Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 11: “Year of the Rat”
Original airdate February 2, 2016.
Microsynopsis: The Huangs are excited about flying back to D.C. to join their family in Chinatown for Chinese New Year, but a Louis screwup keeps them in Orlando, where they seek some way to have a traditional celebration.
Good: This is the twenty-fourth episode (thirteen in season one; eleven so far this season) of Fresh off the Boat, so we’re looking at what would normally have been the last episode of the season if it had begun in the fall, and it shows in the acting. This cast knows its characters: you can see it in the timing, blocking, and reactions. There’s a scene where Jessica is on the phone with her sister in D.C., and when she’s asked to explain why the family won’t be there, she wordlessly hands the phone to Louis, who recites his line and hands the phone back. This exchange happens again, and the only ambient noise in the whole scene is the sound of that phone slapping glumly into one hand from another. It’s not at all frenetic, as many of their scenes together are, but it’s controlled acting that only two actors who know each other can pull off. It’s the funniest scene in the episode, too.
There’s also a funny scene where the Huangs get together for a Chinese New Year celebration with the Asian American Association of Orlando, set up really nicely with a dialogue between Jessica and Louis where they try to pronounce the group’s acronym, AAAOO.
Bad:. The episode leans two ways I’m not especially fond of. It gets a little syrupy near the end, and although for a family show I normally approve of that, there was probably somewhere a little edgier it could have gone, since the scene that sets it up is already very touchy-feely. Also, there’s kind of a long, teachy bit that gets tiresome. It’s ostensibly for the staff and guests at Cattleman’s Ranch, but it feels like it’s aimed rather ham-fistedly at the audience.
FOB moment: “You should see how crazy it gets in Chinatown. If you can breathe properly the next day, you weren’t there.” (Louis)
Soundtrack flashback: “One of Us” by Joan Osborne (1995, sung by Honey), and “Get Ready for This” by 2 Unlimited (1991).
Final grade, this episode: This may be the first fictional prime time representation of Chinese New Year, so points for that, but the final act is a little weak. Strong acting through most of the show and a couple of scenes of determined (amusing) silliness earn it a B+.
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Working in Silicon Valley and as part of my job, I’ve checked out and played around with a few smartwatches. Personally, I can’t say that I’m a big fan of them – having to charge an extra device, and most of the watches are a bit bulky and not very stylish (there’s a reason why I love my Skagen watch – thin and stylish).
However, what is interesting is that traditional premium watch manufacturers are launching their own lines of smartwatches – no doubt for fear of being disrupted, as well as trying to capture the youth market that have abandoned or never having bought or worn a watch. TAg Heuer apparent has announced a line of TAG Heuer Connected watched based on Android Wear “designed in collaboration with athletes” – including Jeremy Lin:
“Just a few days ago at the Consumer Electronics Show (C.E.S.) in Las Vegas, Tag Heuer showed off its newest Connected watches – designed in collaboration with athletes Tom Brady (quarterback for the New England Patriots football team), Jeremy Lin (professional basketball star) and Giancarlo Stanton (professional baseball star with the Miami Marlins MLB team). The watches represent the first “personalized” dials for the TAG Heuer Connected watch that was just unveiled to the world late in 2015. … The TAG Heuer Connected watch, created with Intel Inside and powered by Android Wear™, is a 46mm watch crafted in the Carrera style in titanium with an option of black or bright-colored rubber straps. Its retail price is $1,500.”
I like the design of the Jeremy Lin watch, but I’m not willing to spend $1,500 on any watch – smart or not. I wonder what kind of volumes these watches will sell?
Also, the thing with smartwatches is that new versions will be coming out every year or so, with new features, etc. In my opinion, a watch needs to be “timeless.” And beyond tell time, the number one feature that needs to be improved for a smart watch is battery life …
Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who never smoked yet was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and died last year at the age of 37. Between his diagnosis and eventual death, he and his wife Lucy had a child, and he wrote the book When Breath Becomes Air. His wife talks about him and the book in the interview with Katie Couric above. While being a neurosurgeon might seem like a very stereotypical Asian American thing to do, upon reading more about him, he was the opposite of those stereotypes, and I found him to be an inspirational modern renaissance man.
Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 13: “D.K. and the Dishwasher”
Original airdate January 29, 2016.
Symptoms: Ken’s father D.K. visits for a couple of weeks while his wife is in Korea. He immediately begins to take care of long-neglected repairs around the house, repairs that have been on Ken’s to-do list for ages. Ken is resentful and purposely sabotages his father’s efforts. In the Welltopia offices, Damona confesses to Clark and Julie that she slept with Pat after a night of partying. Damona is stressed about the awkward conversation she’s sure she’ll have with her boss when he expresses an attachment to her, but Pat disappoints her with a much cooler attitude.
Diagnosis: The denial-by-an-accidental-lover plot device has been employed in other sitcoms, but it’s a good one, and this episode’s writer Mary Fitzgerald doesn’t take any cheap shortcuts. Damona doesn’t laugh off the experience with easy jokes about sleeping with Pat; neither the humor nor the seriousness inherent in the situation is ruined by jokes about anatomy or function. There is one quick “filling the void” joke that’s hinted at and deliberately avoided, but the laughs come from reasonable tensions and interactions all around.
This is brave writing, the sort that I’ve been longing for since episode one. Putting characters in relatable, difficult situations and letting the characters work things out trusts them to let the humor emerge, to coax the humor out of the situation rather than to treat the situation as a reason for wackiness.
I was almost sure, once I saw how gently this subplot was being treated, that its resolution would teeter over into excessive sweetness or poignancy, as has been this show’s tendency. Instead, the actors, director, and writer all hit exactly the right note by letting the characters treat each other like human beings. I’ve had issues with Damona and Pat being presented two-dimensionally, but here they simply give in to their mutual understanding of shared intimacy, and rather than offering a syrupy Blue Mountain monologue of resolution, they acknowledge each other the way real people should (but often do not). This is some of the most character-driven, character-developing writing all season.
The A story isn’t quite as deftly handled, but D.K. even recognizes this when Ken tentatively asks whether or not they should hug. “We did that at Thanksgiving,” says D.K., which is funny because it’s in character and because that’s exactly what we were all probably thinking about the Blue Mountain pep-talk he delivers, which sounds a heck of a lot like the one he gives in the Thanksgiving episode.
Prognosis: The best thing about the main plot is that Molly and Dave get some of the attention they’ve needed for several episodes. It’s mostly played for the joke, but there’s something encouraging about the way Molly listens to her grandfather’s strict rationale for an earlier curfew, and his insistence that it’s time for Dave to “be a man” confronts Dave’s quirkiness. Don’t read me incorrectly: I love that Ken and Allison give Dave all kinds of space to be interested in whatever he’s interested in, but I also love that D.K. insists there are things he needs to know how to do, and I love that Dave’s response is positive, as if to say he’s ready not to be the baby of the family anymore.
Almost the entire B story is encouraging as well. Despite my disappointment in a lot (a lot) of this show’s decisions, I’ve grown fond of the characters, and this plot is strong indication that the show’s producers, directors, and writers care about them too.
Rx: I’ve highlighted some specific, well-done things about this episode, and while I still have a few issues, an effort like this just needs to be given a gold star, followed by a “keep up the good work” note at the top of the page. More like this, please.
Don’t forget to check out this week’s Post Show and Tell, in which Joz Wang interviews Jonathan Slavin on the Dr. Ken set!
According to Men’s Wearhouse’s YouTube channel, their commercial starring Vera Wang about her first collection of formal wear for me has been around (or at least hosted on YouTube) since March 2015 – but I just caught this it on TV recently.
The last time I think I blogged about Vera Wang was when I saw her promoting her LOVE collection at Zales. I still mostly think of Vera Wang as a fashion designer for wedding gowns, popularized – at least for me, through being mentioned in Sex in the City.
I caught this Snickers commercial about their new candy they are launching called Crisper:
“Crispy satisfaction is on the horizon with new SNICKERS® Crisper – a delicious combination of crisped rice and peanuts topped with a layer of caramel and coated in creamy SNICKERS® Brand milk chocolate.Boasting multiple textures, SNICKERS® Crisper delivers on its satisfaction pledge with the chew of caramel and the crunchy crispiness of rice and peanuts. Singles packs feature two pieces, each with 100 calories, allowing for a snack for now and another for later.”
What I like about this commercial is that it shows an Asian American college student boasting about his partying ways – kind of breaking with the “Model Minority” stereotype, though I have to say the glasses he is wearing are kind of geeky.
Not sure I totally get the premise of the commercial, but nevertheless I found it entertaining.
The latest installment of the Ip Man film was already exciting enough in and of itself. Add on top of that the fact that Mike Tyson is in it, and with a face off with Donnie Yen no less, and we’ve got a martial arts movie legend made before it hits the screens.
Often with martial arts movies, we have to put up with stupid story lines and shallow characters just to narratively string a bunch of fight scenes together. Once in a while, though, we get one that has the best of both worlds, a good story with amazing fight choreography. That’s IP Man 3.
Now, I’m not saying the narrative was die hard revolutionary or anything, but it was solidly a martial arts plot and martial artist character driven story that also plays out as a story with characters your average viewer can care about. That’s definitely not easy to do. I especially liked the Ip Man foil character, Cheung Tin-Chi, played by Jin Zhang, who was a gray character that provided a less socioeconomically privileged version of Ip Man, who did a more traditional form of Wing Chun and provided not just a character foil but also a martial artist foil, as well as the opportunity for Wing Chun vs. Wing Chun action that was awesome.
The fight IQ of this whole film was pretty high, what with legendary choreography Yuen Wo-ping at the helm. Happily, the best fight scene in the whole thing was between Donnie Yen playing Ip Man and Tyson playing a bad guy boss. Tyson, of course, comes in as the known beast, where who he is outside of the film, a heavyweight champion knockout artist boxer, just can’t be ignored inside the story. There was weight to the exchanges, and a battle narrative to it, too, not just sock’em and rock’em but the playing out of a chess match between two styles and two fighters. I loved this interview of Yen and Tyson together, especially when Yen says that choreographing the fight with Tyson was “life threatening”, which he says like three or more times.
I’ve been a fan and a user of TurboTax online since around 2000. I like to say to my friend who works for TurboTax / Intuit that I make my annual donation to Intuit every year, and gladly so. Recently, I saw Intuit’s latest TurboTax commercial staring Dr. Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics – who often makes television appearances to explain physics related topics.
“https://turbotax.intuit.com It doesn’t take a genius to do your taxes. More specifically, it doesn’t take a world-renowned physicist and a futurist (Dr. Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics) to predict that doing your taxes will be fast and free.”
Yes, if you have an “simple” tax return, you can file for free via TurboTax’s free edition.
This article from the Daily Kos talks about the most Asian American congressional district in the United States – California’s 17th District. I would have thought that a district in Hawaii would be more Asian American, but the Honolulu district closely trails this Silicon Valley area. Some highlights:
The article also talks about the current representative, Mike Honda, who beat another Asian American Ro Khanna in the last district election but might be vulnerable in the next election after an ethics report was made public in September.
You can see more details about the district in the article.
Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 12: “Ken’s Physical”
Original airdate January 15, 2016.
Symptoms: Allison is upset when she learns that Ken hasn’t had a physical examination in twenty years, reminding him that his family needs him to be healthy. When Ken asks Julie simply to sign the form without actually performing the exam, she insists on examining him legitimately. Damona and Clark get into a little bit of a prank war. Molly, hoping to pay for a snowboarding trip, takes (and loses) part-time jobs.
Diagnosis: I watched this episode three times (that’s normal when I write episode reviews), and although the jokes never got funnier, the relationships got more interesting. The best thing about this episode is the continued development of the Welltopia characters. Even Pat, whom I have been very critical of, comes across in this episode as more of a goofball than a bizarre cartoon character. It’s still not quite the right note, but it’s the closest it’s been since the boat-on-land episode. More Ken-Julie interaction, this time on level ground as physicians, is also good for development, leaving Damona and Clark to get more time together. All of this is good.
Ken and Allison are at their TV best when they’re arguing with each other, or when they’re teamed up against their kids, and we get both in this episode.
What we have this week are all the signs of a show finding its stroke. The skeleton is there, and that’s important, and it’s evidence of actors who have a good sense of their characters, and writers who have some kind of meaningful purpose in mind. But man, the flesh and skin attached to this lovely bone structure is not pretty. The jokes just aren’t funny. There’s definitely some nice situational humor, mostly in Julie’s examination of Ken, but the writers seem to think they have to point right at every funny situation, highlight it, color it, and dot it with a little heart. Clark in oversized scrubs is funny; Clark’s scrubs falling down around ankles is just dumb. I wouldn’t have been surprised if immediately after, he’d whipped out a bicycle horn and honked it a couple of times. This is one example, but there are many equally bad instances.
Prognosis: I’m so glad I watched this episode more than once, because I’m encouraged by a lot of what I saw the second and third times, when I was able to let the bad jokes just kind of wash over me without causing me to choke.
Rx: I complained about Pat last week, and this week he was actually bearable. Hoping my mojo will work again, I’m going to complain now about Molly. Krista Marie Yu has established Molly pretty well as a smart, shallow, affectionate young woman with a few misplaced values. But she likes her annoying younger brother and appreciates the boundaries her parents set for her, even if she tests them whenever she gets a chance. This is not a character who thinks taking an “advance on her paycheck” from her employer’s till is okay, or anything less than criminal. The writers seem to think of her not as a character, but as a plot device, and this is poison to a television show. This has been going on for several episodes now, and it’s not a good sign. We aren’t getting to know her better; we’re merely getting to laugh at her occasionally funny zingers. If Ken’s family life is to be believable, his kids have to be believable, and that’s becoming less so each week.
Check out this week’s Post Show and Tell. Joz Wang interviews Suzy Nakamura from the Welltopia offices, and Nakamura gets into some really interesting actory conversation.
“We’ve never seen anyone like the young boy we’re going to introduce you to tonight. His name is Joey Alexander, he’s 12 years old and he’s becoming a musical sensation. He’s not a pop star or classical music prodigy…he’s a jazz musician, a piano player. He has been nominated for two Grammy awards this year. But it’s not just his young age that makes him remarkable, it’s where he’s from: Bali, a small Indonesian island that’s hardly famous for jazz. Since he arrived in New York 18 months ago, Joey has been captivating fans and fellow musicians alike, and after you meet him…we think you’ll understand why. … Joey began expressing himself on stages across Indonesia. Videos of him playing went viral and made it to Wynton Marsalis, who’s managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. … That concert changed Joey’s life. His parents sold what they had in Indonesia and moved the family to New York. He started playing gigs, touring the country, winning fans and learning the rhythms of a very different world.”
I’m can’t say I’m a really big fan of jazz, but this story really warmed my heart as Joey Alexander seemed to play out of pure joy and bring out joy in others who truly do appreciate jazz.
I’d have to say that my favorite jazz tune is probably Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” which I became aware of in the early 1990s when Nissan’s Infiniti’s car brand first launched and that song was featured prominently in the background of those commercials.
Photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr. has been tracking down Japanese American internees who were photographed in pictures like the one above by Dorothea Lange. He has constructed an exhibit called Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit, which features pictures from the internment era paired with pictures of those subjects today. You can see what the two girls in the front look like now, in the picture taken by Kitagaki shown below.
Gambatte! Legacy of an Enduring Spirit can be seen at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center through January 17, 2016. Kitagaki is still looking for more people in those old photographs. He says in this interview:
“I’m in a race against time as many of the subjects are in their 80s and 90s and passing away. I hope their stories are not lost forever”
(photo credit: Copyright@2012 Paul Kitagaki Jr.)