Fresh Off the Boat, Season 1, Episode 8: “Phillip Goldstein”
Original airdate March 10, 2015.
Microsynopsis: Jessica and Eddie are at first excited about a new Chinese boy at school, but Eddie finds little in common with the apple of Jessica’s eye. Louis has his own difficulty with Mitch’s replacement at the restaurant when the new host turns out to be too good at his job.
Good: The parallel storylines are an interesting setup, especially when comparing Jessica’s roles in each. For family viewing, this opens up all kinds of interesting discussion topics, and it rewards multiple viewings. I love that Eddie isn’t merely not a jerk in this, proving a few times to a pretty good guy, especially when he reaches out to someone with whom he has a rough history. It’s hardly his fault (because I think it’s rare for young actors to demonstrate true range), but Hudson Yang is unconvincing as a jerk. The fact that he’s quite charming as a friendly classmate probably speaks well for Yang in real life. When Louis can’t even fire his younger sons in practice role-playing because he thinks they’re too cute, we see where Eddie gets it. The show has at times been heavy-handed with this kind of character development, but here is an instance of some writing dexterity, a gentle hand on the keyboard I really admire. And what a sweet, funny scene.
Bad: I hope Albert Tsai, the young actor who plays Phillip, doesn’t see this, but I really hated him in this role. He gives it a good try, darn it, but the whole performance is unbelievably exaggerated, for which I blame the writers and director. This is also the least funny episode so far (I laughed aloud twice, both at scenes with Evan and Emery), and there is a muttered “I never should have slept with you” that I thought was funny but was kind of horrified to hear in a family program.
FOB moment: Phillip plays a private cello concert in his family’s living room.
Soundtrack flashback: “Root Down” by the Beastie Boys.
Final grade, this episode: There’s a lot to like here, and while there’s nothing glaringly awful about this episode, neither is it especially memorable, except for the role-playing scene and Jessica’s turnaround at the end. It’s the kind of grace from which you can draw a straight line to Eddie’s own months-in-coming turnaround with his classmate. If this show continues for five or six years, “Phillip Goldstein” might be looked back upon as a favorite, but the restaurant story itself is pale, and fewer laughs make the whole episode feel, at this moment in the show’s infancy, good but not great. I’m giving it a solid B, but encourage it to petition for a grade-change before Eddie’s fifth-grade year is up.