Lessons abound in this episode of Fresh Off the Boat, “Phillip Goldstein.” To give a very quick synopsis: Eddie wants to go to the Beastie Boys concert, but Jessica doesn’t want him to go. She really doesn’t understand her son sometimes, and his obsession with rap is one of those things. To quote her, she asks him why he can’t just be a “good Chinese kid” like his brothers.
The knife goes in deeper when Jessica seems to favor the new Chinese kid in school, Phillip, over Eddie. Phillp plays the cello, likes classical entertainment, studies hard, and is respectful and responsible. In many ways, he’s like a 40-year-old man. Initially, Eddie lies that Phillip wants to go to the concert, too, but when Eddie’s about to get caught in his lie, Phillip covers him, saying that he’ll go to the concert if Eddie will go with him to see Les Miserables. Because Phillip has positioned himself as the responsible one, Jessica is all right with them going, as long as they look after each other.
However, Phillip is a mischievous little boy. After Les Miserables, Phillip high-tails it back home while Eddie is in the bathroom. Once Jessica and Eddie discover Phillip is back at home, Jessica lets Phillip have it, saying he’s not the good Chinese boy she took him to be.
As a way to pay Eddie back for his troubles, Jessica offers to go the Beastie Boys concert, despite her hatred of rap.
Also, after weeks of buildup, we now have THE WALTER-EDDIE FRIENDSHIP! Thanks to the Beastie Boys, they now have something they can bond over. As Voiceover-Eddie states, it’s an Asian boy befriending a black boy over a Jewish rap group. America.
— Ben Fung DPT/MBA(c) (@DrBenFung) March 11, 2015
Okay, now for the lessons.
First lesson: Not all Asian people are the same. I think that lesson should already be a given, because all minority groups don’t think the same either. Yet, as we have seen in Fresh Off the Boat, Asian and non-Asians like assumed that Eddie and Phillip would be friends when in fact, Eddie and Phillip couldn’t be more different. For one, Phillip was raised Jewish and has sensibilities that are much older than him.
It was one thing to see the principal and teachers constantly pair Eddie and Phillip up because they were the only Asian kids in the class. Those kinds of microaggressions are expected. But to see Jessica do the same thing was really interesting. Her reason for seeing Eddie and Phillip together was because she herself is thirsty to see someone that looks familiar to her. She’s in a white neighborhood and thinks that it would be good for Eddie to spend time with the only other Asian kid she’s seen that’s not her own sons. In a way, she’s also assuming Eddie and Phillip will be friends just because they look alike.
Of course, Jessica does eventually look past Phillip’s racial background and realize that he’s not only just a kid, but a bad kid. In short, forcing the friendship isn’t worth it if Eddie just gets disrespected.
By the way, Albert Tsai is one talented kid. I’ve already written that ABC has cornered the market on cute kids, but they’ve also cornered the market on really talented kids as well. Phillip is supposed to be a manipulative mastermind, but it seemed like Tsai consciously chose to play the character as having a whiff of clinical narcissism and/or Bond Villain. All Phillip really needs is a white, fluffly cat to complete his plans for world domination.
Second lesson: Walter and Eddie’s friendship arc is finally in motion and has been set up to occur from the beginning. As the show ended last night, I tweeted this:
Is it a catty tweet? I think so, but my version of “catty” seems to come across as “normal” to some people sometimes. In any case, I had a reason for tweeting it. There’s something to be said for seeing the story crumbs a series is setting out for you. Personally, I think to say that that show is somehow “racist” without really analzying the bigger message the show’s trying to get across—navigating your way through race relations troubles as a kid and how taxing it actually is— is missing the entire point of the series.
I had seen grumblings from worried black viewers thinking that Walter had been relegated to the “black token” role. If you follow Jeff Yang’s Twitter page, then you’ve probably seen some exchanges he’s fielded from some who think the show is villanizing Walter. It seemed obvious to me that the show was clearly setting up an arc that would finally have Eddie and Walter commence their friendship that was threatening to happen even in the pilot, despite the C-word roadblock, which seems to be the only thing that, logically, would keep Eddie from seeking Walter out as a friend.
On Walter’s end, he was probably resistant to being friends with Eddie because Eddie seemed like he was doing what a lot of minority kids in a mostly-white school do, which is seek out the popular white kids. I’ve seen that kind of stuff with my own eyes, thanks to my art high school upbringing. (You learn a lot when you go to a mostly-white school. Sometimes, what you learn isn’t always for the best. My own school experiences could make up an entire post, so I’ll end it here.)
I’ve written at length about Walter and black community myths that I’m sure Walter has learned from his family and friends, Eddie and Walter’s relationship thus far, and race relations reflected in a school setting, so read about that here and here.
If that’s not enough, though, here’s Yang’s reiteration that the Walter-Eddie friendship is going to be full-fledged from here on out.
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) February 6, 2015
I don’t mean to sound condescending by writing words like “obviously” and “clearly” and “missing the entire point of the series,” but that’s how I feel. There’s more to Fresh Off the Boat than some of the arguments reduce the show to, in my personal opinion. The main plotline of Eddie finally becoming friends with Walter (which is a complete deviation from the real story in the memoir) reflects something that a lot of Asian and black people have been championing and fighting for in real life (and for this show when it comes to Eddie and Walter)—a coalition across racial lines.
When you look at the whole of television, there’s not a lot of instances in which we see an Asian character and black character actually being friends; the minority character is usually surrounded by white characters and is forced to befriend them, which goes back to that “accepted minority” bullcrap minorities have to face in real life. To me, Fresh Off the Boat used that trope to set up the fact that Eddie, like in everything he does, will defy tropes and go with a different choice. I’m glad the show went this route.
You know, for a show about a family, Fresh Off the Boat often brings out a lot of socio-political points, a lot of which are subtle microaggressions that don’t really get much screentime on other network TV shows. It’s a much smarter show than some give it credit for.
Third lesson: Two restaurant hosts are better than one. I hope Mitch didn’t follow through and really fire Wyatt. I need Wyatt in my life. He’s an actual cowboy! He could really bring in those Mean Girls of Orlando housewife neighbors! And he’s good looking, which is the real reason I want him to stick around. I also bet the comedy between him and Mitch and Louis would be gold. But they set up the “ex-boyfriend comes back” storyline with Mitch and Louis, so I guess Wyatt might be gone for good. But maybe not.
Fourth lesson: Jessica hates all rap regardless of what race the rappers are. That’s oddly comforting, since most people just hate rap because it’s black people doing it (or, ask those people might say, “dangerous” black people). Even Eddie thought he could get over on her because the Beastie Boys are white (and he also brought up the Wu-Tang Clan being “kind of Asian”. Read more about that here). Thankfully, Jessica hates rap period. Huzzah.
Fifth lesson: Happy Evan is cute, but Angry Evan is even cuter. JUST LOOK AT HIS FACE!
I can’t even begin to talk about MR. HEDGEHOG RUNNING FOR MAYOR.
I JUST FEEL LIKE SCREAMING.
With that screamfest, I draw this recap to a close. What did you think of this episode? How much are you here for Phillip’s Bond Villain attitude? Give your opinions in the comments section below. Also, if you haven’t, read my interviews with Hudson Yang (who plays Eddie) and Fresh Off the Boat writer/consulting producer Sanjay Shah!
Photo credit: Michael Ansell/ABC