Throughout the Fresh Off the Boat TV show, it expresses many key Chinese-Asian cultural values that may be foreign to the average audience. However, coming from an Asian background, I can easily relate to Asian cultural values that are highlighted. In particular, this is especially evident in Season 1 Episode 4: Success Perm as the episode demonstrates the value of materialism in gaining commendation in an Asian family and the comparative nature between siblings (Jessica and Connie) or husbands (Steve and Louis). From the very beginning when the Huangs went to buy fake lemon trees and got a perm to Steve having a grand entrance with his affluent Miata car and Connie getting breast “airbags” implants, the audience is immediately hit with a clear impression of the importance of symbolic materialism in Asian culture. While Steve and Louis’ rivalry is purely materialistic, Jessica and Connie have an intriguing rivalry of trying to impress their mother. All of these vying is effectively summarised when Jessica points out “They’re family. They’re coming to gloat about all of our misfortunes: the restaurant, Eddie…”
Typical Asian Cultural Value
At this point, the general audience may criticise the superficial, jealousy-spite filled, materialistic Asian values. But as the episode carries on, the audience is able to become more empathetic. This becomes apparent when Jessica opens up to Connie in regards to their struggling financial capacity, and in return Connie admits the pressure that she carries for being “mom’s favourite”. Thus, this allows the audience to become more sympathetic to Connie as we are able to understand the burden that Connie has to carry as being branded their mom’s “favourite daughter” after finally winning over that title from Jessica.
Moreosver, the Chen’s façade of a “well-off Asian family” begins to crumble as Louis’s suspicion that the Miata car was second-hand becomes true when a call from the police office reveals that their family is actually in debt. As the episode ends on a sad note as the Chan family leaves, Jessica jokingly tells Connie “By the way, your hair looks terrible” while in reality the subtext translates it to “Mom wasn’t the only one hurt by you moving away.” As this scene draws inspiration from a conventional sibling rivalry full of half-hearted jokes, the audience can more easily relate to the complex rivalrous, yet compassionate relationship that Asian siblings and families overall have. The show wraps up this idea nicely as it reminds the audience that “We learned that just like O.J., people aren’t always what they seem.”