Why Fresh Off the Boat's Jessica Huang is the Greatest Woman on Television
by Lina Purtscher
For me, there were a lot of great things about this past summer. Spending time with my family, traveling, having time to relax and reflect... oh, yeah, and getting completely and irreversibly hooked on ABC's Fresh Off the Boat.
Ok, so I was a little late to the party -- it first came out in 2015. As a matter of fact, the show's creator, Eddie Huang (also a character on the show, as it's based off his childhood) visited Scripps last year, and still I neglected to start the show. (For those of you wishing you had a time machine like I do, here's an audio recording I found.)
Early arrival or fashionably late, once I started the show there was no going back. If I had to pin down one reason why I binged watched three seasons in a smattering of weeks and anxiously awaited this season's premiere, it'd be for one character: Jessica Huang.
The show's main character is one of her sons, Eddie Huang. In the beginning of the show, the entire family -- husband Louis, kids Eddie, Emery, and Evan, Grandma Jenny, and mother Jessica -- moves from their tight-knit Taiwanese community in D.C. to the (mainly white) suburbs of Orlando during the 1990s. Her husband opens his own steakhouse in Orlando, claiming his part of the American dream, while the rest of the family do their best to adapt to their new surroundings, as befuddling as they might be at times.
I love a good coming-of-age story as much as the next person. Eddie's sometimes clumsy and always hilarious attempts to make friends, get the girl, and keep up with 90s trends remind me in the best way of Hulu's Moone Boy. But his mom, Jessica, steals the show time and time again, and I couldn't love it more.
Not content to sit on the sidelines or keep quiet, Jessica is unapologetic in everything she does. Modesty isn't in her vocabulary, and she knows that she's all that. She never lets things slide, always confronting them head on. You can count on her to speak her mind whether or not others have asked to hear it. She's tireless in securing the best for her family, calling out other people's crap, hunting down bargains, and just generally, being a boss.
Her character breaks stereotypes left and right, crossing unspoken boundaries without caution. She's got no idea what a quiet, submissive woman looks like. Being someone who avoids confrontation myself, I cringe internally a bit when Jessica starts gearing up for a confrontation, going against the calm status quo of things. But in the bold way that she refuses to take no for an answer and ignores all of society's polite little rules, I always burst out laughing, in awe of her temerity and unending perseverance. She's one of a kind!
Jessica is Eddie's mom, yes, but she is also much more. She has plot lines on the show that are entirely her own, besides just her comedic moments as a somewhat overbearing mother; she shines equally in both. Though at times I'm rooting for Eddie in his middle school escapades, when Jessica's episodes come along, I know I'm in for something good.
Quite by accident, early on in the show she discovers a talent for selling houses, and boom! her real estate career takes off. Never one to let her lack of experience get her down, she's got her eyes set on dominating the market. From defending a property from Halloween "egging," selling properties stained by memories of a murder, to dealing with nightmarish rental tenants, Jessica's adventures in real estate are outlandish and a ton of fun to watch!
But Jessica's character wouldn't be complete without an equally important plot line of friendship. Just as her kids try to find their own groups at school, Jessica attempts to make friends with the neighborhood moms. Try as she might, she can't understand the petty, gossipy interests of the other women. It doesn't help that everything she does differently gets labelled as "foreign" and "exotic" by the other moms, whether the differences are actually cultural or not.
Against all odds, she finds herself befriending the neighborhood outcast, Honey. She's Jessica's next-door neighbor, shunned by the other women for "stealing" the man who is her husband from his first wife. Blonde, beautiful, and by every appearance a "trophy wife," she would seem to have little in common with Jessica. But she proves to have an open mind, and shares some of Jessica's quirky interests. Honey is the only one who tries the homemade tofu Jessica brings to a potluck, and the two bond over a shared love of Stephen King novels and horror movies. A fast way to friendship, no?
What I love most about this pair is the way they continually challenge each other. Jessica helps Honey to see her own potential. In turn, Honey pushes Jessica to take a closer look at her own actions. If Jessica tends to go a little overboard at times, Honey reels her in a bit. They balance each other out, and they've got each other's backs!
More than anything, I love Jessica so much because she's a real, rounded character. Sure, she's sometimes exaggerated to bring out the laughs, but she's always true to herself. Sometimes she's vulnerable, and admits her own mistakes. She grows as a character, and her plot line develops more each season. But she never stops being the loud, involved, amazing person that she is. She loves Denzel Washington movies, avoids the number 4 at all costs, indulges in ice cream "chipwiches," demands store refunds months after they've expired, has a thing for statuettes of mice as pilgrims, and she is.... the greatest character on TV right now! (Just watch the show and try not to agree. It'll be tough.)
And because I couldn't not include them, enjoy a galley of GIFs of some of Jessica's greatest moments. <3
(Click on the middle to rotate through the slides)