Fresh Off the Boat begins the new year with an episode about Chinese New Year; Year of the Rat. This could well be the best episode yet out of all those on offer in season 2. Mainly because, the overabundance of “non-Huang” children do not make an appearance in this episode, leaving the young actors who portray Eddie, Emery and Evan to shine without distractions from the other less “impressive” child performers.
Year of the Rat could also be seen as the “sinophile” episode. While that particular term was not in use in the 90s, (at least not according to the Internet…) it accurately describes the group that the Huang’s meet in the show. The episode can also be seen as depicting a naturally curious populace who want to learn about other cultures, without the stigma attached to the pursuit now.
This segment helps to explain much about the Huang family while working in some topical jokes and pointing out just how “isolated” Orlando, Florida was in the 90s. Year of the Rat is initially about the Huang’s attempting to return to D.C. so they can celebrate the holiday with family.
Later it is just about the family trying to desperately find other Chinese people to celebrate their traditional holiday with and failing. As they move toward a solution each family member has a personal epiphany about their lives.
The episode starts with the trip all planned out with precision by Jessica and the family rise at five in the morning to catch their two o’clock in the afternoon flight. After they arrive at the airport, the family realize that Louis messed up the dates on the tickets and that the flight was the day before.
The adults are disappointed and Jessica (Constance Wu) reveals much about her relationship with Louis (Randall Park) when she grumbles that she did not micro-manage enough. After a hopeless attempt to find other Chinese people in Orlando, Jessica finds the local Asian American Association of Orlando (Ay-Oh) in the phone book.
Run by a group of youthful, enthusiastic and “misinformed wannabe” sinophiles, the celebrations are a bit of a bust. Meanwhile, the three Huang brothers are more concerned about the lack of red envelopes, traditionally filled with money, than not celebrating properly.
Louis saves the day as he sets up a personal Chinese New Year party at his restaurant. Colleagues, friends and his employees help to set up a great celebration. Although Eddie, Emery and Evan do not get the type of red envelopes that they desire, in the end, Grandma comes through.
Once again, Fresh Off the Boat gives us a low-key, at times, and funny episode that manages to reveal a lot about the “real” Eddie Huang’s childhood. As does the entire series. For example: Father Louis is focussed on enjoying and experiencing America, often ignoring his children and not listening to his wife.
Jessica is similarly focussed, but on becoming a financial success. Wu has a challenging job to portray a mother and wife who has limited patience and is primarily concerned about money, often to the immediate detriment of her family.
Huang mentions that his childhood was pretty dicey at best and that the show does not reflect this in his opinion.
However, looking closely at the main adult characters, including Grandma (played by Lucille Soong) reveals a family where the grownup are not exactly child friendly. Although Louis could be called child-like in his enthusiasm, he does not necessarily connect in the “right way” with his kids.
This episode also revealed a lot about the Huang family and where they are in terms of cultural tradition and in their longing to be part of the American Dream. It also showed how quickly Jessica’s patience waned when having to play the part of cultural educator.
Ian Chen, Forrest Wheeler and Hudson Yang continue to amuse and impress as the three Huang children and Constance Wu proves yet again how well she does “nuance” as well as straight comedy. Randall Park does his usual outstanding job as the comedic pin that holds the whole family together.
Chelsey Crisp and (the iconic) Ray Wise as the rich but fairly vacuous next-door neighbors are always a treat and this episode is no exception. As Year of the Rat winds down it manages to amuse and, in a manner of speaking, educate.
Not just about the Chinese New Year or how little Orlando, Florida understood Asian’s in the 1990s, but also about what the dynamic of the Huang household really was. Eddie Huang may detest “his show” but there is a message hidden under the humor.
Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays on ABC. The Year of the Rat is on February 2, 2016. Tune in and watch this enchanting comedy and spot the truths carefully hidden amidst the chuckles.