Fresh Off the Boat: Where Are the Giggles? (Review)

IAN CHEN, RAY WISE

Fresh Off the Boat “Where Are the Giggles?” manages to pay homage to three different Christmas themed stories in one episode. The holiday based segment takes a loving look at Home Alone, Jingle All the Way and A Christmas Carol. The Parks’ take on Christmas is a winner and the only real loser is their neighbor Deirdre.

The Park family are eagerly getting ready for Christmas. Jessica gets six movie tickets from a satisfied customer to see “Jingle All the Way.” They get ready to leave and get good seats.  Not everyone makes it to the cinema, Evan is left at home, alone.

Louis calls Marv who tells his friend to stay at the theatre and watch the film, it is, says Marv, worth it.  Jessica asks him to go over and look in on Evan. He agrees and ends up getting hurt by a boobytrap  set by the youngest Huang.

The Parks return home and find Marv on the floor with a back injury. Evan is wildly disappointed in his mother and she offers to get him any new toy he wants. Evan asks for a “Tickle Me Elmo.”

Just like the plot line of “Jingle All the Way,” Evan has asked for a toy that is nearly impossible to find anywhere.  Jessica hunts down the Elmo while Louis learns that Marv has sued them for his back injury.

Honey gives her husband muscle relaxants that he takes with beer. Louis has already told his friend how he feels about being sued. Marv’s guilt and his mixing of the tablets and alcohol cause him to have “A Christmas Carol” type dreams.

Emery, Grandma Huang and Eddie all show up as Christmas ghosts and they convince him to drop the  lawsuit. On top of these themed storylines, Eddie tells Emery that he is celebrating a  little known African alternative to Christmas; Kwanzaa.

Amusingly, in Marv’s “dream” Eddie turns up as a ghost of Christmas Present dressed in African ethnic clothing. He tells Marv that he is not the ghost of Christmas but of “Kwanzaa” present.

As Marv has his Scrooge-like visions, Jessica works to get her favorite son his Tickle Me Elmo. She dresses up as the Chinese Santa, a female in charge of all the Santas, to deliver the Tickle Me Elmo to Deirdre’s daughter. Her outfit terrifies the children at the girl’s party and Deirdre refuses to part with the other one.

Deirdre’s husband offers up the other toy and Jessica gives it to Evan. He reveals, on the day, that he does not really like new toys but he feigns excitement to please his mother.

Ray Wise knocked it out of the park on the festive themed episode. Constance Wu was hysterical as the Chinese Santa “Lao Ban Santa” the “boss of all the Santa’s.”

This was a fun episode on so many levels. Lucille Soong managed to come awfully close to stealing the show with her Christmas future and the kids on the show, Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen all managed to hold their own against the adult actors.

(The interaction between Wheeler and Yang regarding the Kwanzaa holiday was very funny.)

Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays on ABC. If you missed this brilliant episode, it can be watched either on demand or via Hulu.

Cast:

Guest starring Rachel Cannon Deirdre and Robert Paul Taylor as Ronaldo.

‘Fresh Off the Boat’ WWJD: What Would Jessica Do? (Review)

 CONSTANCE WU, IAN CHEN

This episode of Fresh Off the Boat is perhaps the cutest one yet. ” WWJD: What Would Jessica Do” focuses, for the most part on Jessica and Evan. The two are Costco buddies who shop every Sunday for all the bargains they can find. Suddenly, Evan is invited to church by his friend Zack and Jessica is lost.

Louis gives friend and neighbor Marvin a friend’s discount on their latest meal (aka, free) and the dentist returns the favor. He gives Louis neon white teeth during his cleaning appointment.

Both mother and father of the Huang clan have difficulties for very different reasons. Louis hates his “glow in the dark” teeth and Jessica misses her shopping buddy.

Meanwhile, Eddie and Emery make “Bad-A** Cereal Bars” out of all the left over cereal from the multi-packs that Jessica bought at Costco. Sadly, as the boys learn to their dismay, not all  cereal is created equal when it comes to making cereal treats.

The mixed up cereal gets harder and harder to chew. Emery breaks off small pill sized portions to wash down with water and Eddie breaks a tooth.  The eldest Huang child goes with Louis to Marvin’s office to get the thing sorted and he orders a crown like his rapper idol.

(On a sidenote: There was a brilliantly funny gag at Marvin’s dentist office. Five dentists, including Marvin are all standing  and looking a tube of toothpaste. It looks suspiciously like Colgate. Four of the group says yes and the fifth shakes his head and says he just cannot. The punch line is, of course, that “four out of five dentists” recommend Colgate.  This was the best comedic sequence of season three so far.)

Evan is quite taken with church and even though Jessica tries to dissuade her youngest from going, he continues to attend with his friend Zack on a regular basis.

(The second gag of the show had Jessica using the voice altering  megaphone to play “God.” She tries telling Evan to stop going to church. Louis overhears and he and Evan find Jessica hiding in the pantry. Very funny.)

Eventually Evan decides that he can do Costco and Church, alternating between the two. Jessica agrees to this solution.

Yeardley Smith has a cameo role as a sampler in the Costco who dispenses some advice to Jessica about how to handle Evan’s defection.  Smith proves once again that she does not need Lisa Simpson to be funny. Her Costco shelving “confessional” was brilliantly funny.

Marvin and Louis make up after the latter’s angry outburst over the whiter than white teeth his dental neighbor set him up with.  The only loser in the show is Grandma Huang.

Grandma makes fun of her own son mercilessly. Calling him a muppet and  using every opportunity to laugh at his shiny white teeth, his discomfort is her clear delight.

Fresh Off the Boat keeps pushing the comedy envelope.  Ian Chen and Constance Wu make the best comedy double act ever and Forrest Wheeler and Hudson Yang were spot on in this episode.

Ray Wise, as usual, makes the most of his time on the show.

The final punchline in the episode had Jessica making a “stock” out of the giant cereal bar, much to the chagrin of the two Huang boys.

Fresh Off the Boat airs Fridays on ABC. Stop by for some addictive fun and Stay for Constance Wu.

Cast:

Guest starring Luke Judy as Zack and Yeardley Smith

Fresh Off the Boat: Doing it Right – Like Mother, Like Son (Review)

Fresh Off the Boat: Doing it Right features the North Orlando Chili Cook Off (NO-CO), Eddie’s natural talent for cooking and Evan turns out to be a “mini-me” version of Jessica. To paraphrase an old saying, “like mother, like son,” the youngest Huang family member is almost a carbon copy of him mom. Both of them are “bossy.”

Constance Wu

Fresh Off the Boat: Doing it Right  features the North Orlando Chili Cook Off (NO-CO), Eddie’s natural talent for cooking and Evan turns out to be a “mini-me” version of Jessica.  To paraphrase an old saying, “like mother, like son,” the youngest Huang family member is almost a carbon copy of his mom.  Both of them are “bossy.”

The story this week features a bonding moment between Louis and Eddie, but only briefly as the two work together cooking  chili.  Initially the oldest Huang sibling is overjoyed to be helping his father.  However, Eddie does not understand why Louis throws out each batch only to start over and why he will not take any suggestions on ingredients.

Louis angrily explains that Eddie is like his mother, always futzing and wanting to add things, “This is chili,” he says, “not jazz.” His oldest son breaks off the apprenticeship and enters his own creation in the NO-CO. Marvin (Ray Wise) is also in the contest and he brags about winning five “golden stockpots” for his wild boar chili.

At the start of the episode, Honey (Chelsey Crisp) is visiting with Jessica and she points out that her friend is very good at pointing out other peoples flaws. “Thank you,” says Jessica. Later she will learn that Evan shares her trait but only exhibits  it away from home.

Jessica is impressed with the traffic “zippering” approach in front of the school and loses her cool when another parent ignores the natural order and pushes in front of her car.  Angry, she  goes up to the pushy parent and tells her off. She learns that the driver is Evan’s best friend J J.

Later the woman tells Jessica that Evan is not invited to J J’s  birthday party.  Jessica is distraught believing that she is responsible for him being uninvited.  She apologizes but even though J J’s mother accepts, she tells Jessica that Evan is still not invited.

At school, Trent (Trevor Larcomlearns that Eddie is helping his father for the chili cook off and is amazed to learn that Eddie has decided to quit as Louis’ apprentice.  Jessica cannot bring herself to tell Evan that he is not invited so she lies.

Crashing the birthday party she learns that Evan is a real “Bossy Boots” and despite her denial, it is clear that Evan is very bossy toward his best friend. Later when she complains about the woman’s assertions, Honey explains that he gets it from her.

The day of the chili cook off arrives and Marvin  has his stall set up with all his prior awards standing on the top of the table.  Louis learns that Eddie has entered his own creation under the name of Big Daddy Wong.

Louis, Eddie and another contestant; Gloria,  make the top three, Marvin is removed from the competition for putting a Whopper in his chili.  On the day Jessica tells Evan that she saw his behavior at the party and asks him why he is so bossy. Evan says probably because no one listens to him at home.

Neither Louis nor Eddie win but get the Golden Stockpot since Gloria does not believe in celebrating winning. At dinner that night, Evan is allowed to chose what they drink with their meal and none of the things he picks are in the house.

At school the next day, he is much nicer to J.J. and he has gotten the briefcase he asked for earlier in the episode.

Standout Moments in Fresh Off the Boat Episode 17:

Jessica’s  glove suggestion and the dead mime punchline.

Marvin’s Razorback hat (Whoo Pigs Sooie).

Eddie’s Arizona T-shirt.

Louis’ clandestine appointment to buy the ghost chilies.

Jessica, again, with her talk to Evan about idolizing her, “No I don’t,” argues Evan. “Yes you do,” replies Jessica firmly.

Honorable Mentions:

The local female news reporter/judge screaming for another towel.

Trent passed out by Marvin’s tent surrounded by free sample cups of chili.

Jessica’s reaction to Emery popping over the top of the bunk bed and her “cat bell” line.

Final Thoughts:

Great episode that once again was less about fitting into 1990s suburbia and more about the family dynamic. Emery (Forrest Wheeler) is only seen fleetingly though. (Although his upside down moment and Jessica’s reaction to it came close to being a “standout moment.”) 

Fresh Off the Boat, after a somewhat shaky start with this reviewer, has now become a firm favorite.  Once the show’s character became more real the humor leapt off the screen and the series truly amuses.  Honey and Marvin, Chelsey Crisp and the iconic Ray Wise as the May/December couple next door, continue to amuse when they are on the show.

This series is developing into a brilliant ensemble piece and while it is about the Huang family, it is the character of Jessica who is starting to become a personal favorite.  Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays on ABC.

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.

The Lazarus Effect (2015): Olivia Wilde Goes to Hell

Olivia Wilde as Zoe
Directed by David Gelb, his first feature length film that is not a documentary, from a screenplay written by Luke Dawson (Shutter, New York Studies) and Jeremy Slater (Fantastic Four, Pet) The Lazarus Effect stars Olivia Wilde, as a character who goes to hell but does not stay there. Before anyone starts pointing fingers and screaming about spoilers, calm down. This short descriptive does not spell out the entire movie.

It also features Evan Peters (AHS, Adult World), Sarah Bolger (The Spiderwick Chronicles, The Tudors), Mark Duplass , Donald Glover and horror icon Ray Wise has a tiny cameo. The film follows a group of researchers who are working on a serum and a procedure that could make it possible to resuscitate dead people who have been gone “too long.” Their process would allow the dead to be brought back to life with no cell damage.

The film starts with the team bringing a pig back to life and then a dog. While the first does not last long, just long enough to scare the audience and the researchers, the second lasts for almost the rest of the film. Like Pet Sematary however, the things that are brought back have something wrong with them. The success of the team at resuscitating animals that have been dead too long for normal recovery, leads in their research being shut down.

*Sidenote* In keeping with the Stephen King flavor of the plot, at one point Clay asks his fellow team members if they really want to keep the resuscitated dog in their house. “This thing could go Cujo here in a hurry.”

A pharmaceutical company buys out the corporation who funded their research and all the teams findings are confiscated. They decide to run another test, they have one last dead dog to resuscitate and when Zoe (Wilde) flips the switch on the electrical input she is electrocuted and dies. A desperate Frank tries everything to bring his fiancee back and finally resorts to using the serum they used for the pig and dog.

The rest of the team reluctantly agree to bring Zoe back and it looks like they have failed. After they give up and leave the room, Zoe sits up still covered by the sheet that Frank draped over her dead body. She is alive and in shock.

The film may follow Pet Sematary enough that the things, including people, that come back are changed, but the plot goes no further in that direction. It does, however, borrow from American Horror Story: Coven. (Rather interesting since Evan Peters is a regular on AHS) There is a scene on Coven where, as part of a test, the witches have to enter Hell and get back out. While in the netherworld, their time feels like days, months, years, in essence an eternity. When Zoe dies she lands in Hell and when she returns Zoe tell Frank that her time there lasted “years.”

After Zoe gets back, it seems that she can send others to Hell as well, although at least one time is involuntary. As the rest of the team fight for their lives, Zoe continues to change.

The Lazarus Effect is entertaining horror in the guise of science and the old “there are some things that man was never meant to know” theme works well. The film does not scare so much as disturb and it is satisfyingly creepy. There is one effective “jump” scare, and that is a prank, but it does insure that bums will leave seats.

The film does a good job of mixing humor with its thriller aspect (the movie really is more a thriller dressed as horror) at one point, Evan Peters’ character Clay is talking to the documentary filmmaker Ava (Bolger). Ava was sucked into Zoe’s Hell, where an apartment building fire she saw as a child burns around her. The camera operator escapes but she is burned in the process and pretty shaken up.

Clay: (Checking the bandage on Ava’s arm) “All right, rest 24 hours, take an Advil and call me. You good?”

Ava: “It was like I was there. How is that even possible?”

Clay: “I’m telling you it’s the serum. It’s like unlocking the part of the human brain that lets you do crazy psychic sh*t.”

Ava: (Disbelievingly) “That’s your big theory? ‘Crazy psychic shit?’

They then go on to talk about evolution, but the phrasing of the character provides a smile and a pause before heading into creepy territory again. Clay has a couple of “amusing” moments and one can only wonder how many wound up on the cutting room floor.

Ray Wise, who has more horror film credits to his name than Carter has little pills, gets all of about 93 seconds on screen and three lines. Despite the “blink and you’ll miss him” size of his cameo, kudos go to the filmmakers for including the legend that is Ray Wise.

The film goes through the motions of trying to find a solution to the problem of Zoe coming back very different from how she “checked out.” While the movie is not scary, per se, it has its moments of making the viewer a bit uneasy and, for lack of a better word, wince-y.

In terms of performance, Evan Peters does his usual brilliant job of convincing the audience that he is that character on the screen. Olivia Wilde does an adequate job as the “possessed” woman brought back from Hell. The actress can looks seriously scary and unnerving and she plays this part totally straight. Bolger, a very talented Irish actress, works extremely well as the university student documentary maker.

Duplass and Glover both deliver in terms of believability. Sadly, despite the questions raised of whether man should presume to “play God” or mess with issues that affect the human soul, the film as horror does not quite work. As a thriller it delivers very well. For the film to really frighten, there should have been a bit more hugger-mugger, or hokum if you prefer, to make the viewer watch through fingers, head turned and ready to jump out of their seat.

Despite the deaths in the film, there are not many moments where the viewers popcorn is in danger of becoming airborne.

The Lazarus Effect is a good enough film to rate 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is available on iTunes at the moment to rent or buy. Pop a bowl of popcorn and sit back to watch David Gelb put his actors through their not-so-scary paces. Adequate but certainly not terrifying.