Monday, February 8, 2016

Fresh Off The Boat: "Year of the Rat"

Premiered February 2, 2016

Nancy: You guys have  your own New Year?
Louis:  Yeah,  we get together with family, have a big dinner,  there's decorations, dragon dances, fireworks ... I mean, you should see how crazy it gets in Chinatown,  if you can breathe properly the next day, you weren't there!

The Huang family is excited to be heading off to Washington, D.C. to see their family and celebrate Chinese New Year.   Unfortunately,  Louis (Randall Park) got the dates wrong on the plane tickets so the family stuck in Orlando and unable to make the trip to D.C.  

The Huangs search the phone book looking for other Chinese families in Orlando that they might be able to share the holiday with to no avail,  but Jessica (Constance Wu) discovers an organization called the Asian American Association Of Orlando or AAAOO that is having a Chinese New Year celebration.

This seems like good news, until the Huangs actually get to the AAAOO's celebration and find it to be disastrously unsuccessful.

There are no other Chinese people in attendance and precious few Asians at all.   The presumably well-intentioned white organizers have failed to do much research and the resulting celebration leave much to be desired.

The kids -  particularly Eddie (Hudson Yang) - are very concerned that they won't be getting traditional red envelopes full of  money and try to butter up their grandmother (Lucille Soong) in hopes that she will come through for them.

Mountain Dew and Combos, Grandma?
They enlist youngest child Evan (Ian Chen) to try to do some stand-up comedy for her, on the grounds that he is small, funny & cute, like Grandma Huang's favorite character Garfield, but it does not go well.

Louis also tries to lighten the mood with jelly donuts in lieu of pork buns.
After several unsuccessful attempts to raise the family's spirits,  Louis makes one last ditch effort to save Chinese New Year for the family with help from the staff at his restaurant the Cattleman's Ranch!

Can Chinese New Year be saved?

RigbyMel says:

This is, I think, the first sitcom episode centered on Chinese New Year that I've ever seen.

The episode was humorous while managing to make some interesting points about cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation.    It's funny but also quite telling that everyone seems to think the holiday the Huangs want to go to Washington to celebrate is President's Day.

NOT an authentic Chinese New Year tradition!
The AAAOO folks are curious and want to have a Chinese New Year celebration, but their lack of research about what that would actually entail winds up being rather painfully embarrassing (for the Huangs, anyway).   The AAAOOers are rather unaware of the awkwardness of their party.

For instance we meet some dudebros sporting tattoos with Chinese characters.  They think their tats mean "understanding,"  when neither actually says that.   Grandma Huang attempts to school them (one is a tic-tac-toe board and one says "toaster"), but as they do not understand Chinese, they miss the point.

The whole family feels pretty let down about missing out on the holiday, and even more let down by the lack of attention paid to important details about what Chinese New Year entails -- adding to their sense of isolation.

The AAAOO people plan to do a Times Square style "rat drop" as part of their celebration.   (While 1996 was the Year of the Rat per the Chinese zodiac,  this is rather a misunderstanding of the custom.)
Jessica is very disappointed that "Nobody cares enough to get it right!"  but Louis points out that it's more a case of not knowing than not caring about the Chinese New Year traditions.

Lion dance at the Cattleman's Ranch!
Louis manages to make up for his major screw-up with the plane tickets by surprising his family with a much more authentic Lunar New Year celebration at the family restaurant he owns  (with a little help from his staff and a few family friends.)     The end of the episode comes off as rather sweet and also educational in a fun way.   It's also funny to see Jessica at first delighted by her friends' questions about the traditions of the holiday and then increasingly annoyed as she doesn't really get a break from said questions.

Something I found off-putting was a bit of product placement involving Panda Express in the dialogue -- I don't think it was necessary nor was it as funny as the writers seemed to think.

This is definitely a fun episode of the show that has fun with its "fish out of water" premise.  It also manages to be informative about Chinese New Year and about cultural appropriation without being overly preachy or political.    This may not be the best of the Huang family's adventures,  but it is certainly an interesting one.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 bundles of red firecrackers

J.A. Morris says:
I generally enjoy Fresh Off The Boat  and this is a solid episode.  I generally agree with RigbyMel's take on "Year Of The Rat."  It's nice to see Chinese New Year celebrated in a sitcom.  If you've never seen this series, "Year Of The Rat" is a good "starter" episode.

Evan's "stand-up comedy"  routines are a highlight of the episode.

This episode premiered last week and is currently available for streaming at

"Year Of The Rat" is worth seeking out.  I don't usually celebrate Chinese New Year, but this episode was actually an education for me and I can see myself re-watching it in future Februaries.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 bundles of red firecrackers.

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