Mrs. Huang Re-Defines the Good Chinese Boy
The previous episode of Fresh Off the Boat shifted the spotlight away from the issue of race and focused instead on developing the characters in the Huang family. In tonight’s Episode 8: “Philip Goldstein”, race returns to the foreground when a Chinese Jewish boy transfers to Eddie’s school.
The New Kid at School
Principal Hunter calls Eddie Huang into his office and asks him to give the new kid a tour. Immediately, Eddie knows what’s up. “He’s Chinese, isn’t he?” he asks bluntly.
“What? No!” exclaims Principal Hunter as he flusters about. I found this part quite amusing, because Principal Hunter’s attempts to not appear racist ultimately end in singling out the two boys because they happen to be the only two Asian students in the school.
A short conversation over lunch quickly reveals that Eddie Huang and Philip Goldstein have absolutely nothing in common, except for their race. They don’t even have a similar culture–Philip’s last name is Goldstein because he was adopted by religious and traditional Jewish parents. Philip transferred from Jerusalem, so he and Eddie don’t even have a similar cultural frame of reference. Eddie and Philip don’t share any interests either–where Eddie likes rap music, Philip like musicals.
“Now You Two Can Look Out For Each Other”
The issue of race not only manifests in the adults pressuring Eddie and Philip to be best friends because they happen to belong to the same race, but also in identity. “Why can’t you be a good Chinese boy?” asks Eddie’s mother when he asks to go to a rap concert. She defines a “good Chinese boy” as one who plays classical instruments and is studious, similar to Eddie’s younger brothers.
When Mrs. Huang finds out that there is a Chinese boy at school, she is deeply thrilled. “Now you two can look out for each other,” she says. Mrs. Huang is entranced by Philip due to his sense of responsibility and the fact that he plays a classical instrument.
The rap-loving, loose-jeans wearing Eddie figures out a way to use Mrs. Huang’s approval and adoration of Philip to get access to the rap concert by saying that he and Philip are both going. To Eddie’s surprise, Philip plays along, but only because Philip wants a ride to a musical. Their agreement: they will go see Les Miserables first, then go to the Beastie Boys concert afterward.
Mr. Huang’s Fear of Confrontation
Meanwhile, Mr. Huang has hired a handsome guy named Wyatt to replace Mitch, who had gone over to work at the rival restaurant. Wyatt dresses like a cowboy straight from an old western films. Initially, Mr. Huang thinks Wyatt is a great fit. However, soon he gets annoyed by Wyatt’s show-stealing lasso, and re-hires Mitch…except Mr. Huang can’t bring himself to fire Wyatt, at least in person.
In Fresh Off the Boat, Louis Huang and Jessica Huang work as complete foils of each other. Louis avoids negative confrontation, while Jessica doesn’t think twice about challenging anything or anyone. Louis’s fear of confrontation (and being the “bad cop”) makes him the more remote parent, as he lets Jessica handle the tough love. Sometimes, Louis as a character is so remote and placating that he fades quietly into the background when placed next to Jessica. I would be curious to see Louis overcome his fear of confrontation when it comes to working with (or against) people outside the family, but the show seems to be using his fear as a source of humor and conflict.
Philip Abandons Eddie; Mrs. Huang Re-Defines the “Good Chinese Boy”
Ultimately, Philip ditches Eddie at the theaters and Eddie ends up missing the concert because he is looking Philip. Initially, Mrs. Huang is mad at Eddie for losing Philip, but when an unapologetic Philip answers the door, Mrs. Huang is horrified to learn that Philip had abandoned her son and gives him a good tongue-lashing about breaking promises, ending with, “You are not a good Chinese boy. Eddie is.”
She has relinquished her older, extrinsic notions of what it means to be a “good Chinese boy” (polite to adults, plays classical music, studies a lot, dresses conservatively) to more wholesome, intrinsic values that focus on being considerate and reliable to others.
Eddie might listen to rap music that make Mrs. Huang’s head hurt, but in the end, he is considerate, and she appreciates that in her son.
New to Fresh Off the Boat? Check out the intro to the show: “Why You Should Watch Fresh Off the Boat: the First Asian American Sitcom in Twenty Years”.