Fresh off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 7: “The Big 1-2”
Original airdate November 10, 2015.
Microsynopsis: Eddie is about to turn twelve, but this year he informs his parents that he doesn’t want a party or any gifts except cash. He asks if he can have a “chill, regular day” hanging with his friends at the mall. Jessica and Louis agree, but they later discover that Eddie is throwing his own party without his family’s involvement. They confront him, and he confesses that he feels his parents are “too strict” and that he “can’t be himself” when he’s at home. Emery and Evan decide that they’ve had enough of being the invisible sons at home, and set out to be bad boys in order to get some attention.
Good: There’s some good stuff here about being raised in an Asian American family: Eddie pushes back against his parents’ strictness, while from the opposite end, Emery and Evan take a few comedic, satrical shots at parental expectations, demonstrating what they think being bad sons means to Louis and Jessica (in a hilarious montage of rebellion). My parents were strict in a lot of ways, and my experiences sleeping over at friends’ houses was a lot like Eddie’s. It’s kind of a nice tribute to the tension between resenting our strict parents while also appreciating how their strictness is good for us in some ways.
Bad: I’m not sure how bad it is, but I was more than a little uncomfortable with the portrayal of Dave’s family. I know it’s an exaggeration of sorts, and I’ve known families that weren’t too far off, but it felt just a little mean-spirited, and I can’t say why. It’s the only downer on what’s a pretty upbeat episode.
FOB moment: “Where are all the streamers, and scallion pancakes…?”
Soundtrack flashback: “Slam” by Onyx (1993)
Final grade, this episode: Another pretty good episode. If FotB can settle into this groove, it’s going to be one of the best family shows on television. B.
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After having gotten hooked on learning some legit Japanese for my trip to Japan last year, I’ve been rarin’ to continue my Japanese language skills for a future return trip to Kyoto study tea ceremony traditions. Thus, when given the opportunity to get a review copy of Essential Japanese Grammar by Masahiro Tandoori and Eriko Sato, I was happy to oblige.
One of the things I was really looking for in Japanese language books last year when I went shopping for them at LA’s Little Tokyo’s Kinokuniya Bookstore were complete sentences. With my trusty Ph.D. in language and literacy development, I knew flash cards weren’t going to cut it. I needed context, rich language environments.
One of the secrets of human learning is that less is not more, more is more. Often, we learn things better when they come in complex patterns than in single isolated bits. This is especially true in language learning, where learning a word by itself is like trying to understand the natural behavior of a fish by plucking it out of the water and plopping it on a plate, then studying it after it has decomposed a good deal.
So when I went Japanese language book hunting, I was looking for books with complete sentences, and even better, complete conversations with complete sentences.
Essential Japanese Grammar has tons of these, and not only that, you get lists of grammatically similar sentences. The benefit of this is that not only do you get to see words in their grammatical context, but you can also get more exposure to the syntax and vocabulary across structurally similar sentences.
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I once had this really annoying experience while training in boxing. The instructor was trying to show us how to use footwork and core muscles to add more power to our punch, and one guy said “I’ll just pull out a gun and shoot you” or something like that. Basically, he was having trouble learning the technique and needed to say something stupid like this to make himself feel better. Clearly, everyone else in class thought he was pretty stupid for saying something totally irrellevant to what we were doing. I mean, if you’re trying to learn how to play basketball, you wouldn’t say, “Oh yeah, well, I’m really good at riding horses so I’ll just slam dunk while riding my horse.” We’re in a boxing ring, not at a shooting range.
Anyways, the point of the story is that one of the most annoying things people can do is to watch a martial arts movie and then say “that’s not real fighting”. Of course it’s not real fighting, it’s a movie. Duh. Thank you Captain Obvious for that insightful observation.
Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 6: “Ken Teaches Molly a Lesson”
Original airdate November 6, 2015.
Symptoms: Molly admits to having half a beer at a party. Ken’s response is to teach her a lesson by demonstrating for her the effects of alcohol on the body, but things quickly go awry. Allison takes Dave to a reading by the author of the book he’s reading (a biography of German chancellor Angela Merkel) in an effort to show Dave that she’s still a fun parent. Julie expresses disappointment that her colleagues at Welltopia are uninterested in her personal life.
Diagnosis: I need to disclose here that I’m pretty sure this episode was shot before the most recent few, and I’m trying to avoid letting that influence my review, but that’s still possible. I’m doing my best to receive it the way any other viewer would.
You could probably just skip this episode and not miss anything, but there are a few strong moments. For once, scenes in Welltopia work better than scenes at home, where everyone’s timing seems completely off. Ken and Damona have a funny guessing-game scene with Pat and Clark, and Julie has entertaining interactions with everyone. Clark is less cartoony, giving his character a chance (again) to be the voice of sympathy. Meanwhile, at home, Krista Marie Yu as Molly, who’s usually a bright spot, overacts in every scene where she has lines. She comes across as a thinking actress, which I always appreciate, but it looks here like she’s still looking for her character, something I haven’t noticed beyond the show’s first two episodes. Dave also seems to take a step back to an earlier persona that he’s since adjusted out of. Based on some positive development in the previous two episodes, I’m going to suggest that this is just a one-episode relapse: a largely forgettable episode with no real character development and a few laughs.
Prognosis: I was really concerned that I was now incapable of liking the Welltopia shenanigans, but I responded with genuine fondness for the characters there this week. Despite this being a weak episode, it gives me hope for this show’s finding a decent groove.
RX: The writing for the Welltopia scenes is interesting and sharp, and the acting is pretty good too, with blocking kind of like a stage play and the actors using the space thoughtfully. Julie’s Grey’s Anatomy monologue looks like the best-rehearsed scene in the entire episode, and it stands out as one of its few highlights. More like this, please!
When I first saw this clip featured on Angry Asian Man, the first thought I had was, “Wow! Woman fantasizing about an Asian American man – you don’t see that on TV every day!” Crazy Ex Girlfriend is musical comedy about an unhappy and overworked attorney in New York who leaves New York and a law firm partnership to go to the diverse LA area city of West Covina to pursue her ex-boyfriend who dumped her during a high school summer camp. I then began to wonder – is this really progress? Isn’t the ex-girlfriend, played by Rachel Bloom, crazy? What if the Asian male lead, played by Vincent Rodriguez III, is a real loser? So I decided to watch a full episode.
Taiwanese and Hong Kong kung fu actor Tien Feng’s first movie was Happenings in Ali Shan back in 1949, and his last movie was Eros in 2004. During this half a century of acting, he’s worked with Jackie Chan on multiple films and was even in Fist of Fury with Bruce Lee. Feng passed away October 22, 2015.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 6: “Good Morning Orlando”
Original airdate November 3, 2015.
Microsynopsis: The hosts of Good Morning Orlando invite Louis to appear on their program, to talk about his business and do a few of his impressions. Jessica encourages him to make the appearance, but she is horrified by the way Louis represents himself as an Asian American on television. Eddie and his friends are pleasantly surprised to learn that they all have girlfriends, but they are at a loss to figure out what that means and how they should proceed.
Good: It’s tricky to execute blatant self-awareness without destroying the world created so carefully by writers, directors, technicians, and actors, and most shows do well not to try it. Fresh off the Boat gave it a good shot in the first season’s concluding episode, “So Chineez,” when Jessica insists that her family needs to hang onto its Chineseness, or people’s understanding of Chinese culture will come from food court take-out counters. The metaphor for this show’s existence in primetime television is expanded in this episode, with Jessica declaring that “We don’t get opportunities to be on TV. That’s why when we do, we need to present our best face, not clown around like you did today.”
Louis puts up a good argument against being responsible for representing all Chinese people (and not just himself), but Jessica goes on to cite Long Duk Dong, that exaggerated clown character of unspecified ethnicity in Sixteen Candles (1984). I’ve been involved in seemingly endless arguments over Long Duk Dong (I find him hilarious and am not at all offended by him, and Sixteen Candles is among my thirty favorite movies of all time) and whether it’s okay for us to laugh at him, so I really connect with Louis’s flashback, in which he deals with friends’ reactions to the character. It’s not a simple issue, and “Good Morning Orlando” does a great job of very quickly showing it from a few different angles.
The B story is handled with the same kind of smart, sensitive, awkward, exaggerated touch, as it taps into the cluelessness of tweener boys in dealing with the girls they like. Group “dates” at the mall (with a visual shout-out to Superbad) and the roller rink bring to mind our own social flailing in new territory, and what I love about the absurdity in these scenes is that while they’re exaggerated, they’re really not exaggerated that much, if we’re being honest. Eddie’s friends have been far more caricature than character through the show’s run so far, but here’s an episode where that finally pays off, much to my amazement.
As if all that weren’t enough, we also get a look at Emery, standing up from the little kids table and interacting seriously with Eddie in a realm where he’s got an uncanny understanding. In an episode full of great scenes, his quick one-on-one scene with Eddie is my favorite, because it’s a moment of unsentimental, genuine believability that gives this installment of the show a skeleton of truth holding up its cartoonish flesh and skin. Of the three young men who play the Huang boys, Forrest Wheeler is emerging this season as the best actor.
Bad: Evan has been great all season, but he’s the weak link in this episode. His issue with Louis stealing his material feels forced, and the duck impression by both characters goes beyond absurdity and into stupidity. Tiny criticisms because I feel I have to put something in this section of the review.
FOB moment: I’m going with a different kind of FOB moment for this episode. Instead of evidence of old-country Chineseness in new-world America, I’ll play along with Jessica’s metaphor and see Asian American actors as stepping off the boat into primetime television’s central roles. “One person can’t be everything,” says Louis. “That weather duck isn’t going out there, thinking about representing all ducks.”
Soundtrack flashback: Janet Jackon’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” (1993) and Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours” (1991).
Final grade, this episode: I certainly don’t expect (or want) every episode to be about Asian American identity, but here’s thirty minutes of sitcom that take a good, honest, fair glance at a tricky issue, one that many people might not have considered until now, and it doesn’t sacrifice humor in order to do it. Add an equally thoughtful story of Eddie and his friends dealing with girls, and dealing with being eleven, and you have the sort of thing Fresh off the Boat should aspire to in every episode. Solid A and a possible end-of-season for-your-consideration submittal. This show’s best episode yet.
Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America is a masterful work that surveys hundreds of years of Asian American history, taking an expansive view of both Asian and America, to the benefit of all. Lee investigates histories of race relations locally, regionally, nationally, and globally, to consider the many ways in which Asian Americans have participated in the definition of America. This is the type of history, and the type of book, that everyone should read.
It is the type to answer questions like, why are Asian Americans considered perpetual foreigners? Where did the model minority myth come from and is it really a myth? Who is Asian America? Why does this history matter to Americans, not just Asian Americans? (Spoiler alert: It matters in more ways than you think.)
Though the book is lengthy, the writing is so very accessible. Peppered with individual stories expertly intertwined into larger national and international trends, it can be read in one fell swoop or selectively by chapters of interest.
To recent events (like unjustified suspicion against Dr. Xi Xiaoxing recently dropped), to recent articles (like ones that regurgitate the model minority myth), to the continuing need to justify and advocate for Asian American studies–this book is the answer, or at least the beginning of the answer, the foundation for a more meaningful conversation about the role, place, experiences, and treatment of Asian Americans.
Lee explores a wide range, from Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans, to Korean, Japanese, Indian Americans, and more recent groups of Southeast Asian Americans. Beginning with early immigration experiences of Filipinos in New Spain and Chinese brought to Cuba and Peru by contractors and agents, The Making of Asian America extends to present-day issues and debates facing a rapidly growing population in the United States. A macro view of colonialism, war, trade, etc. is intertwined with the experiences and voices of individuals and specific groups, all combine to examine the struggles and successes of Asian Americans.
I cannot recommend this book more highly–as a historian, as an activist, as a reader.
Set in a post apocalyptic or possibly alternate universe, the story revolves around a man named Sunny who is a Clipper or warrior loyal to a Baron who is a sort of regional warlord. The social structure is totally feudal, with the Barons being the rich landowners who have many Cogs working as indentured servants–they’re practically slaves. Clippers are like knights or samurais, a class of warriors that serve the interests of the Baron they are loyal to. Their martial arts are exemplary primarily because guns are banned.
Sunny, played by Asian American actor Daniel Wu, is the best of the best of the Clippers, but he’s not sure if he wants to continue being the best killer in the land. He happens upon a mysterious boy named M.K., played by Asian American actor Aramis Knight, one of his Baron’s Cogs, who adds fuel to the fire of his longing for another life.
That’s right folks, you heard right. The two male leads are Asian Americans. Add it to the growing list of major television series starring APIA actors. Apparently, Asian Americans on TV is totally in season these days.
“Into the Badlands” will premiere November 15, 2015.
Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 5: “Halloween-Aversary”
Original airdate October 30, 2015.
Symptoms: Ken and Allison tell their kids about the Halloween, twenty years ago, when Allison messed up Ken’s proposal. Realizing that this Halloween is a perfect chance for a do-over, Ken makes plans for an attempt to get it right. Julie accidentally dopes up Pat, and Molly gets into a little bit of trouble over a skeleton.
Diagnosis: A pretty fun episode, entertaining and silly in mostly good ways. The office stuff, while still a bit wacky and unbelievable, is at least bolstered by cute costumes, and Dr. Julie has some pretty endearing lines. I don’t know how, but Dave is beginning to win me over. I noticed a few episodes ago that while Ken and Allison laugh together very convincingly, their fighting lacks believability. It’s passionless, it doesn’t have the same familiarity as their laughing scenes, and the timing seems off. It’s true in this episode too, and while it doesn’t hurt the show much in this case, it’s evidence that even the strongest relationship in this series is still finding its space. I’m not giving letter grades on reviews of this series (only because I’m trying not to be lazy or fall into a reviewer’s rut), but if I were, this would get nice B-minus.
Prognosis: I wouldn’t have predicted this, but of the office staff, Julie is emerging as the gentle heart, the one who holds the subplots together and gets the best laughs. Kate Simses communicates a wide-eyed sincerity in the role, and if Julie is still more caricature than character, Simses at least has found a way to bring her along with some sense of realness. That’s quite an accomplishment considering some of the stupid things she’s made to say and do. And despite what surely sounds like my gushing over her, this is really about the show as a whole: we’re only five episodes in, and each episode finds a little bit of room to grow. I’m encouraged.
This is the first episode so far where I don’t think Ken and Allison’s relationship is developed further; in fact the entire family dynamic is about the same as it was last week, with the exception of Albert Tsai’s Dave finding a little bit of footing.
RX: My feelings about the office shananigans are unchanged, yet there is a glimmer of hope with Julie’s finding a groove. If we could just tone down the wackiness a little (please?) and boost the genuine humanness of the Welltopia crew, we could really be on to something lasting.
While mobile health units are used in impoverished places like the slums of Mumbai to deliver health care to Asians there, they are also used to deliver health care to Asians in not so impoverished places – the companies of Silicon Valley. This article from Fortune points out that working in Silicon Valley can be bad for workers’ health as being poor can be in other places. Author Jeffrey O’Brien also stresses that while the Silicon Valley work lifestyle can be bad for everyone, it seems to be worse for Asian Americans, particularly if those Asian Americans are of South Asian descent. Exaggeration? Not to me, as many of the problems described have affected me as a Silicon Valley worker.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 5: “Miracle on Dead Street”
Original airdate October 27, 2015.
Microsynopsis: Louis and the boys are excited about their first Halloween in the suburbs, but Jessica doesn’t share their enthusiasm. Instead, she takes up arms in defense of the investment house she and Honey have renovated, as a group of teenaged boys have sworn to attack it with eggs on Halloween night.
Good: The costumes are adorable, especially Emery and Evan in a Silence of the Lambs combo. The Jessica vs. Teen Boys story goes a little overboard, but it touches on some interesting themes I haven’t seen in a family show, and it plays with certain power dynamics I find fascinating. I still can’t get enough of Jessica and Honey together; their friendship is a bond of alienation that feels bigger and stronger than the neighbors who pushed them to the fringe, and their interactions are great for character development. Oh, and Eddie dresses up as Humpty Hump from Digital Underground, one of my favorite hip-hop acts of all time.
Bad: Just the usual going too far off the edge with some of the gags. The A-Team themes are pretty funny, but they get a little wacky. The teen boys are way over the edge.
FOB moment: “Begging for candy in a disguise, to hide your shame? No thank you.”
Soundtrack flashback: “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys (1991).
Final grade, this episode: It’s a cute, fun episode, and it’s nice to see Eddie and his friends having nice, wholesome fun together. B.