A month after Number One Son left California to start college in Boston, I asked him if he found East Coast Asian Americans to be different from those from the West Coast. He definitely did, saying that most of them did not grow up in largely Asian communities like the one from where he moved. That is just one of the differences mentioned in this recent Fung Brothers video, East Coast Asian vs West Coast Asian, one of a number of videos I found on the subject. Many of the observations about the differences between East and West Coast Asian Americans match those that John found when he moved to the West Coast, like being surprised at meeting older Asian Americans who spoke English without an Asian accent. Other observations from these videos were completely new to me.
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It’s quite lovely to experience Kyoto’s preserved machiya neighborhoods and many ancient temples, but equally fun and still historic is the Toei Kyoto Studio Park. Basically, imagine Universal Studios but minus all the big fancy rides and massive studio set experiences and in their place are ancient samurai and ninja backdrops complete with, well, samurais and ninjas. Old Japan period television series are a pretty big thing in Japan, and fans can come see where a lot of those shows are actually made. You can even see some scenes being filmed live.
For a couple hundred dollars, you can even dress up as a geisha or samurai and prance around taking photographs. I really, really wanted to do like a Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno remake staring myself, but time constraints and the price tag made me decide to save that adventure for another time.
At first, I was a little taken aback and the almost $200 USD cost of getting all costumed up, thinking it was one of those things where you just throw on some period costumes and run around taking pictures. Then when I finally saw it, I found out that it was a full on get up, personally fitted to you and complete with wig, make-up, and weapons. So the price seemed a lot more understandable. It was like professional stage make-up and everything. When I do come back to have my own Kyoto Inferno, I’m definitely dressing up as a samurai. No way am I going to don a geisha outfit. And if they won’t let women dress as samurai, then no thank you.
Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 2: “The Seminar”
Original airdate October 9, 2015.
Symptoms: Someone files a complaint against Ken (his third), so he is required to attend sensitivity training, which prevents him from being home while his parents are over for dinner. This leaves Allison, Molly, and Dave to deal with interminable silence and stone-faced expressions at the table. Without Ken to serve as conversational go-between, the other members of the family finally warm to one another when they unexpectedly find common ground: a mutual acquaintance they can openly mock while he’s not around.
Diagnosis: Mean humor in the premiere had me concerned, but that’s nearly gone in the second episode. There are a few plot elements we’ve seen multiple times before: the everyone-bonding-by-laughing-at-a-common-acquaintance thing and the read-this-letter-I-wrote-to-someone-else-so-you’ll-know-how-I-really-feel-about-you thing have been done better, but the grandparents handing out money in the last scene is pretty creative, and although the all-pantomimed scene tilts over into preposterous, it’s not the kind of thing you see every night in primetime. This scene’s resolution is unobnoxiously funny and it makes up for a maddening reaction by the studio audience to the climactic action immediately before. The loudness of the audience laughter is a huge liability throughout the episode and I beg the production team to bring it down. It’s an uneven episode that gets a little cliche, and office relationships are more told than shown, but a couple of freshly funny moments, a decent in-laws plot, and strong performances in the household bring it up to a C.
Prognosis: Rare is the sitcom that comes out of the gate sprinting, so while my expectations remain tempered, my hopes remain high. The trend is upward, and I still love the pieces even though gameplay has been mostly valleys with a few good peaks.
Rx: Be a lighter touch with the studio audience laughter. It’s a crutch that should never have been prescribed. I still don’t know what to make of the entire gang at work (except Pat, played by Dave Foely, whose chracter is right out of the cliche factory–someone please rethink him because he could be an important foil for Ken), but some of the good character development happens when Ken’s not there, so more of that, please. The playful banter between Ken and Allison continues to be a huge strength, so much more of that, too. Meditate on these things every day and see me again next Friday.
If thirty minutes of Ken Jeong and his new ABC sitcom Dr. Ken (Friday nights at 8:30) aren’t enough of the good doctor to satisfy you (and how could they be?) check out the new Post Show and Tell video series, produced and hosted by 8Asians.com’s @jozjozjoz. Not only does it provide conversation about and breakdown of each weekly episode, but it’s shot on the Dr. Ken set, with support and participation by the cast.
How cool is that? In the midst of what must have been a crazy few weeks for Jeong, he and his television daughter Krista Marie Yu sit down in the Park family’s living room to chat about stereotypes, the fictional Dr. Ken vs. real-life Dr. Ken, and the excellence of Fresh off the Boat.
“We have some crazy access,” says Wang. “More than we knew we were going to have.”
I have to say that I’m genuinely moved by Jeong’s effusive words about Fresh off the Boat, a show I’ve been highly critical of while yearning for its success. My primary need has been to be entertained on my terms, the only terms I’m qualified to write about, but Jeong reminds me that there’s more at stake than mere presence or representation: each step forward paves the way for more opportunity, and he clearly takes his part, as beneficiary and hopeful benefactor, with appropriate sobriety.
Post Show and Tell was so secret, 8Asians writers didn’t know about it until it went live Friday evening, which explains the complete lack of a heads-up on the very website Joz runs. A hat-tip to Justin at Asian American Action Fund, who had the early scoop.
New video is set to be posted immediately following each new episode of Dr. Ken, with viewer-submitted questions and more interviews with the cast.
For more Dr. Ken, also check out New Ken Jeong Sitcom Marks a Milestone in Primetime Diversity by Joz at NBC Asian America, and my review of the pilot episode.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 3: “Shaquille O’Neal Motors”
Original airdate October 6, 2015.
Microsynopsis: Louis thinks he has the perfect anniversary gift for Jessica: a visit to Shaquille O’Neal Motors for the negotiation of the purchase of a new car. Jessica gets upset and leaves Louis to buy the vehicle himself. Eddie so badly wants a new Hot Dogger waterslide that he hurts Evan in order to get the money for it.
Good: Flashbacks with Jessica and Louis are always kind of cute, and this one’s cute and bizarre at the same time. Eddie has some excellent interaction with his brothers, reminding me of the “Blind Spot” episode last April, when Eddie tries to catch chicken pox from Evan while Evan tries to pass them to Emery. I like the way this kind of character development helps to coalesce the boys as members of the same family. And this is some of Hudson Yang’s best acting so far.
Bad: I’ll admit that it wasn’t so bad this time, but I’m not a fan of the special guest star playing himself, although I will also admit that when I was a young viewer, I loved episodes like this. Joe Namath on The Brady Bunch? The Doobie Brothers on What’s Happening? Sure! Why not? Ugh.
FOB moment: Louis and Jessica fake-argue in Chinese at the auto dealer.
Soundtrack flashback: Someone correct me if I missed it, but I didn’t notice any music except that snippet in the Denim Turtle, which I can’t identify. I couldn’t identify the song they played in there the last time they were in the Denim Turtle, either (also in the “Blind Spot” episode).
Final grade, this episode: I can’t help it, even though I’m opposed to celebrity cameos on sitcoms. This episode is sweet in an interesting way, and in unexpected places. Jessica’s apology flowers are sweetly sincere, not to mention out of character. Emery knowing the appropriate theme for his parents’ twelfth anniversary is in character but still unexpected. Evan’s attachment to his Beanie Babies and Eddie’s delayed understanding are the sweetest of all. Good episode when I expected it to be terrible. B.
As Season 2 of Fresh Off the Boat continues (see Mitchell’s reviews of Season 2: Episode 1 and Episode 2), 8Asians has an exclusive sneak peek for you from Episode 3, featuring a clip of a flashback to Louis and Jessica’s wedding night– at a car dealership.
Episode: “Shaquille O’Neal Motors” – It’s Louis and Jessica’s wedding anniversary and Louis plans a romantic evening out – to the car dealership. Meanwhile, Evan and his “friends” help Eddie buy The Hot Dogger, a hot dog-shaped water slide, on “Fresh Off the Boat,” TUESDAY, OCTOBER 6 (8:30-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
I can’t wait to see the full episode!
Clip published with permission, courtesy of ABC Digital
I’m really enjoying seeing Randall Park do the talk show rounds. Here he is on CONAN, talking about what it was like to kiss James Franco.
h/t: Team Coco
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”.
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.