, though. He ripped off of their idea and just hoped to succeed, and ended up almost surpassing them. I guess that competition comes into play with the whole billboard fiasco. The image of Louis getting squirted with the udders was pretty emasculating and disturbing, now that I think about it. Jessica’s right there with him, always on par and as a support system, so yeah that does subvert that patriarchal narrative.
E: Even though he wasn’t trying to compete directly, I think the show paints Louis as invested in a kind of traditional ‘American’ masculinity. Thus he opens the quintessential American ‘manly’ enterprise — a steakhouse. But I wonder if the show has been trying to break down this investment — like with the Wyatt storyline? Where the perfect masculine figure, who is also great at business, somehow disturbs and dissatisfies Louis.
K: Right. But then again, the Wyatt thing can also be seen as a kind of competition for hyper-masculinity. Louis can be seen as dissatisfied because he isn’t as perfectly macho as Wyatt. Speaking of masculinity…Eddie’s whole courting of Nicole in episode 7, if we can call it that, made me really uncomfortable. The show has already established Eddie’s interest in her, but in previous episodes she’d flippantly ignored or rejected him, which undercuts his weird/uncomfortable advances. But in this episode Nicole is starting to be nicer to him, which makes it seem like the way Eddie has been trying to woo somehow okay? I don’t know, it was a forgettable b-plot altogether, but it just felt odd to me because Eddie never gets called out for his casually sexist behavior (even in the context of him being a kid and not knowing better).
B: I hope the show doesn’t take it in that direction; the idea of Eddie and Nicole dating is extremely uncomfortable for me. The age gap, in itself, seems inappropriate, in addition to Eddie’s misogynistic advances and behavior. I think they’ve just reached this point of understanding… Nicole is friendlier with Eddie on the bus, but I don’t know, and hope it’s not indicative of a budding relationship.
K: Yeah, that’s true, they can just leave it like that and not develop it, which is what I hope the show will do.
E: I’m hoping she develops into that ‘90s trope of the cool older sister/friend who acts as a guide to life rather than a straightforward romantic interest.
K: That would be cool too!
B: Agreed…and she’d be a female character Eddie’s age. There really aren’t any of them in this show. It would do the show a favor to have her as his friend rather than love interest.
K: Also true.
E: Shall we move on to discussing episode 8? I thought this episode was much more productive and interesting than “Showdown at the Golden Saddle.”
K: YES!! I think the whole dynamic between Eddie and Phillip, and how Phillip acts as a foil to him in almost every way, was very well done without feeling too heavy-handed. The show really nicely avoided having the two Asian-American boys stick together just by virtue of their ethnicity, when it was clear they had nothing else in common. I love that despite all their teachers’ intentions of having the two of them pair up and be buddies at every turn, Eddie and Phillip were not here for that.
E: Lol the principal’s discomfort at calling Phillip in to meet Eddie was hilarious.
B: That also showed how teachers and principal were inadvertently racist, in a sense, to naturally assume that the two would get along because of their shared ethnicity.
E: Yeah, that discomfort (so ‘politically correct’) seemed to acknowledge on the administrator’s part his own awareness of how racist it was to assume that.
B: And the principal’s strange photo for his ex-wife showing “open-mindedness”… it was actually kind of the opposite of that, haha.
K: Yes, the principal character is a really great parody of PC white people in general.
E: Yeah I really liked that because it made this practice of shoving like-raced students together the butt of the joke. And I don’t know about you guys but that was an experience I personally went through at my school.
K: I didn’t have that experience because I went to a predominantly Asian-Canadian high school. And middle school. And elementary school…
E: I thought the episode did a really great job showcasing a common theme of Asian-American writing and experience — competition for achievements and managing the crushing pressure of expectations.
B: But Eddie doesn’t feel the need to compete. He’s really secure in who he is, which I like. He just doesn’t give a fuck, haha. But he does get annoyed with his mother for swooning over Phillip.
K: Yeah, I think that is a common experience, though — to have the expectations of your parents thrust upon you when you don’t want to engage in that with your peers. I’ve certainly had my mom told me multiple times, “why can’t you be more like [Asian-Canadian friend]?”
B: Esther, that person was always you for me. Hahahaha.
E: Yeah the show ultimately rejects the narrative of intense competition, making Jessica less of a Tiger Mom figure. I thought the Jewishness of Phillip’s parents might be a clear nod to the controversy surrounding Amy Chua’s book, where she brags about the combined might of her Asian parenting skills and her husband’s Jewish background.
K: Ohh, I haven’t read Amy Chua but that’s a really interesting connection.
B: Yeah it is. But what’s interesting is that Phillip is, in fact, brought up solely by Jewish parents, but is the more competitive and “model minority” one. His parents were saying that HE’s strict with THEM… like with the Shabbat practices. So it seems like Phillip was less driven by his parents to be that way, and just more inherently “perfect” by Jessica’s standards.
E: Well Jewish people were the original “model minority,” lol.
K: Ultimately, though, I love that Jessica stuck up for Eddie when Phillip ditched him at Les Mis. That was such a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
B: Yeah, that was definitely a d’aww moment! My favorite moment between the two of them. So in the end, Jessica valued Eddie’s selflessness and was put off by Phillip’s selfishness/dishonesty. Without that crucial flaw, though, Jessica wouldn’t have aligned with Eddie. So I think that was a bit heavy-handed, that Phillip had to have a major flaw. But ultimately, it still works and is a powerful moment.
E: What I really loved about this episode’s focus was the way it deconstructed these themes of hyper-competition and achievement among Asian American kids that get thrown around mainstream media all the time.
K: Yes, exactly!
E: It was so nice to see those moments of competition dealt with “from the inside,” so to speak, on major network TV, because so often I see these tropes discussed in really casual, uninformed ways. Like, “all Asian people stick together” or “all Asian American kids are such high achievers” without anything to back that up, or any experience to discuss it in depth. And this offered some pushback against the prevalence of those surface ideas about competition in the Asian American community, without feeling totally contrived.
K: My favorite moment in this episode, though, was when Eddie and Walter FINALLY became friends. I yelped at the TV screen when that happened!
E: Yeah, that was so great. It also felt so real to me, like — that instantaneous bond that kids can feel over a shared love of something despite all of their earlier prickly interactions.
B: But it happened to be over WHITE rappers. I was stoked to see them finally bond, but thought it was a tiny bit cursory just because of their former rivalry.
E: That was an instance when Eddie’s age worked really effectively though. I think that was something that could only really happen to a child – that instantaneous effect. Can’t wait to see if and how their friendship will develop!
B: While that was a really satisfying ending, I still wish Walter could’ve gotten more screentime in this episode.
K: Yeah, B, but maybe he will have more screentime from now on?
B: Right. I hope it continues to build into a substantial friendship, and doesn’t standalone as a single shared moment. Sure, they’re kids, but some serious shit has gone down between them, like the chink comment. I mean that was misguided and probably something they picked up from adults, but still…but yeah, in the end, I can still see that bond happening over a shared interest.
E: Yeah, we’ll see where the show takes it!
Originally written for Acro Collective: CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY.