Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Checkmate: Fresh Off The Boat wins with a perfect episode

Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler, and Randall Park lament their troubles
Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler, and Randall Park lament their troubles
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Before we get into it, can I just say: Wow. Wow. This episode serves more jokes per minute than maybe even 30 Rock, and satisfies in ways 30 Rock, with its blown out plot and characterizations, never could. Sentimentality and comedy have often precluded the other: a family sitcom, with the implicit feelings involved, will always skew too dramatic eventually for some; a straight up “jokes” sitcom will never satisfy those who want a little more to sink their teeth into. But with “Boy II Man,” Fresh Off The Boat manages to satisfy everybody at the table.

Although semi-rooted in cultural differences, the parallel yet polar opposite parenting styles of Jessica and Honey resonate across the board. Honey, having tried so desperately to earn Nicole’s friendship, now struggles with earning Nicole’s respect; Jessica, confused as to why Honey even wants her step-daughter’s friendship, believes parenting is a chess match wherein the only point is to do what’s best for your child no matter what (“Children are never too old to be controlled!”)

It’s a tough line to tow for any parent or child: I vividly remember fights with my own parents over quitting swim team—or going to a party the night before a swim meet after I had rejoined swim team—that included me yelling, “I understand why you don’t want me to do this but even though it’s a bad idea, I want to do it, and I need to learn from mistakes!” and my dad essentially rebutting with, “Why won’t you accept my wisdom and experience on this?” (We were a boring family). The episode is essentially a “Seatbelt Episode,” or, a sitcom episode revolving around one specific, complicated problem with a solution that’s supposed to some how be universal for everyone (in this case, replace “wearing a seatbelt” with “relating to your teenaged kids.”) But it never feels like it. There’s no shoehorning of moments or overly sentimental garbage; everyone’s motives check out and organically inform their decisions. And nobody is at fault for the way they parent: Jessica doesn’t learn some big lesson about “chilling out,” but she’s willing to try a more honest approach with her own child when she sees he’s in pain. Honey isn’t vilified for being a pushover stepmom: she’s shown actively trying to manage Nicole responsibly despite her husband’s interference. The two women also represent the healthiest female friendship on television I’ve ever seen.

Louis, meanwhile, decides he desperately wants a baby girl—giving Evan and Emery the task of distracting him from his goal. While Eddie’s refusal to play piccolo may technically be the A-story, Fresh Off The Boat weaves everyone’s stories together in straight up wonderful ways, like Evan getting advice on how to deal with his baby-obsessed dad while power-walking to school with the ladies from the block, or Jessica totally playing the teacher with an Asian wife who keeps trying to prove he’s cool! He gets it! Even Eddie and his friends’ struggles with the eighth graders (and Nicole’s protection) feels fresh and hilarious, from seeing them bullied first (“My cheese tool!”) to feeling invincible wearing a kilt at school, (“My boy’s in a history dress!”) to being bullied again once Nicole leaves them for a cute new boy (“I don’t think Nicole will be sitting with us anymore.” “But I’m wearing a kilt. I’m not wearing pants!”)

Illustration for article titled Checkmate: Fresh Off The Boat wins with a perfect episode
Illustration for article titled Checkmate: Fresh Off The Boat wins with a perfect episode
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Illustration for article titled Checkmate: Fresh Off The Boat wins with a perfect episode

I wondered while watching the first episode of Fresh Off The Boat whether or not Constance Wu’s affected accent would be distracting or, potentially, disastrous. However, the stilted manner of talking, combined with stereotypical phrases—in this case, “Shop is closed!” in reference to Louis’s requests for a daughter—spoken in situations where Jessica is not only in control, but very funny, serves to normalize and familiarize her accent. It serves to humanize a way of speaking that was before easy to “other.” And weaponizing her differences to get what she wants from the afore-mentioned, Asian-wifed, teacher posits white ignorance as a weakness. It’s overwhelmingly gratifying to watch.

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Often the weakest link in the chain, the scenes with Eddie and his schoolmates rival those of the adults, and the “Hip Hop of the Week” ties everything together in the most beautiful reimagining of a Boyz II Men music video and a cappella sing-a-long that ever has been, or ever will be. The entire episode is bullet proof, from start to finish, and I find myself a little devastated when it ends. Although we’ve come to the end of the road…still I can’t let you go…

Stray observations

  • There are too many jokes to list here. Everything gets tied up! The chess runner between Jessica and Honey (“I even bought a new parenting book.” “Advanced Chess Strategy?” “A computer wrote the forward”), the inclusion of “End of the Road” and the ladies power-walking club (literally hitting the “end” of a road during the music video)—honestly the amount of comedy was borderline overwhelming.
  • Honey’s desperate attempt at relating to Nicole: “You know, your dad’s the first white guy I ever dated.”
  • Jessica pinching Eddie’s nose to wake him up is the same way I used to wake up my little brother when really desperate. I wonder if he remembers and/or is traumatized about it.
  • Eddie’s friends’ conversations: “…they’re just like little purple tennis balls. Anyways, that’s how my mom tried to sell me on plums.”
  • Jessica’s rant about terrifying Anne Geddis-type baby pictures is the latest installment in the ongoing series “Where is Constance Wu’s Emmy?”
  • Jessica recanting getting her heartbroken: “I was devastated…I lost weight, my grades suffered, I cut my hair. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life.”
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