Fresh Off the Boat: Michael Chang Fever – Checkmated at Tennis (Review)

Fresh Off the Boat: Michael Chang Fever proves that just when it seems that the Huang family comedy has peaked in terms of humor, this episode goes and knocks it out of the park. (Or more correctly, serves an ace with blazing comedic grace.)

CONSTANCE WU, RANDALL PARK

Fresh Off the Boat: Michael Chang Fever proves that just when it seems that the Huang family  comedy has peaked in terms of humor, this episode goes and  knocks it out of the park. (Or more correctly, serves an ace with blazing comedic grace.)  The episode opens with the Huang boys complaining about matching “Cool” backpacks and handing over the school’s career guidance letters.

Jessica (Constance Wu) informs her brood that it is her job to tell them what their jobs will be. In mid sentence she is amazed and excited to learn that Evan’s ideal job is surgeon general. Eddie reacts with derision.

Eddie: “Dang fool, even by Chinese standards you’re a nerd.”

Evan replies,”My backpack doesn’t agree with you.”

Mom is less thrilled at Emery’s ideal position; flight attendant. Jessica’s reaction is priceless:

“Flight attendants don’t even get a seat on the plane, they walk back and forth pushing a cart…They’re the homeless of the sky!”

Evan (Ian Chen) returns to the room back wearing a white coat and a toy stethoscope. He pokes Eddie and tells his big brother:

“Sir, your lab results are in. Your diagnosis–butt face.”

Eddie stares at the littlest Huang without expression.

This opening sets the comedic tone for the episode, where Lewis (Randall Park) rushes the family to the settee to watch Michael Chang play tennis in the Australian Open.  As he explains how luck the family are to have a proper Asian athlete to follow, Eddie and Evan manage to make good their escape. Only Emery stays to watch.

Later, after Lewis explains how much money can be made from being tennis professional, Jessica ordains that Emery will learn the game to keep him from becoming a flight attendant. At the local club, Emery (Forrest Wheeler) proves to be a natural, he is so adept at the sport that even tennis legend  Billie Jean King is impressed.

Emery is so good that Jessica puts him in Eddie’s room and forces the oldest Huang child to share with Evan. Eddie (Hudson Yang) learns that Evan is being bullied for Pogs and offers advice on how to “be a bear” and put the bully off.

As the middle son wins his way through the “Under 16” tennis tournament, Jessica and Lewis react with excitement until Emery fires them both and “hires” Ms. King to be his coach.  Eddie learns that the bear trick does not work and he steps in to help out Evan.

FORREST WHEELER, BILLIE JEAN KING
FORREST WHEELER, BILLIE JEAN KING

It is revealed that Evan is not being bullied, he owes the Pogs to a girl (a fifth grader) who keeps beating him at the game. Big brother actually helps Evan to win and it is revealed that the youngest sibling has a “gambling problem.”

Grandma (Lucille Soong) Huang is enlisted by Eddie to help him beat the fifth grader, Emery wins the “Under 16” tournament, and realizes that as much as he likes the winning, he really would rather be a flight attendant. 

Jessica plants a seed about becoming an astronaut instead. Evan and Eddie develop a great brotherly bond, although the eldest does rearrange the star stickers on the ceiling from Evan’s Equinox setting to spell out “Wu-Tang.”

Standout Moments:

Ian Chen, doing his Ken Jeong “Dr.  Ken” impression talking smack. Priceless.

Emery and Billie Jean King doing the “winner’s perm stroll.”

Lewis and Jessica’s reactions each time that Emery wins a match.

Billie Jean King’s temper tantrum.

Constance Wu’s line “checkmated at tennis…”

Constance Wu totally rocking it this week, easily becoming a firm favorite as more of her character is revealed. Wu is brilliant at understated comedy and this episode proves it.

Final Thoughts:

This was, perhaps, the best Fresh Off the Boat yet. The storyline, Billie Jean King (along with all those 90s tennis star references, Sampras, Becker, Agassi and of course Michael Chang) plus the pop culture reference to the 1998 video Wu-Tang; starring the band-members made this one especially brilliant.

Ian Chen just finished a “cross-over” role on Dr. Ken playing Dave Park’s decoy for the babysitter. Randall Park is due to play role on Jeong’s comedy series as well and “Dr. Ken” himself is also slated to appear on Fresh Off the Boat.  Both these Asian comedies, with very different approaches to the genre, are funny and addictive.

Fresh Off the Boat, with its basis in fact (a re-telling of the real Eddie Huang’s childhood) is not filmed in front of a studio audience and is more of a cultural comedy than Dr. Ken but both shows work very  well.  In each show, the family’s children; Molly and Dave Park and the three Huang boys, have young actors who kill it every week in terms of performance.

Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays on ABC. Tune in and discover a great comedy that just keeps getting better and better.

 

 

Fresh Off the Boat: Year of the Rat – The Sinophile Episode (Review)

Fresh Off the Boat begins the new year with an episode about Chinese New Year; Year of the Rat.

ROB HUEBEL, FORREST WHEELER, HUDSON YANG, CONSTANCE WU, RANDALL PARK, IAN CHEN

Fresh Off the Boat begins the new year with an episode about Chinese New Year; Year of the Rat. This could well be the best episode yet out of all those on offer in season 2.  Mainly because, the overabundance of “non-Huang” children do not make an appearance in this episode, leaving the young actors who portray Eddie, Emery and Evan to shine without distractions from the other less “impressive”  child performers.

Year of the Rat could also be seen as the “sinophile” episode.  While that particular term was not in use in the 90s, (at least not according to the Internet…) it accurately describes the group that the Huang’s meet in the show. The episode can also be seen as depicting a naturally curious populace who want to learn about other cultures, without the stigma attached to the pursuit now.

This segment helps to explain much about the Huang family while working in some topical jokes and pointing out just how “isolated” Orlando, Florida was in the 90s. Year of the Rat is initially about the Huang’s  attempting to return to D.C. so they can  celebrate the holiday with family.

HUDSON YANG, RANDALL PARK
Eddie (Hudson Yang) and Louis (Randall Park)

Later it is just about the family trying to desperately find other Chinese people to celebrate their traditional holiday with and failing.   As they move toward a solution each family member has a personal epiphany about their lives.

The episode starts with the trip all planned out with precision by Jessica and the family rise at five in the  morning to catch their two o’clock in the afternoon flight.  After they arrive at the airport, the family realize that Louis messed up the dates on the tickets and that the flight was the day before.

RANDALL PARK, CONSTANCE WU
Louis forced to admit it’s all his fault by Jessica, repeatedly.

The adults are disappointed and Jessica (Constance Wu) reveals much about her relationship with Louis (Randall Park) when she grumbles that she did  not micro-manage enough. After a hopeless attempt to find other Chinese people in Orlando, Jessica finds the local Asian American Association of Orlando (Ay-Oh) in the phone book.

Run by a group of youthful,  enthusiastic and “misinformed wannabe” sinophiles, the celebrations are a bit of a bust. Meanwhile, the three Huang brothers are more concerned about the lack of red envelopes, traditionally filled with money, than not celebrating properly.

EXTRAS
Wrong dragon…

Louis  saves the day as he sets up a personal Chinese New Year party at his restaurant. Colleagues, friends and his employees help to set up a great celebration. Although Eddie, Emery and Evan do not get the type of red envelopes that they desire, in the end, Grandma comes through.

Once again, Fresh Off the Boat gives us a low-key, at times, and funny episode that manages to reveal a lot about the “real” Eddie Huang’s childhood. As does the entire series. For example: Father Louis is focussed on enjoying and experiencing America, often ignoring his children and not listening to his wife.

Jessica is similarly focussed, but on becoming a financial success. Wu has a challenging job to portray a mother and wife who has limited patience and is primarily concerned about money, often to the immediate detriment of her family.

Huang mentions that his childhood was pretty dicey at best and that the show does not reflect this in his opinion.

HUDSON YANG, CONSTANCE WU
Jessica (Constance Wu) and Eddie (Hudson Yang).

However,  looking closely at the main adult characters, including Grandma (played by Lucille Soong) reveals a family where the grownup are not exactly child friendly.  Although Louis could be called child-like in his enthusiasm, he does not necessarily connect in the “right way” with his kids. 

This episode also revealed a lot about the Huang family and where they are in terms of cultural tradition  and  in their longing to be part of the American Dream.  It also showed how quickly Jessica’s patience waned when having to play the part of cultural educator.

Ian ChenForrest Wheeler and Hudson Yang continue to amuse and impress as the three Huang children and Constance Wu proves yet again how well she does “nuance” as well as straight comedy. Randall Park does his usual outstanding job as the comedic pin that holds the whole family together. 

Chelsey Crisp and (the iconic) Ray Wise as the rich but fairly vacuous next-door neighbors are always a treat and this episode is no exception.  As Year of the Rat winds down it manages to amuse and, in a manner of speaking, educate. 

Not just about the Chinese New Year or how little Orlando, Florida understood Asian’s in the 1990s, but also about what the dynamic of the Huang household really was. Eddie Huang may detest “his show” but there is a message hidden under the humor.

Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays on ABC. The Year of the Rat is on February 2, 2016. Tune in and watch this enchanting comedy and spot the truths carefully hidden amidst the chuckles.

Fresh Off the Boat: Good Morning Orlando (Review)

RANDALL PARK, CONSTANCE WU

After a short interlude, where the Huang family celebrated Halloween on a “dead street,” the aftermath of the Fall Ball makes itself known on  Fresh Off the Boat, and Louis goes onto Good Morning Orlando.  Gus and Mey-Mey are the local news presenters at the four a.m. slot on television.  The two local celebs meet Louis at his steakhouse and he does a couple of impressions which go over very well and garner him an invite to their show.

This episode deals with the pitfalls of seventh grade dating, Sixteen Candles and Jessica Huang’s insecurities of how American’s view Chinese people. Louis “kills it” on the show but both Jessica and his youngest child hated his appearance. After informing her husband that he was doing a “Long Duk Dong” (a stereotypical character from Sixteen Candles) Louis decides to go back on Good Morning Orlando to set things straight.

Meanwhile, Eddie and his friends have learned that they are dating the girls from the Fall Ball who shoved them around in the mosh pit.  The lads have entered dangerous territory where smiley-face notes equal a girlfriend and group dates take place while passing on  escalators.

Due to the mysterious nature of their limited courtship, none of the boys know who they are meant to be dating and things fall apart while Eddie tries to work it out with an evidence board.

Louis goes back on the TV morning show and is so aggressive that he gets banned. Jessica tells him off for being so annoying and making it look like the Chinese have no sense of humor. After giving him an impossible list of things to be, she realizes that Louis can only really be himself.   The boys, Eddie and his pals, all meet the girls for another group date, this time at a skating rink.

As none of the male group know which girl is interested in them, the game plan is for all the boys to fall at once, the idea being that the girl who likes them will head toward her “date.” The plan fails when the littlest lad falls before the rest can act.

The girls react angrily when they learn the boys have no idea who they are meant to be dating and Louis gets his second chance with Good Morning Orlando.  Everything works out for both Huang’s as Louis does more impressions at a live news feed and Eddie learns from Alison that they are dating and  have survived their first fight.

ISABELLA ALEXANDER, NATALIE COUGHLIN, DARA IRUKA, EVAN HANNEMANN, HUDSON YANG, TREVOR LARCOM, PROPHET BOLDEN
The escalator date…

Fresh Off the Boat is amusing and manages to work its humor via a family who are trying to fit into the American dream of the 1990s.  Randall Park continues to shine as the Huang family father and Constance Wu is being allowed to be warmer and to show her character’s vulnerabilities.

This series, adapted from the real Eddie Huang’s memoirs is less a sitcom than a humour interpretation of Huang’s childhood.  Human comedy versus situational that works very well and has no real need of an audience to sell its humor.

The storylines do not prompt full out belly laughs but rather an amused reaction to the scenes as they unfold. The youngster’s attempts at their first social interaction in the form of seventh grade “dating,” for instance is very funny for those who remember the mysteries of the opposite sex at that age.

Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays on ABC and offers a calmer type of comedy, a sort of variation on Everybody Hates Chris but with a Taiwanese nuance.  Tune in and enjoy the Huang’s 1990s suburban journey.

 

 

Fresh Off the Boat: Miracle on Dead Street (Review)

IAN CHEN, FORREST WHEELER, RANDALL PARK

Fresh Off the Boat, the Huang family comedy that Eddie Huang refuses to support, reached a level place on Miracle on Dead Street. While based upon the memoirs of Huang, the network’s decision to make it into Everybody Hates Chris but with a family from Taiwan clearly does not set well with the restauranteur. Regardless of Eddie’s dislike of the show, it is moving into solidly funny territory, although many of the youthful cast members let the side down.

Randall Park gives a solid performance as the guy trying to live the American suburban dream.  Constance Wu is warming up a bit in this Halloween themed episode and it has to be said that the excitement felt by the father Louis, is real thing for those who have never experienced “first-hand” the juvenile world of trick or treat.

American’s either forget, or take for granted, the age-old custom of going from house to house as, Randall Park’s character puts it, “someone else.” The comedy from his character’s level in the episode works brilliantly. The “flashback” where Louis is dressed up like a KISS band-member  and throws candy at passer’s by below his brownstone window is funny.

The young actors who play the Huang children all acquit themselves very well. The gag of Hannibal Lector and Silence of the Lambs, treated and delivered as a throw-a-way joke,  was beyond priceless. These child actors, which is, perhaps, an outdated term, do well with their parts and the lines as written.

Hudson YangForrest Wheeler and Ian Chen kill it. They are infinitely believable when they act, there are no “dead” lines or awkward deliveries. Mad props to the boy who wants to go as the Traveling  Wilburys, he sells it, not once, but twice. Sadly not all the young actors on the show are as skilled at their craft.

Fresh Off the Boat airs sans the benefit of a studio audience. Looking at the show’s rankings on IMDb, this seems to be working. The theme of “fish out of water” or the outsider relishing all things American is solid and allows Park to shine.

The only other draw back of the show is how Constance Wu as Mrs. Huang is portrayed, but, as with the episodes themselves, her character is growing to become that bit more “likable.” As with Lucille Soong, who plays Grandma Huang, it is taking a little time to get used to the actor’s performance which may be down to the writer’s having trouble finding the two female characters’ voice.

The series is popular enough that ABC have ordered a full 22 episode second season. Another ABC sitcom to be given a boost is Dr. Ken, the network’s second Asian comedy program. The series, co-created by Ken Jeong,  has been given an order for a further “back nine.”  Each sitcom has its own comedic merits and both are funny despite have two very different production values and delivery systems.

Fresh Off the Boat is a series that doubles as a sort of time machine. Taking place back in the 1990’s and telling the tale of a Taiwanese family learning to “fit in” to their new country’s customs and traditions as well as learning how the suburbs differ from their urban background.  These types of scenarios are good for comedy and tragedy so it is no surprise that the comic angle has been chosen.

Eddie Huang is still not enamored with the version of his life that  ABC  has chosen to air.  The author and restauranteur has stated that he understands that comedy is generated by pain but that he hates what the network have done. Perhaps Huang could accept it if he was more into comedy as a trade rather than law, food and restaurants.  Chris Rock’s Everybody Hates Chris, is based upon his childhood,  which the comic says was not overly great either, but Rock turned his kid hood pathos into comedy, but then that is Chris’s specialty…Comedy.

Fresh Off the Boat is funny and the Halloween episode Miracle on Dead Street is the best installment of the show thus far. Randall Park is the undisputed star of the show and,  just as he almost stole the entire film The Interview, from co-stars Franco and Rogen, when he is in front of the camera he just kills it. The series airs Tuesdays on ABC.  Tune in and prepare to laugh, as well as cringe a little. Well worth watching this show, despite what Eddie Huang thinks…Sorry Eddie. 

Fresh Off the Boat vs Dr Ken

RANDALL PARK, FORREST WHEELER, CONSTANCE WU, HUDSON YANG, IAN CHEN

After seeing Randall Park in The Interview it is understood that this performer knows the nuances of comedy and comic performances. His “President Kim” was brilliant and a perfect counterpoint to James Franco and Seth Rogen as Skylark and his producer.  Watching the new season of Fresh Off the Boat, Park proves that he can deliver  comedy on the small screen as well.

However, the series seems a little flat compared to Dr Ken. Whether this is a case of “Taiwanese” fish out of water humor not working as well as Ken Jeong’s US (with a “Korean” cast) gags or just the disjointed performances of the youth heavy cast from “Boat”  is not clear.  Curiously enough, on IMDb, the Park show is highly rated at 8.1 percent and Dr. Ken is only 5.3.  This disparity is interesting and raises the question of why one is deemed more popular than the other.

On the face of it, Park himself could be the main draw , what with his recent high profile appearance in the Rogen/Franco film (that the real life President Kim tried to stop from being shown). Ken Jeong’s last big film was Hangover III where he reprised his role as Mr. Chow. Although the actor did voice Short Fuse in the 2014 animated feature Penguins of Madagascar.

Fresh Off the Boat is funny. Although one does have to remember to “go back to the 1990s.” Otherwise the show feels odd rather than humorous.  Watching the “Halloween special” of Park’s show,  the gags work much better than in the first four episodes.  While Fresh Off the Boat does offer some insight into the Asian family unit, episode 204 reveals the tradition of looking after one’s parents as they get older, Dr Ken focuses more on humor that relates more to the funny bones located within the US borders.

Keeping to the Halloween theme, Dr Ken’s upcoming episode, “Halloween-Aversary” focuses on Ken’s botched marriage proposal 20 years previously to his wife.  It also deals with the office and a prank on Pat. The two shows, each with Asian casts, approach the holiday as differently as their shows approach the business of sitcom laughs and giggles.  The two sitcoms differ in other ways, Dr. Ken is filmed before an audience, whose reactions to the comedy “on screen” is heard during the show and Park’s sitcom is deathly quiet in comparison.

KATE SIMSES, DAVE FOLEY, TISHA CAMPBELL MARTIN, JONATHAN SLAVIN, KEN JEONG, SUZY NAKAMURA, ALBERT TSAI, KRISTA MARIE YU

Regardless of whether the laughs are “heard” or not the shows cannot be seen as “competition” as the humor is not the same at all. While the two sitcoms could be seen as having a common denominator of Asian casts, although from completely different areas, Taiwan vs Korea, the comedy is delivered from two polar opposite avenues. Of course the biggest difference between the two shows is that “Boat” is inspired by a “true story.”

Eddie Huang (played by Hudson Yang in the series) wrote the memoirs that inspired the show, although the restaurateur has publicly denounced the show. After hearing Huang’s complaint it does seem odd that his upbringing story would be made a comedy…

Fresh Off the Boat is a “fish out of water” scenario which could be filled with any “nationality” as the tale is a variation of  fitting into the new country along with the move from a urban environment to a suburban one.  Add to this mix the  focus on a family where the wife is a bit cold (who also has an anger management problem)  and the husband a little overly sentimental and both being from another country…The show is a little hit and miss.

It has to be said that the Halloween show is funny, and both Park and Constance Wu (as Jessica Huang) have some stand out moments.  The writing feels tighter in this episode and the gags more consistent.  Although, the whole premise is based upon Eddie Huang’s “life” the delivery does feel like an almost stereotypical sitcom template. 

Dr Ken, as seen from the press release plot description, could really fit any nationality and, like the rest of the show thus far, is much more American in humor despite its Korean stars.  Ken Jeong, who co-created the show, sees things differently than the creators of “Boat” and in his world, the fact of his heritage is not the highlight but is instead the nuance of his characters.

Last week’s episode of Dr Ken, where Pat decides to win his wife back by shooting his little toe with an airgun,  was genuinely funny and did not rely upon any Asian themes to sell it, just as the rest of the sitcom does not.

Both shows are funny in their own ways, although truth be told this viewer finds Dr Ken consistently hysterical (and would do so without the live audience reactions) and Fresh Off the Boat feels uneven, even without Eddie Huang’s vitriolic response to “his” show.

Dr Ken airs Fridays and Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays on ABC. Tune in and catch both of these very different sitcoms.