This summer, the cast and crew of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat traveled to Taiwan to shoot their season three premiere. And in “Coming From America,” which aired on Tuesday night, the show accomplishes two pretty incredible things.
First of all, the script might very well feature the most Mandarin spoken in any episode of an American sitcom, ever. (The vast majority of the dialogue is still in English, but still: Some conversations with family members and locals and even an in-universe Taiwanese beverage commercial require subtitles.) Second, by my count, there isn’t a single white actor seen on screen—not counting a distant shot of Demi Moore on a TV playing the movie Ghost, which according to a running gag is still wildly popular in Taiwan years after its U.S. release—a virtually unheard-of win for representation even in 2016. [UPDATE: There is exactly one (non-Demi Moore!) white actor: Eddie’s girlfriend Alison (Isabella Alexander) appears in the very last scene.]
“I forgot how relaxing it is being around all Asian people,” Jessica (Constance Wu) enthuses as she and her sons walk down the street. “You don’t feel like a foreigner. You blend in with everyone around you.”
But do they, really? Fresh Off the Boat, loosely based on restaurateur Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name, traverses the globe to explore the flip side of the immigrant identity crisis at the heart of the show. The Huangs may never fit in seamlessly in their adopted Orlando–but America has changed them enough that they don’t quite fit in Taipei, either. So where do they belong?
For their part, the Huang kids struggle to adjust to the heat as soon as they step out of the Taipei airport. “You’re not tourists,” Jessica chides them, “You’re home.”
“But we’ve never been here,” Evan (Ian Chen) protests.
“Doesn’t matter,” she says. “This is still your home.”
The central storyline of the episode—and the reason that the Huangs are in Taiwan in the first place—is that Louis (Randall Park) wants to reconcile with his successful brother Gene (Ken Jeong) and attend his wedding to improbably gorgeous fiancé Margaret (Taiwanese megastar Ann Hsu). But the real emotional journey here is Jessica’s, as she revisits beloved places from her childhood but finds their magic difficult to recapture.
Jessica leads the kids to her old favorite swordfish soup joint, but they’ve already sold out for the day. She tries to sweet talk the owner into giving her some anyway, but he directs her to McDonald’s instead. Later, the part of the trip she’d most been looking forward to—bargain-hunting at the night market—goes awry when the Air Jordan 11s she gets a deal on for Eddie (Hudson Yang) immediately fall apart. As Louis’ Big Auntie puts it, her “negotiating muscle has atrophied.”
At Gene and Margaret’s wedding, Louis questions whether they should have left Taiwan in the first place. But Jessica disagrees, having realized a fundamental truth about their situation.
“I know I’ve been saying how different things are here, how they’ve changed, but it’s not true, they’re the same,” she says. “I’m the one who has changed. And I’m homesick for Orlando.”
As proud as they are to have made it in America, Louis acknowledges that maybe, not unlike Patrick Swayze in Ghost (again: running gag), they’ll “never feel completely at home in either place.” But that’s okay, because wherever they go, the Huangs will always have each other—even if the Magic won’t always have Shaq.