SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details about tonight’s two-part series finale of Fresh Off the Boat.
After six seasons, we say goodbye to the Huang family of Fresh Off the Boat. The two-part series finale of the groundbreaking ABC sitcom didn’t necessarily end with a bang. There was no huge champagne toast, parting speeches, or huge overture of gushing love. Instead, it ended with humor, a modest farewell, and heartfelt peek into the future of the family. Above all, it said goodbye showing the country that this Asian American-fronted sitcom is, in fact, an American sitcom.
Part one of the two-parter, titled “Family Van,” had the Huangs on their way to Disney’s Magic Kingdom for the first time since living in Orlando. During a family road trip sing-along to “Hakuna Matata”, their van (aka Sheila) breaks down, thus beginning a walk down memory lane.
Louis (Randall Park) and Jessica (Constance Wu) decide to sell the van and get a new one — it’s more Jessica’s idea than Louis. In fact, Louis doesn’t want to give up the van, as it is filled with memories, literally and figuratively. Meanwhile, Eddie (Hudson Yang), Emery (Forrest Wheeler) and Evan Huang (Ian Chen) start unpacking the van and find said memories. Eddie also mentions that he earned a 1500 on his SATs (something that comes into play in the second part). The boys find a hand-drawn map that leads to a time capsule they buried in a park in Washington, DC before they moved to Orlando. As Louis mourns the loss of the van and Jessica wants him to get over it, the boys manage to sneak away on a road trip to DC to find out what exactly they put in the time capsule.
When the boys reach DC, Eddie gets sick from eating too many hot dogs, and Emery and Evan are forced to dig and find the time capsule without his help. They are irritated with their older bro, but when they find the time capsule, it is filled with Emery’s rubber ducky, Eddie’s bag of farts, and a picture of their mom, which Evan put in there. They come to the realization that this was a trip that wasn’t really a trip for the time capsule, but one last trip for the Huang brothers to bond before Eddie goes off to school.
With the help of the friendly car salesman Kareem (played by Jaleel White), Louis wants to buy an exact replica of Sheila, while Jessica continues to tell him to get over it — until she steals the van off the lot, which leads to a residential chase of bad driving — mostly on Jessica’s behalf. When Louis finally catches up with her, she admits that she is sad to let go of Sheila because of all the memories. She was just coping differently.
At the end of part one of the finale, the Huangs finally make it to the Magic Kingdom and they have a new van — the exact replica of Sheila.
As we go into the final episode of the series (directed by Park), we see the Huang family at a graduation — seeing that it’s titled “Commencement”, it’s more than appropriate. This is obviously a flash-forward into the future, and we don’t see who is graduating from Harvard — but it’s obviously one of the boys.
The show goes back to Fresh Off the Boat present, where Eddie finally reveals that he earned a 1500 on his SATs, and naturally, Jessica is overly ecstatic and they go on a shopping spree and she basically lets him do whatever he wants. She wants him to go to an Ivy League school, but little does she know, Eddie wants to go to culinary school. This parallels the real-life Eddie Huang, who wrote the book on which the show is based. He is a foodie in his own right.
As for the other brothers, Evan is writing a memoir and vying for the position of HOA VP, and Emery goes head-to-head with him because his own brother is stealing his narrative and telling false stories. All the while, Eddie admits to his dad that he wants to go to culinary school — and Louis is all for it. But just as Eddie was about to spill the beans to his mom, she finds out that a Harvard alum wants to interview Eddie as a potential student at the renowned school.
Andy Richter arrives to chat with Eddie — yes, that Andy Richter. He is essentially a proxy for his colleague Conan O’Brien, who is an actual Harvard alum. Eddie charms him during the interview, while Jessica hovers about and interjects two cents while Louis tries to pitch Andy his Simpsons spec script.
At the end of the interview, Andy admits that Eddie is not going to be the right fit for Harvard, but it’s not his fault. He calls Jessica a “helicopter mom” and says that children of helicopter moms tend to fizzle out when they are on their own. When Jessica beats herself up, Eddie finally admits that he wants to go to culinary school. This is just a twist of the knife, as she calls herself a failure of a mother.
During a block party, Jessica is moping around. She attempts to find solace in singing a karaoke rendition of Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be.” Seeing how much she is struggling on stage, Eddie joins her on stage and they reconcile through the magic of song. After, Eddie said he still wants to go to culinary school and Jessica, like all good parents — particularly immigrant parents —wants what’s best for him, and that’s a golden opportunity to go to Harvard. Louis points out to her that Eddie is the same age as when they left Taiwan — and they came to the US so that their children could pursue their dreams. Jessica finally accepts the fact that Eddie wants to go to culinary school — but it’s going to be the best one.
Back to the Harvard graduation we saw at the beginning of the show. Turns out it is Evan graduating from Harvard while Emery is a big-time cell phone commercial star, Eddie is a restaurateur with a goatee, and as for grandma (Lucille Soong), she is still alive and boozin’ it up.
Fresh Off the Boat was the first Asian-led sitcom since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl, which ran for one season in 1994. It was radio silence for Asian American representation on TV for decades until the Nahnatchka Khan-created series came to be in 2015. It had it’s fair share of drama and, at times, it was even on the bubble. But it managed to pull through for six seasons and was a show that did more than it set out to do.
Without Fresh Off the Boat, there may have been no Dr. Ken, and, in fact, it helped bolster Asian American representation on the big screen with Crazy Rich Asians, which starred Wu. There was a dire need for Asian Americans across the country to see themselves represented on screen, not through a stereotypical lens, but through that of something that was normal and American. Fresh Off the Boat gave Asian American kids a chance to see Yang, Wheeler and Chen grow up — and they had the chance to grow up with them. There are many first-generation Asian Americans that never saw that — so that is a huge deal.
Whether you watched the show or not, Fresh Off the Boat is a watershed moment for representation and inclusive storytelling. This sparked a movement that still manages to strive ahead, as we see more Asian American faces and other representations of marginalized voices on TV and film. And with the potential spin-off South Asian sitcom Magic Motor Inn in the air, we may not have seen the last of the Huang family.
The finale of Fresh Off the Boat may mark the end of an era, but it definitely has opened the door to many new ones.