If you watch a lot of anime, you may have noticed that festivals are a big deal in Japanese culture and story telling. Just like there’s usually a onsen hot spa episode, a beach episode, or a class field trip episode, the festival at the temple is also one of those staple episodes you find in a lot of anime. So having watched a lot of anime over my lifetime, I wanted to experience the temple festival.
What better time than New Year’s Eve at Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine? If I had to summarize the whole festival in one word, it would have to be “food”.
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Among fall 2015’s buzzier new television programs is Quantico (ABC, Sunday 10:00), a crime thriller starring Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra, a former Miss World. In its annual Fall Television Preview issue, Entertainment Weekly called Quantico “both knotty and naughty,” referring to the complex, multi-charactered plot and its main character’s having sex in a car with someone she just met on a plane.
Chopra plays an FBI recruit, training for the bureau with 49 others. We are treated to the rigorous training, which provides clues to the flashed-forward story nine months later, when one of the trainees commits “the worse terrorist attack on American soil since September 11.” Chopra’s character Alex is held as the main suspect, but she is encouraged to think back on her weeks of training to try and identify the culprit.
The premiere aired September 25, drawing 7.4 million viewers. Thrillers are not my genre of choice, but I admit the interesting characters grabbed my attention, and the intriguing story is likely to have me back for at least a few more episodes. Car chases are a huge turnoff for me; yet I found myself rooting desperately for Alex during hers. The premiere episode is worth checking out if you can find it. I’m on board with a TiVo season pass.
Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Original airdate October 2, 2015.
Symptoms: Dr. Ken Park deals with his daughter Molly’s earning her driver’s license, seeking advice from people in the office about keeping an eye on her versus trusting her. He chooses to track her, against the wishes of his wife, Dr. Allison Park. Meanwhile, his young son rehearses for an upcoming talent show, preparing a mimed interpretation of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” much to Dr. Ken’s chagrin.
Diagnosis: Lots of real laughs, but too willing to settle for stupid. Dr. Ken has a strong cast whose newness is painfully evident. Timing in the office scenes (anchored by Tisha Campbell-Martin, a huge asset) is rough, and family scenes are only slightly better. To their credit, Ken Jeong and Suzy Nakamura seem the most familiar with each other, bringing a Cliff-and-Clair-Huxtable kind of dynamic. I love that their characters make each other smile, and although they’re still finding their chemistry, you can see how these two smart people might have been drawn together.
There are some genuine laughs here, ‘though the writers are too willing to let smart-stupid become stupid-stupid. Ken acknowledging he’s unhappy about his daughter’s getting her driver’s license and claiming to need both family cars because he’s having a parade is smart-stupid with Jeong’s great delivery; tying a necktie around his head and ripping his sleeves off in order to get into a club is stupid-stupid. And there’s a place for a good butthole joke, but if you’re not going to do something interesting with it, it’s just a butthole joke, the kind of lowest-common-denominator stuff that wastes the talents of Jeong and Stephen Tobolowsky, one of the best character actors in the world.
Insult humor can easily teeter into meanness, and meanness is never funny. It says a lot about Jeong’s acting chops that he communicates genuine fondness for his family and friends even while insulting them. It’s made clear by the other characters that they accept the funny in the intended, loving spirit. This is not the case with the doctor’s interaction with his patient, and although this is offered for the payoff at the end, there’s got to be a better way to pull that off.
For this first episode, it’s not the most important thing for Dr. Ken’s family to feel authentically Asian American, but it’s way up there on the list, because let’s not kid ourselves: there’s something going on here that’s not just about a new sitcom and whether it’s funny or not. The Park family (thank the writers) doesn’t go out of its way to remind its audience of its Asian Americanness, but there is a deliberate effort to give it authentic Asian American character, as when Ken quotes his father in the Korean language. Props to everyone for the right balance between just-like-your-family and not-exactly-like-your-family.
Prognosis: Because I love Ken Jeong as a comic actor, and because I love Tisha Campbell-Martin (It’s only because of her that I continued to watch Martin even when it stopped being funny), and because my hapa heart wants to see better Asian representation in mainstream media, I really, really, really want Dr. Ken to succeed. I have lived in America my whole life, and on a day-to-day basis, I see far more real-life families like the Huangs on Fresh off the Boat and the Parks on Dr. Ken than I do other typical sitcom families. The America (and Americans) I know have been so rare to see on television that it’s easy for me to feel kind of ripped off. Unlike many of my fellow writers of Asian ancestry, I do not believe it is the media’s responsibility, especially in what is ostensibly the artistic realm of visual media, to represent me or my family or my entire state the way I am used to seeing them, but if truly talented actors like Randall Park, Constance Wu, and Ken Jeong can be on great sitcoms, I’m grateful to see it. This is why I want to love Dr. Ken, but I don’t want it to get a pass just because of it. If it succeeds, I want it to succeed because it’s excellent, because given the kind of input Ken Jeong has on this thing, and because of the talent across the board, there’s no reason it can’t be. If it fails, I want it to be for reasons quite the opposite. This is why I will evaluate episodes based on their merits as television entertainment the way I appreciate television entertainment, and not on their cultural importance, no matter what my heart wishes.
The prognosis for Dr. Ken, based on its pilot episode, is optimistic but not solid. It has a few things conspiring to work against it, such as the burden of representing a whole ethnicity a certain way. But it has a very good cast, a star with true comedic range, and a heart firmly planted in the right space. If it can avoid putting its head up its butt (to paraphrase the worst line in this episode) and let that heart steer the ship, it can be a bright spot in the primetime sky.
Rx: The show is filmed in front of a live audience, so my disdain for laugh tracks is assuaged some, as long as studio audiences don’t get stupid (I’m looking right at you, studio audiences of The Big Bang Theory!). Whether they do or not, I would beg the technicians on Dr. Ken to mix the laughter down a bit. Your TV audience is smart; it doesn’t need prompts for when to laugh. I further prescribe an avoidance of potty humor, not because it’s not funny, but because it’s too easy. Set your bar higher, and your audience will follow. I hope. And I understand the importance of developing Dr. Ken’s office characters, but take your time. Don’t feel you need to give lines to everyone in each episode; let your audience get to know them gradually, establishing the stronger relationships before expanding the circle, because what will make the show special isn’t the laughter or the poignant endings, but the specialness of the relationships, which an actor like Ken Jeong is capable of defining, if he’s given time to do it believably.
Take regularly every day and see me again next Friday night.
Mia Alvar’s beautiful collection of nine short stories, In the Country, is one you don’t want to miss. Her stories traverse the Filipino diaspora, from Bahrain to Manila, to New York and back. But it is Alvar’s lyrical language that is the most compelling, artfully capturing raw emotion and the complexities of human nature.
In their short span, these stories are filled with sadness and surprise, depth and darkness. They are about longing for home, dreams, human flaws, class dynamics, the feelings of otherness, the feelings of empowerment. But most importantly, the characters are people, neither heroes nor villains, but flawed beings who are yet graceful and empathetic.
The collection begins with an American-educated and practicing doctor returning home to the Philippines hoping to free his mother from the overbearing demands of his dying father. Her response rattles her son, revealing an unknown side, a darker side. Through such intimate views of families and communities, Alvar draw readers in and through.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 2: “Boys II Man”
Original airdate September 29, 2015.
Microsynopsis: Eddie and his lunch crew learn that there are benefits to having a friend who flunked eighth grade. Jessica and Eddie butt heads over what Eddie’s fifth-period elective should be. Louis won’t let go of his dream of having a daughter, despite Jessica’s refusal.
Good: I’m relieved to see a return to the Eddie-centric plot. Everything about this episode clicks into the place it works best, including Louis less as restauranteur and more as father, Jessica as mom and wife and neighbor, Grandma with Evan and Emery as comedic background, and Honey and Nicole as character development for Jessica and Eddie. With Eddie as the central character but Jessica as the one who holds everything together, the show is at its comic (and storytelling) grooviest, especially when Eddie isn’t being a jerk. This is a family sitcom, which means it must be tempting to tilt over into lesson-of-the-week sappiness, but the resolution here is sweet without getting syrupy. And I have to say that the second-to-last last scene, with the girl playing “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,” is a completely unpredictable, brilliant idea, one that bodes well for possible new plot lines in Season 2. This should have been the season premiere.
Bad: This is the last time I’m going to complain about this, because I know it’s futile to waste time on it: I really miss real-life Eddie Huang’s voiceovers in this program, and I hope the show finds some way to make up for some of the edginess it loses without it. I’m still not sure how I feel about Eddie’s friends, or in fact just about anything that happens when Eddie is in school. This new administrator with the Asian wife is kind of funny but still impossible to believe, and Eddie’s friends are still like exaggerated characters from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which are exaggerations themselves. I spent sixteen years as a middle- and high-school teacher, but I swear I’m not like that retired sailor who points out all the errors in every war movie on cable (that would be my dad). I expect a certain amount of comic caricature, but everything seems so over the edge that it’s like Eddie and his brothers step through a cartoon door when they get to school and back through a real-life door when they head back for home. It feels wrong.
FOB moment: Jessica cites a Chinese folk tale, referring to its heroine by her Chinese name. I don’t know what she says, but I get the sense it’s total BS. It might even be the name of food instead the name of a character in a story.
Soundtrack flashback: “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men; “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Final grade, this episode: Constance Wu gets (possibly fair) criticism for her accent, but not enough credit for her excellent comic acting. She’s great in all her scenes with Honey, and I love her reaction to Honey’s revelation about playing Twister. When the material is strong, the acting in this program is excellent. This is the sort of thing I’d want to watch with my kids. B+.
You probably have heard of The Honest Company because of actress and entrepreneur Jessica Alba, but Lee is a serial entrepreneur whose successes include LegalZoom.com. Forbes had an excellent article about how Alba and Lee met and started the company. I’m glad to see that Lee is getting some PR through this commercial.
BTW, I also like the fact that Lee has his family in the commercial and looks like any other normal American family. There’s an added plus that his kids are super adorable.
From various sources, I read that Shinbashi Dori has been called the most beautiful street in Asia. After reading that, I couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to hunt this street of beauty down and check it out. So, with a couple guides and my trusty international T-mobile phone with me, I steered my group down to the Gion district where Shimbashi Dori is just a block down from the Yasaka Shrine.
Did it meet my expectations? Absolutely. My pictures, though nice, really don’t do it justice.
KPCC, Southern California’s public radio station, recently hosted this panel on Race, Comedy, and Prime Time TV. The guest panelists were:
It’s worth watching not only because Joz is a panelist, but also because of wide range topics such as the creation and initial reception of “Fresh off the Boat,” Matt Damon’s recent comments, and how TV shows are cast. I found that last part interesting in that shows needing actors will ask for specific ethnicities or say that a part is open to any ethnicity. You can see the video embedded above or at this link.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 1: “Family Business Trip” (Season 2 Premiere)
Original airdate September 22, 2015.
Microsynopsis: Eddie’s plans for entering seventh grade with a cool summer vacation story are destroyed (by a funny story from Yo! MTV Raps‘s Ed Lover) until Louis agrees to take the family to a business convention near a theme park. Evan struggles with realizing that he is no longer a baby.
Good: It was a great feeling just to see the opening credits again for another season. Many things about this show annoy me, but I really do enjoy the characters, editing, and pop culture references, so yeah: I’m rooting for its success. Evan’s opening voice-over is cute, and I enjoyed the clever way it was woven into the show’s narrative. Ditto the soundtrack music when Eddie couch-potatoes for the first three months of his vacation. One of my favorite gags, Emery’s popularity with the ladies, is played all-out this week and it’s hilarious. The character named Gator Carol is played by Sarah Baker, who had that great performance in the “So Did the Fat Lady” episode of Louie; it was a nice surprise to see her turn up here.
Bad: The writers aren’t making it a priority to come up with truly resonant, meaningful stories for Eddie without driving the whole show off the edge. It hadn’t been a summer hiatus secret that Eddie’s voiceovers would probably not continue into season two, but without it, his presence on the program is diminished to that of a supporting player, a move that weakens the program. Without Eddie’s being a central character, the theme song and hip-hop references don’t make any sense. He doesn’t have to be the main story of every episode; however, starting season two with this story feels like a statement about this becoming more a show about the family than Eddie. That’s going to take some getting used to.
FOB moment: Thousand-year-old egg with tofu and grass jelly drink.
Soundtrack flashback: “This is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan
Final grade, this episode: There’s not a lot to complain about, but neither is there much to get excited about beyond the show’s continued existence. It’s nice to see Lucille Soong and Chelsey Crisp moved to the opening credits. I’m very excited about this show’s return to my weekly routine–I’ve become a fan of the principal actors and appreciate the show’s continued attempts to deliver something creative and original. Still, everyone needs a little bit of time to get into mid-semester form after summer vacation. C.
FRESH OFF THE BOAT: SEASON 1
Having been born & raised in a suburb of Springfield, Massachusetts (about 90 miles West of Boston), I’m surprised that I did not come across hearing about Lisa Wong, but I had only started blogging in January 2007 and she was first elected in November 2007. I learned about Wong when a friend of mine posted on Facebook a Boston Globe article about her leaving Fitchburg, where she was mayor – to be with her husband, who is running for mayor of Holyoke, about 1.5 hour drive away:
“Lisa Wong is a rising political star, the turnaround artist in Fitchburg, the first Asian-American mayor in the Bay State [Massachusetts]. … Indeed, Wong will not seek a fifth term. … She had three degrees at age 20. … Wong, 36, was a high school valedictorian who went on to earn three degrees from Boston University, run an economic empowerment group for women, and win the historic mayoral election by the time she was 27. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she grew up in North Andover, one of three children in a quiet family. She came to Fitchburg around 2001 to lead the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority.”
Fitchburg is 3.6% Asian. I was just looking up the demographics of my hometown (not far from Holyoke), and although I was subconsciously aware that it was predominately white, I didn’t realize it was 95% white (according to the 2000 census). So I have to imagine it was even whiter when I grew up there in the 1980s. Massachusetts overall is 6% Asian.
In any case, I’m glad to have learned about Wong, though I vaguely recall an Asian American running for some elected office in Massachusetts who would have been a first for something, but not sure if was for a mayoral position.
While researching places to go in Kyoto, I have to admit, I was trying to live my Rurouni Kenshin years and wanted to see “old Kyoto” where ever it may still exist, while temples and gardens are key destinations in such a search, I realized that I would also have to find *streets*.
Thanks to the efforts of Kyoto citizens to preserve the historic architecture and vibe of their ancient city, there are certain areas that have preserved traditional machiyas, two-story live-work homes that have shops on the first floor. One of such places, a twin pair of streets that I had to track down were Ninen Zaka (2 Year Road) and Sannen Zaka (3 Year Road). The belief is that if you trip on the Ninen Zaka, you’ll have 2 years of bad luck, and three years if you trip on the Sannen Zaka. (I’m happy to report I didn’t trip at all.) These two roads run up towards the Kiyomizudera, my temple of non-destiny that I missed in my two visits to Kyoto throughout my life. Because this temple has been there for centuries, these two roads have always been there for quite some time as well, and they have been servicing pilgrims to the temple and travelers to Kyoto for hundreds of years.
Included in this year’s edition of The Best American Poetry, edited by Sherman Alexie, is a poem worthy of significant controversy. It is a poem by one Yi-Fen Chou, the Chinese pen name of a white writer named Michael Derrick Hudson. Yi-Fen Chou is in fact the name of a woman Hudson attended high school with in Indiana.
There has been a lot written about the whole debacle, from the New York Times to Asian American Writers Workshop. (Debacle being only one of many applicable words to describe this infuriating if sadly unsurprising additional episode in the long saga of a problematic publishing world that is somehow well-acknowledged, and yet simultaneously discounted and in perpetual need of reiteration).
But the best thing so far (in my opinion) is from Jenny Zhang, “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist” for Buzzfeed. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety, but here are some excerpts, because THIS:
I won’t be scandalized by a white man who hasn’t considered that perhaps what helped his poem finally get published was less the fake Chinese woman he pretended to be, and more the robust, unflappable confidence bordering on delusion that he and many privileged white men possess: the capacity to be rejected forty (40) times and not give up, to be told, “no we don’t want you” again and again and think, I got this. I know what will get me in. What may be persistence to him is unfathomable to me. Continue Reading »