Show Stealer - Fresh Off the Boat's Jessica Huang

Kevin Koeser
TV Columnist

Show Stealer spotlights some of my favorite side characters across television. Though they don't lead the show, but they have something unique about them that makes them worth celebrating.

Jessica Huang is a force of nature. When her mind is set no one can stop her from getting what she wants. She stands in defiance to the typical sitcom mom, a role that’s usually defined by reaction rather than action. While most of these characters serve only to cluck their tongues and roll their eyes at whatever their zanier husband/children are up to, the typical Fresh Off the Boat episode has Jessica pushing her family into being something better (by her own strict guideline of better).

 

“If you’re going to be something, be the best.” It’s one of the many one-liners that Constance Wu knocks out of the park with her melodic yet steely delivery, but it’s also a thesis statement for Jessica. The show has given no specific reason yet why Jessica holds her family and even more importantly herself to such a high standard, and I don’t think it needs to. It makes such a great pair with Jessica’s other core quality: her unwavering confidence. It can feel almost paradoxical at times, how much she demands perfection from everything around her and also achieves it, but it makes for something special.

When most sitcoms pit the world against its characters and expect the audience to laugh at them when they lose, Fresh off the Boat shows Jessica can be undone by being too successful. In a recent episode, terrified by the idea that her son Emery wants to be a flight attendant, she encourages him to hone his natural talent at tennis instead. She pushes her expectation of greatness on him so hard, he fires his parents as his coaches so he can tutor under Billie Jean King (appearing as herself in one of the shows many surreal cameos). Jessica’s view on this is sensible: "We’re both mad at Emery I know, but at least we get to go to his matches and watch him win.”

The reason it’s so much fun to watch Jessica on the warpath is she will never take the obvious route, especially if it means conceding something she holds dear. In one of my favorite episodes, “The Real Santa,” Jessica will stop at nothing to not only preserve her son Evan’s belief in Santa Claus, but change his vision of Santa to match one that she herself would approve of, even if it means putting on a production for him.


This is everything that makes Jessica great. She sees something even as sacred as Santa Claus and knows she can do better. And she puts on this production not out of selfishness but out of love for her son, so he can share what she holds important (in this case pride in being Chinese and knowledge that having a lease on a car is better for tax purposes). A lot of what Jessica does comes from a place of love, even if it manifests itself in strange, aggressive ways. And it’s so satisfying to see love succeed.