Fresh Off the Boat, Season 1, Episode 4: “Success Perm”
Original airdate February 10, 2015.
Microsynopsis: Jessica’s sister pays a visit from D.C., bringing her husband, mother, and son. In an effort to appear more successful than they are, Jessica and Louis dress the house up and get new hairstyles. The sisters engage in a duel of appearances, as do the brothers-in-law, while Eddie is puzzled by the shifted musical tastes of the cousin who turned him on to hip hop a year ago.
Good: The absolute best thing in this episode is the us-against-them partnering of Louis and Jessica. The war of appearances is explained when Louis says to the kids, “Sometimes you have to spend money you don’t have to make it seem like you have money that you don’t spend,” which gets him a high-five from Jessica. It is later surrendered while they lie in bed together and share the misery of their apparent failure while Easy E looks down from above. The interactions between Jessica and her sister Connie are hilarious, and they get funnier as the episode moves along (minus one scene in the restaurant). There’s even something charming about what the grandmothers discuss. Other big pluses are the attention to detail that rewards repeat viewings and the best voiceover narration by grown-up Eddie we’ve heard so far. Shout-out to the writer who came up with the Mariah-Carey-Washington-Wizards-Dress line.
Bad: There’s a lot of over-emoting that I can’t make excuses for. I understand that cousin Justin has to lose his role model status, but his running off and sobbing is cartoonish and difficult to believe in an otherwise fairly believable episode. The brother-in-law’s freak-out over the stolen car is silly. The multiple outfit changes in the restaurant aren’t over-emoting, but they’re a bit over the top, too. And while the O.J. Simpson setup is almost Seinfeldian in concept and execution, the payoff falls pretty flat.
FOB moment: Evan and Emery, sleeping in the pantry, are using rice bags for pillows.
Soundtrack flashback: N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” and Live’s “Lightning Crashes.”
Final grade, this episode: This is the strongest episode so far, with excellent pacing and genuine laugh-aloud moments. I especially admire the way the writers find a couple of good gags, such as the subtitles beneath the sisters’ English dialogue, and then add a little twist that’s even funnier. The incidental but funny juxtaposition of Eddie’s love of hip hop over his parents’ success perms adds a convincing realism to a family we really want to like and to believe in, and it’s an indication of writers who are invested in more than good laughs. There are still some weird disconnects here and there, and the sitcom seems to aspire to a level of intelligence that makes the Afterschool Special summing-up at the end seem unnecessarily heavy-handed, so there’s a lot of room for fault-finding. Still, this episode bodes really well for potential future awesomeness. I have to give it a solid B.