Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 5: “Mo’ Chinese Mo’ Problems”
Original airdate November 9, 2018.
The ladies will kick it: While going door to door as a U.S. Census volunteer, Evan discovers there’s another Chinese family in the neighborhood (Reggie Lee, Ming-Na Wen, and Jimmy O. Yang). The Huangs and the Lees are overjoyed, but Louis feels his new buddy moving in on his friendship with Marvin, and Jessica becomes disillusioned when Elaine turns out not to be the role model she hopes.
Eddie and Emery, inspired by Evan, pose as Census volunteers in order to find out which neighbors have their own swimming pools and when during the day nobody’s home.
The rhyme that is wicked: I’m not going to lie. I’m totally here for anything Ming-Na is in (okay, except Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), so I was going to like this episode almost no matter what. Add Jimmy O. Yang, this year’s runner up (to Awkwafina) for Summer of ________ status, and I’m willing to forgive almost anything. I love the decision to play Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First” when Elaine saunters up to the mural wearing her low-rider jeans. Everyone bows to Ming-Na.
There’s an interesting and almost surely deliberate irony when Jessica twice, in the company only of Louis and the Lees, utters stereotypes of Chinese people and Jewish men in an episode where she protests the stereotypical portrayal of Asians in a school mural. I am not smart enough to break it down, so somebody please do it in the comments!
Deirdre is hilarious in this episode.
Lines I enjoyed:
“You always find fresh ways to be boring.” (Eddie)
“I’m usually four times more beautiful than this.” (Elaine)
“My oldest son’s middle name is Elvis.” (Louis)
“I hate racism and I love a trap.” (Jessica)
“Betrayed by my beautiful face.” (Jessica)
“Maybe turn you into a sausage man.” (Marvin)
Those who don’t know how to be pros:
I said I’d be willing to forgive just about anything. Among “anything” are tons of overacting by all the principals including the guest stars (but not including Yang).
Is “whale tale” an anachronism?
FOB moment: The Huangs welcome the Lees with a fruiting lemon tree.
Soundtrack flashback: “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah (1989). If you haven’t heard the early Latifah stuff, I recommend it highly.
Get evicted: The episode is rescued from a C by the end, with Horace’s redo of the We Are the World mural, plus of course the guest cast, whom I adore. B.
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Discover Card has had Asian Americans in their commercials before. In fact, it looks like they have revisited the character from a previous Discover card ad about an office holiday party.
In this one,
A woman learns, from another Asian American woman in customer service:
that she gets cash back matched by Discover Card on the amount she earns herself.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 3: “Workin’ the ‘Ween”
Original airdate October 20, 2018.
It’s the heart afraid of breaking
Marvin and Honey ask Louis and Jessica to be their baby’s godparents. Jessica eagerly agrees, mostly so Marvin and Honey can have a date night, leaving the Huangs to babysit on Halloween night, and shutting down Louis’s efforts to persuade Jessica to dress in a couples costume with him.
Jessica and Louis are alarmed to discover that they aren’t the naturally talented parents they thought. Their claim that Eddie was weaned from the pacifier with no problems is a deception by Louis; their claim that Emery’s weaning was even easier is a deception by Jessica.
Eddie gets a job selling mattresses (his boss is played by George Wendt) and works Halloween night to prove he has what it takes. Trent comes by to help, but he’s much more of a hindrance.
Evan and Emery, dressed as Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, get to hand out candy at the front door, where they have a problem with a girl who shows up repeatedly, each time in a different costume.
That never learns to dance
Another silly but mildly entertaining Halloween episode. The costumes are great, and it’s nice to see the continued development of Eddie’s character (in two separate plots!). There’s a moment at the end of the teaser where Louis gives his dejected face. That face is some excellent Randall Park acting. My favorite costume in the episode is Grandma as Freddy Krueger.
Despite this being a really meh episode, the tag at the end is completely unexpected, perfectly in character (which is a brilliant paradox), terrific character development for Eddie, and genuinely sweet. Sweet Eddie is the best! Eddie made Evan!
Lines I enjoyed: “Alf was a puppet?” (Jessica). “You love black dresses and putting words into my mouth” (Louis). “Not being wise is being dumb. You make me dumb” (Jessica). “Damn you, perfect Evan!” (Louis).
It’s the dream afraid of waking
Trevor Larcom as Trent was, last season, regularly the best actor among the young men who play Eddie’s friends. He has an off episode here, and it may not be his fault. Trent’s part in this episode is idiotic. Hudson Yang as Eddie feels pretty off as well, although he has a few good moments in the mattress store. All three plots feel like something out of the sitcom plot handbook.
FOB moment: “A Japanese man saved my father’s life once, so you’re hired.”
Soundtrack flashback: “The Rose” by Bette Midler (1979) and the theme from The X-Files by Mark Snow.
That never takes a chance: The wonderful final few seconds of the episode give it a boost, but not much of a boost. B-.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 2: “The Hand That Sits the Cradle”
Original airdate October 12, 2018.
I’m goin’ out tonight: Jessica volunteers to take care of Honey’s zuo yue zi (“sitting the month,” which I just learned is a thousand-year-old tradition). Her insistence on Honey’s taking it easy makes Honey suspicious, overheated, and wine-deprived. She has a feeling Jessica is compensating for something. Louis takes advantage of Jessica’s being at Honey’s house for a month by trying to bond with Evan, who’s much more interested in doing his own thing until Jessica returns home. His own thing includes reading Churchill: Lad to Legend. Eddie and Emery are inspired by Pumping Iron to get into bodybuilding, mostly because they “just want to get stronger than Grandma.”
I’m feelin’ all right: There’s something endearing about Jessica’s not knowing how to deal with (or talk about) the failure of her novel, A Case of a Knife to the Brain. She seems humbled in a way she’s completely unprepared to understand, and rather than lash out or muscle her will into being, she wanders. I love this Jessica, and Constance Wu does some wonderful acting in the scene where Honey calls her out. I also will not complain about any Honey-heavy episode that’s not baby-centric.
Eddie-Emery partnerships are almost always interesting, and Louis going too far while being focused on someone else is one of the best Louises.
Some lines I enjoyed: “I sleep on her failure every night” (Grandma). “There’s no such thing as quality time. There’s just time” (Jessica).
Gonna let it all hang out: I have no real complaints about this episode. Even Marvin is charming (especially when he says he’s hit his pre-baby weight: before Nicole, who’s 18). But this is the second episode of the season, so it’s apparent that there is no Roseanne joke coming. Come on, FOtB writers. The door is wide open for a very funny joke about Roseanne Connor throwing the Huangs under the boat and then finding herself written out of existence. It doesn’t have to be cruel; it can just be pointed.
FOB moment: I learned something about sitting the month. There’s also something cultural in “There’s no such thing as quality time; there’s just time,” right?
Soundtrack flashback: “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain (1997).
Final grade, this episode: An altogether pleasant episode that doesn’t distinguish itself from the rest of the utterly competent episodes making up most of the corpus. B.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 1: “Fresh Off the RV” (season premiere)
Airs tonight, October 5, 2018 at 8:00.
It’s the end of summer, 1998 in Fresh Off the Boat time, and it’s time for Honey to have her child, and it’s time for Marvin to give up his sports car, and it’s time for Jessica’s novel A Case of a Knife to the Brain to finally see its release. Nicole and Eddie have some Saturn Time: Nicole’s got some big news for her best friend.
The official summary from ABC gives more details than I would, so skip this paragraph if you’re very sensitive about spoilers.
While Honey and Marvin celebrate the birth of their baby, Jessica’s book is finally released, and she’s optimistically looking forward to a book store reading that’s been set up by her publisher to help boost sales. Louis is so excited to promote the book across the country that he buys an RV from Los Angeles Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who owns an RV dealership which is managed by underappreciated Calvin (Jaleel White, “Family Matters”). Meanwhile, Emery and Evan are concerned about Eddie after Nicole tells him that she’s moving to New York, and he seems completely unfazed about losing his best friend.
It feels like the show is slipping into its groove. All the characters feel familiar, and there’s even a celebrity cameo in the RV sales lot across the street from Shaq Motors. It has a few surprises and laugh-aloud moments, and everyone looks great. Especially Jessica. I’ll comment on a couple of disappointments in my review of episode 2 next week.
Part of the plot is suspect. People line up for a certain novel published in the U.S. on September 1, 1998, but I don’t think it was quite the phenomenon its successors were in following years.
Soundtrack flashback: “Everywhere You Look” by Jesse Frederick, the opening theme for Full House. “Back in the Day” by Ahmad (1994).
My grade for this episode: B.
I admit it, I’m been kind of obsessed with the film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ since seeing it in a pre-screening in August: I’ve been following tweets on #CrazyRichAsians, reviews on YouTube (and I’m amazed at how many people do reviews on YouTube), and have religiously followed the box office numbers daily.
And I really like the soundtrack, as I mention in my review of the film – so much that I bought the MP3 album off of Amazon and have been listening to the album constantly. My favorite song from the film is the cover of ‘Yellow’ by Katherine Ho.
When I looked for more information about Katherine Ho, Wikipedia said she was on season 10 of The Voice and was a 19-year-old sophomore at USC, but she didn’t seem to be very active on her social media channels (YouTube | Instagram | Twitter). So I was really excited to read more about her in The Los Angeles Times:
After chemistry class on a recent weekday, sophomore Katherine Ho sat at an outdoor table in USC Village, and shared the chain of events that made the pre-med student’s rendition of Coldplay’s “Yellow” appear during the climactic scene in the box-office topping movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” … A first-generation Chinese American from Woodland Hills, the 19-year-old is a lifelong singer who has performed on the NBC singing competition show “The Voice.” She is also minoring in songwriting at USC. … Despite the fact that she was starting her second semester as a freshman — and was already overwhelmed with studies — late one night, she got her dad on the phone to perfect the Mandarin lyrics for “Yellow,” working line by line through meanings and inflections.
But I was even more excited to see Katherine Ho being interviewed by Nicki Sun on YouTube (as embedded above). I don’t think I had heard of Sun before, but I think I came across her during my #CrazyRichAsians Twitter search and followed her when she tweeted a link to her interview.
In her 27-minute interview, Sun asks Ho more about her background and how she got to do the cover for “Yellow,” and then she details and translates the Mandarin lyrics of the song. Ho also discusses growing up Chinese American, going to Chinese school and speaking Chinese to her parents and mixing it up with English (like me; my listening is better than my speaking, but Ho’s Chinese is way better than mine). Ho is pre-med by choice (not being forced by her parents) and minoring in song writing.
As I tweeted to Sun, it’s instances like this that makes me wish I lived in Los Angeles, to get the opportunity to interview artists like Ho!
A Simple Favor (2018)
Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding. Written by Jessica Sharzer (based on the novel by Darcey Bell). Directed by Paul Feig.
A Simple Favor is being marketed as a thriller, but it’s really more of a mystery, so if you’re put off by thrillers (as I am), be assured that it’s not very scary and not very violent, and it doesn’t have edge-of-your-seat moments the way thrillers usually do.
Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a widowed mother who puts her name next to three jobs for her young son’s class party sign-up sheet while the other parents say mean things about her behind her back. When she’s not volunteering for class mom activities, she produces a vlog for other moms.
She meets Emily, the beautiful mother of her son’s classmate. Stephanie and Emily become friends, but for Stephanie it’s a very uneasy friendship. Emily is wealthier, more successful, and more adventurous than she is, and where Stephanie is eager to please and quick to apologize, Emily seems to disdain any attitude that doesn’t begin with oneself. She admonishes Stephanie for saying “I’m sorry,” and threatens to punch her in the face if Stephanie ever says it again.
Emily disappears a week after she befriends Stephanie, and the rest of the film involves finding out what happened to her.
It’s fun in the way a good puzzle mystery is fun, engaging all the way and difficult to predict. Every character seems at times likeable and despicable, with nice performances by Kendrick, Lively, and Henry Golding as Sean, Stephanie’s husband.
Early promo materials (including trailers) featured only Kendrick and Lively, but the success of Crazy Rich Asians, which stars Golding, had the studio releasing new promos highlighting all three principal actors. This is not meaningless: there’s no way to tell if it’s lasting, but there has already been a Crazy Rich Asians diversity effect even on films already completed before its release.
Anna Kendrick is my second-favorite actress over the past several years, so there’s a huge bias here, but if you also find her charming, you’ll want to see this film. If not, deduct a few points and see it anyway for a good two hours of engaging escapism.
So, the Netflix teenage romance film ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ (TATBILB), based on a novel of the same name by Korean American author Jenny Han, debuted on Friday, August 17th, the same opening weekend as ‘Crazy Rich Asians.’ “Asian August” has been a busy month, and I’ve written reviews for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Searching.” Now finally, I will discuss this film.
To be honest, I had never heard of the book, author or film until I started looking on Twitter about Asian Americans being excited about both ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘TATBILB.’ Then I read this opinion piece in the New York Times the day the film came out on Netflix, by author Jenny Han, titled, “An Asian-American Teen Idol Onscreen, Finally,” in which the writer says,
When I sold my first middle-grade novel in 2005, it wasn’t that common to put an author photo on the back flap, but 24-year-old Korean-American me insisted. I wanted Asian girls to see my face. And more than that, I wanted them to see what is possible.
My young-adult novel, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” is about a girl who writes secret love letters to boys when she wants to get over them. They’re for her eyes only — except one day, they all get sent out. Even before the book came out in 2014, there was interest in making a movie. But the interest died as soon as I made it clear the lead had to be Asian-American. One producer said to me, as long as the actress captures the spirit of the character, age and race don’t matter. I said, well, her spirit is Asian-American. That was the end of that.
I loved this and wanted to watch the film. I think with the success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ hopefully the practice of whitewashing / racebending, which has been common in Hollywood productions in the past, might be fading away.
The Netflix description of the movie says, “When her secret love letters somehow get mailed to each of her five crushes, Lara Jean finds her quiet high school existence turned upside down.”
I enjoyed this teen romance film, but felt it was fairly predictable. What I enjoyed most was the very strong performance by lead actress Lana Condor, who is excellent playing Lara Jean.
The biggest criticism I’ve read, and I agree a little, is that none of Lara Jean’s crushes are Asian American, though one is an African American. The film takes place in the Portland, Oregon region, where the Asian American population is approximately 7 percent (Oregon overall is almost 4 percent).
When I grew up in western Massachusetts, there were very few Asian Americans in my high school and I didn’t have crushes on any of the Asian American girls, just some white ones. Given limited choices, that’s the reality.
IndieWire’s Hanh Nguyen interviewed who said, “I understand the frustration and I share that frustration of wanting to see more Asian American men in media. For this, all I can say is this is the story that I wrote.”
Han’s novel doesn’t spell out the race of each of the characters, but some of the descriptions (i.e. blond hair) and the names read as typically white: Josh Sanderson, Peter Kavinsky, John Ambrose McClaren, Kenny Donati, and Lucas Krapf. Furthermore, in the movie, four of the five boys are portrayed by white actors, while Lucas Krapf is renamed Lucas James and portrayed by black actor Trezzo Mahoro.
Maybe Han didn’t want to push her luck, given that she held steadfast on making sure that the girl was going to be an Asian American girl. But it’s still a little disappointing.
Other than that, I’d say the film is an enjoyable teen romance that most teenage girls would love. The film has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (with a total of 43 reviews).
Love Yourself: Answer by BTS
Big Hit Entertainment 2018
The new BTS compilation album (with 7 new tracks!) dropped August 24, and if you know even one person who’s a BTS fan, you knew about it probably a couple of weeks in advance because BTSers could not shut up. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure anticipation of the new album even brought one of my friends out of Twitter hibernation.
Until a few years ago, I was a high-school teacher, so I’ve seen boy-band crazes come and go, but there has never been anything like this BTS thing. Among those in my life who can’t stop are a retired middle-school teacher, the esteemed restaurant critic of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and one of my college friends who took her daughter (or daughters? I’m a bad friend) to Los Angeles to see the group in concert. I’m in my late 40s, and each of these women is in that neighborhood, something I only mention to highlight the fact that something very unusual is going on here. This did not happen with N*Sync.
I’ve heard snippets, you know? Never a whole song, but little bits of music in people’s Instagram stories, and nothing stood out for me. It was K-pop and it sounded like K-pop and it didn’t sound to me any better or worse than any other K-pop.
I get it. For those unfamiliar with a genre, it all sounds the same. I’m a metalhead and I realize that to casual observers, all my favorite metal bands sound the same (that is, mostly terrible) when nothing could be further from the truth.
These are people whose opinions I value on wide ranges of topics including music and art. One early-30s blogger I’ve become online acquaintances with turned me on to emo-screamo band Thursday, and I dig a lot of the music she likes, but now she’s all about BTS.
Two weekends ago I made a commitment to give it the fairest shot I could. I was going to listen to Love Yourself: Answer all weekend long, and only this album.
And I didn’t care for it, but by the end of the weekend, I could name (and even sing along with) a couple of tracks I actually like, and most of the time the rest of the songs weren’t bad.
Andrew Yang’s headline speech at the 2018 Iowa Wing Ding: “The opposite of a Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.”
This past spring, a Facebook friend posted a meet-and-greet event for Andrew Yang, a Taiwanese American running for president (yes, president of the United States) in 2020. I emphasize 2020, since I was kind of surprised someone would be running so early (Obama didn’t start running until February 2007 – almost two years before November 2008).
Unfortunately, I had a conflict and didn’t get a chance until July for another meet-and-greet, where I met Yang and scheduled a face-to-face, in-person interview.
I don’t think I had ever heard of Yang until that meet-and-greet post on Facebook, or if I had, I might have dismissed him, since I usually keep up on Asian American politicians – especially if they run for president.
Prior to interviewing Yang, I did some research and found an interesting New York Times article profiling him, interestingly titled “His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming.” Continue Reading »
Heroine’s Journey brings an end to Sarah Kuhn’s delightful Asian American superheroine trilogy. In the first of the series, Heroine Complex, we meet Evie Tanaka, assistant to superheroine Aveda Jupiter. In the second, Heroine Worship, we explore Aveda Jupiter aka Annie Chang’s inner self. And here in the last, we traverse between worlds with Bea Tanaka, Evie’s younger sister, as she tries to, well, what else, save the world from demon destruction. Bea’s superpower is that she can project emotions, controlling how others are feeling.
This final installment reminds me why I loved the original Heroine Complex so much. It’s got tons of great Asian American female characters, a stubborn but relatable title character, some sizzling hot romance scenes, and giant demonic unicorns. It’s got mother-daughter stuff, repressed emotions, katsu, and lots of rule breaking.
Incredibly fun to read and engaging, this book is in the “missed my subway stop while reading” category, so you know it’s a good one.
by Tim Lounibos
It’s an amazing time
The past several weeks have been absolutely amazing for the Asian American entertainment industry. Crazy Rich Asians blew past $100 million at the box office in less than three weeks, becoming the most successful rom-com in almost a decade on its way to surely cracking the top ten all-time list for that genre.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a huge success on Netflix to the point where it has actually raised the popularity of the Japanese yogurt drink Yakult and the stock value of the company who produces it.
Searching had the second highest per-screen box office average in its opening week, trailing only CRA, and more than doubled its distributor’s box office expectations.
As a result, Hollywood has begun greenlighting Asian American projects left and right, and is being more inclusive in casting Asian American actors in general. It’s an amazing time, one to be celebrated.
Yet, thoughts of African American actor Geoffrey Owens dominate my mind.
His recent Trader Joe’s job-shaming has brought attention to how difficult it is today to make a living as an actor. The general public, for the most part, has a very skewed perspective. If people watch actors in the movies or on shows and recognize them in public, they conclude that those actors are well off—that they’re living the high life. If you’re an actor who’s made it to the top of the profession, this very well could be the case (at least, while you’re at that top); but for the vast majority of actors, this is sadly and laughingly not the situation—and for Asian American actors in particular, well, let me share my story.