Fresh Off the Boat, Season 3, Episode 2: “Breaking Chains”
Original airdate October 18, 2016.
Microsynopsis: Emery’s excitement about beginning middle school is dampened when Eddie gives him a binder in which he’s kept track of all the lies he’s told the school about his culture, lies such as a daily nap time and a superstition against locker numbers beginning with 4. Eddie expects Emery to back him up on these fake traditions, but it’s keeping Emery from doing the things he’s looking forward to. Evan deals with riding the bus to school alone for the first time. Louis hires a housekeeper to help Jessica, but Jessica is insulted by the gesture, saying “I would love some help. Getting the knife. Out of my back.”
Good: There is so much here to love, but the best moments are Emery’s confrontation with Eddie (and subsequent coming to terms), Evan’s lecturing Eddie about letting Emery be Emery, and Louis’s fight with Jessica, during which we get to see him raise his voice in frustration: “It’s a GIFT!” I also love the brief (agonizing) scene at the locker, when Emery’s new locker buddy immediately becomes his locker stranger, and she turns around and becomes the girfriend of the guy with the locker on the other side. Eddie’s lies hit him right where he lives!
It was also nice to see former Not Ready for Primetime Player Melanie Hutsell as the housekeeper.
Bad: I still have issues with how stupid all the grownups at Eddie’s school are, but there’s at least a pretty good reason this time for this presentation. Eddie’s speech during his argument with Emery has me reconsidering the stupid grownups as a meaningful device.
FOB moment: “They’re ignorant about who we are, and where we come from. Why shouldn’t we take advantage of that? They see me coming down the hall — they’re nervous. I’m keeping them on their toes, blazing trails, breaking chains. Then they see you coming, in your gi, with your violin and your camera, and we’re back to where we started!”
Soundtrack flashback: “I Wish” by Skee-Lo (1995). “Zombie” by the Cranberries (1994). “Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton (1996). Possible timeline issue: “Un-Break My Heart” was on the Secrets album, which was released in June of 1996. The “Un-Break My Heart” single was released in November, but this is the first week of school. It’s possible Jessica is listening to a CD in the car, but if she’s listening to the radio, it’s unlikely this song would be playing. I know; it’s a reach.
Final grade, this episode: Turning Eddie’s laziness into racial subversion is kind of genius. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in prime time. And I’ve always been fond of the episodes where each of the boys gets individual screen time with his two brothers. Jessica’s dialed up to 9 through most of the episode, and Louis is right with her for one scene, yet the brothers pretty much own this one. Excellent performances by all the principal actors. A-minus.
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Jade Chang’s novel The Wangs vs. The World follows one crazy Chinese American family as they try to piece their lives back together after the economic recession of 2008. Mr. Charles Wang is a self-made man who immigrated from Taiwan and made a fortune with his beauty product empire. But a series of bad choices leaves him completely emptied out (house and cars included).
His family, including his second wife and three (almost all) adult children to dramatically change their lives and revisit their goals. Charles secretly hopes to the small amount of money he has left to retake his family’s ancestral land in China, while his oldest daughter Saina prepares for the arrival of her frazzled family. Instead of rags to riches, it’s riches to rags–an immigrant story turned on its head.
This book is an entertaining ride, exploring each character’s back story and current travails with wit and humor. And with a fresh voice, Jade Chang provides wry commentary on our modern life. At the heart of it all is an endearing story about a family coming together in the midst of a lot of sh**.
He never should have fallen for America. As soon as the happy-clappy guitar-playing Christian missionary who taught him English wrote down Charles’ last name and spelled it W-A-N-G, he should have known….In Chinese, in any Chinese speaker’s mouth, Wang was a family name to be proud of…But one move to America and Charles Wang’s proud surname became a nasally joke of a word; one move and he went from king to cock.
These are the moments that make you chortle to yourself quietly, or bemusedly note the bitter yet strikingly accurate commentary on the world, and turn to the next page.
Dr. Ken, Season 2, Episode 4: “Dr. Ken: Child of Divorce”
Original airdate October 14, 2016.
Ken learns that his parents have been divorced for a couple of years. He pretends to take it in stride, but it makes him wonder how confident he can be in his own marriage. Dave has similar feelings, being now the “child of a child of divorce,” so he ends things with his new girlfriend Emily.
It hurts when I do this.
D.K. still hasn’t found his space in any of the dynamics, except for one-on-one conversations with Ken, which he’s always been great with. I understand the temptation to pair him with Pat because the awkwardness could be enormous fun, but in this case it’s just weird and unpleasant. Clark and Damona, lately a strength, are not great in scenes with Ken or D.K. Everything seems exaggerated and clownish.
There are a few highlights in this episode. Ken Jeong’s flair for physical humor is on lovely display, as when he drops silently to his knees and then collapses, face down, onto the kitchen floor. Molly’s playing psychologist is cute, and it works well within the framework of the story. It also works toward developing her as having interests or inclinations similar to her mother’s, a first for this show. I also like some of the call-outs to some Korean stereotypes: a love for golf, for example, and “Hardcore Koreans never smile for pictures: it’s a sign of weakness.”
This episode is not great, but its consistent storyline with no subplots just to keep everyone involved is an improvement over recent installments. Call it the lowest degree of just all right. 3 forehead reflecting thingies out of 5.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 3, Episode 1: “Coming from America”
Original airdate October 11, 2016.
Microsynopsis: Continuing the story begun in the season 2 finale, Louis follows his brother Gene back to Taiwan, hoping to bury the hatchet (again) before Gene’s wedding in order to set a good example for his sons. He meets Gene’s beautiful fiancé (a television commercial actress) and witnesses Gene’s affluent lifestyle, and wonders if he should move back to the homeland. Eddie spends much of his trip stressed-out about finding a fax machine so he can send notes to Alison in Orlando (before the guy at Kinko’s picks up on her sadness and makes his move). Jessica brings the boys to her favorite spots, but discovers that something’s different now–she doesn’t seem to fit in quite the way she used to.
Good: There’s a pretty funny callback to the polite-arguments in the last episode of season 2, with a little twist, and Ken Jeong as Gene Park is once again quite enjoyable. The episode takes advantage of the scenery, framing the characters against some fascinating backdrops, including temples, busy marketplaces, and an enormous hotel. And there are lots of funny jabs at both cultures. My favorite: arriving in customs, Jessica explains why she’s visiting, and the customs official has a checkbox for “wronged by brother-in-law” on the form in front of him.
Bad: The episode makes an embarrassing number of references to Ghost, the 1990 film with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, a film I hate.
FOB moment: The location change in this episode means that the only F.O.B.s are Eddie, Emery, and Evan, so I’m going with the short scene near the end, when Evan sits in on his cousin’s class. His cousin volunteers an answer, and even though it’s correct, he’s slapped in the face by his teacher without being given a reason. Evan’s cousin supposes it’s because he didn’t give his answer loudly enough. Evan stands at his desk and says, “I am an American citizen! Please take me to my embassy!”
Soundtrack flashback: “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers (1965), a song I can’t stand. “Bow Down” by Westside Connection (1996), a song I had to look up because I was completely unfamiliar with it!
Final grade, this episode: It’s just great to see these characters again. The actors slide right into their roles with a comfortable vibrance that bodes well, and I love the mixture of absurdity, realness, silliness, and seriousness: it’s the right mix for a family show. B+.
As a programmer at the Japanese American National Museum, I have been on the front lines of Asian American culture for more than a decade. That’s why when Fresh Off the Boat came out on ABC, we were excited and proud to host some community screenings. It was exciting to see a cast of talented and amazing Asian American actors on network television. But what was more exciting—at least for me—was to see how thrilled other Asian Americans were about it too.
But what disheartened me was the fact that many Asian Americans complained that there had been no other since Better Luck Tomorrow. But of course they were wrong. Lots of people had done lots of things—including me. They just hadn’t bothered to find out what.
As a content creator, this is the heart of the problem. We—as a people—need to support our projects. I know you’ve heard it all before, but I mean it. We need to buy our books, watch our movies, go to our film festivals, consume our television, etc. Because if we aren’t willing to consume our stories, then who is?
Dr. Ken, Season 2, Episode 3: “Ken’s Banquet Snub”
Original airdate October 7, 2016.
Doctor, doctor, gimme the news.
Pat is asked to host the Welltopia banquet this year, instead of Ken, who has done the honors for the past five years. Allison counsels him to “take the high road” and allow someone else to have the spotlight for a change. Damona and Clark reconsider their relationship instincts and briefly swap strategies, Damona holding her tongue in check with her boyfriend, and Clark speaking his peeves with his boyfriend. Dave has an admirer in the girl next door, who has a creepy way of hanging around.
This episode is all over the place, and the only thing holding it together is the well-established chemistry of the characters. Each of the plots is thin and uninteresting, although the A story had some potential. Tapping into Pat’s continued confusion over his now-ended relationship with Damona can pay off, not to mention what could be some remorse by Ken over what might have been a career in standup comedy. The resolving scene in Ken’s car is a good effort, but it lacks any of the heft it shoots for with these characters. It’s also becoming clear that the writers don’t know what to do with Dave, Molly, and D.K. at home.
I’m detecting a pulse.
Pat takes a well-aimed shot at Ken Park the doctor and Ken Jeong the actor when he says, “I guess maybe they wanted more a thinking man’s comedy, and less desparate man’s comedy. You know, more cerebral humor and less of the rubber-faced clowning that is your trademark.” It’s one of the few memorable lines. Clark and Damona have a cute scene where they do some awkward mugging while they await Ken’s reaction to finding out that Pat’s taken his gig. In fact, Damona and Clark are really the highlight this week: their relationship is turning into quite a nice friendship.
The nice thing about an episode like this is that, unlike the vibe last season, it doesn’t feel like it’s bombing the audition. A bad-to-mediocre week is just a stone in the road now, and there’s no reason to get depressed about it, the way I might have last year. We’ve got 20ish more to go, so let’s get some bed rest and come back in a week. 2 bedpans out of 5.
The Huang family returns to Tuesday nights beginning October 11 at 9:00 with Fresh Off the Boat’s season 3 premiere, “Coming From America.” The show picks up where season 2 left off (in “Bring the Pain“), with Louis feuding with his brother Gene, and Grandma following Gene back to Taiwan to make sure he’s okay.
Louis flies the entire family to Taiwan in an effort to make things right with Gene (Ken Jeong). Upon meeting Gene’s beautiful fiancé, Margaret, and seeing the wonderful life he has built for himself, Louis questions whether his life in Orlando is just as great as it could be in Taiwan. Meanwhile, Jessica takes Eddie, Emery, and Evan to her favorite childhood locales, including Dihua Street and Shilin Night Market.
Dr. Ken, Season 2, Episode 2: “Ken and Allison Share a Patient”
Original airdate September 30, 2016.
What does the chart say?
Ken and Allison disagree on whether a patient’s ailment is physical or psychological, getting their professional relationship off to a prickly start. Pat invents a new girlfriend in order to inspire Damona to take their friends-with-benefits relationship to the next level, but Damona is in the beginning stages of an actual new relationship. D.K. gives Dave advice for reinventing himself, now that Dave is in middle school.
Side effects include drowsiness.
I knew it. D.K.’s moving into the Park house mainly serves to give the kids a new center, now that Allison is working at Welltopia. It’s not good. It’s really not good. I admit there are a few laughs, but everything that happens in this subplot happens somewhere else, sometime else, leaving us with lots of telling but very little showing. This works when the relationships are strong, but the relationships between the kids and D.K. are still not well developed. A much better subplot would have had the three characters spending real time together.
The other subplot, although straight from the sitcom factory, works really well for two good reasons. First: against all probability, the Pat-Damona relationship is one of the most effective story ideas from season one, giving each character realness, believability, and pathos, a credit to the writers who didn’t cartoonify it, even while one of the characters is himself cartoony. Pat admits he unexpectedly found himself enjoying the friendship part more than the benefits part, a moment of realness earned by consistent character development reaching back almost to the beginning of the first season. And second: Clark serving as the glue holding together two of the three plots in this episode might be the magic formula. He’s sympathetic and reactive, physical and sarcastic, and genuinely funny. His delivery of lines like, “Okay, that’s literally what a CAT scan does” is somewhere betwen Greek chorus and Shakespearean fool, and comedically right on key. Pat recognizes this when their scene together ends with Pat’s line, “You are very wise.”
Oh man. I love the main plot. I’ve said from the beginning that this show’s strongest element is the Ken-Allison relationship. Ken Jeong and Suzy Nakamura work together like they’ve always known each other, and in this new arrangement, the characters are each right and wrong in equal amounts, in believable (if somewhat exaggerated) ways. Each accuses the other of not being professional. Ken says, “No one’s ever questioned my judgment as a doctor.” Allison says, “What about you questioning my judgment? Don’t I deserve the same respect?” Ken says, “Admit it: you’re treating me differently because I’m your husband. Would you have told any other doctor to dig deeper?” Allison says, “If any other doctor called me sweetie, I woulda punched him in the throat.” This is their best argument since the Thanksgiving episode (“You’re a lapsed Korean!”). It works. It all works.
Signs of life.
It’s often a good idea with sitcoms not to hold the tag against the rest of the episode, so I’m going to pretend I never saw it. The D.K.-Molly-Dave story is terrible, but the rest of the episode is quite strong. I gave the season premiere a half-point bump for promising better things this season, but this episode doesn’t need the charitable encouragement. Four stethoscopes out of five.
Although I had seen California State Treasury John Chiang several times during the week at the Democratic National Convention, I hadn’t had a chance to do an interview. On Day 4 at the California Delegates Breakfast, I finally did, though only briefly, to get his thoughts on the Convention as well as his run for Governor of California in 2018.
Yes, that’s right. I don’t think I’ve had the chance to blog Chiang’s announcement, but back in May or so, Chiang announced that he’s officially running:
“California Treasurer John Chiang has made it official: He’s running for governor in 2018. …
“As your next Governor, I have a blueprint for expanding and renewing the California dream through fixing our crumbling infrastructure, making retirement security our generation’s call to arms, and rebuilding California’s middle class through better jobs and improved educational opportunities,” Chiang said. …
Right now, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is the only other well-known California politician to officially jump into the governor’s race . Newsom has been aggressively raising money and already has $5.4 million cash on hand.
Skelton said that Chiang has $3.2 million left over from his successful 2014 bid for treasurer and can transfer that money to his new campaign account for governor.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also has expressed an interest in running for governor, but the Democrat isn’t expected to make a decision until the summer or fall.
Chiang, a Democrat from Torrance, has been elected to statewide office three times: twice as controller and as state treasurer in 2014.”
I’m thinking that John has a real chance of being elected governor. Newsom I think is overall more well known, but I think a bit too liberal for a lot of Californians and has some personal baggage that some voters might not like, though Newsom did get elected as Lieutenant Governor. John is a practical Democrat that is well liked among Democratic insiders. I think Asian Americans (especially Democrats and Independents), who comprise of 15% of the California electorate, will overwhelming support John. We’ll see though, there is a lot of time between now and November 2018!
#IFEELALIVE is a national awareness campaign launched on the Love and Discovery blog in support of Suicide Prevention Month in September.
Suicide was the 8th leading cause of death for Asian-Americans, whereas it was the 11th leading cause of death for all racial groups combined.
This video is aimed at educating and helping Asian American Pacific Islanders with mental health issues.
The following people contributed to this PSA:
Megan Lee, Jason Chu, Elizabeth Sung James Kyson, Sean Michael Afable, Raymond Ma, Grace Su, Only Won, Lina So, Larissa Lam, Emily Wu Truong, Kanika Lal.
If you follow or cover San Francisco politics, especially regarding Asian Americans, Chinese Americans or Chinatown, you’ll inevitably here the name Rose Pak. Pak passed away of natural causes at age 68 at home on Sunday, September 18th. Her life, as summarized by the San Francisco Chronicle:
“Calling Ms. Pak, a native of Hunan, China, who moved to San Francisco in 1967, an activist or community advocate doesn’t begin to describe her decades-long role in turning Chinatown and the city’s fast-growing Asian American population into a political power in the city.
Ms. Pak never held an elective office or sat on a city commission, but she helped change the political face of San Francisco, largely by recognizing it was changing. As the city’s Asian American population exploded, she worked to involve her community more directly in city politics.
Born in 1948, Ms. Pak, her mother and sisters fled Communist China to British Hong Kong in the early 1950s. She was educated at Catholic boarding schools there and in Portuguese Macao before coming to California on a scholarship to study communications at the San Francisco College for Women.
After receiving her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York City, Ms. Pak returned to San Francisco in 1974 to work as a reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle and immerse herself in the city’s Asian community.”
Unfortunately, I don’t think I ever really met or spoken with Ms. Pak face-to-face, though I am sure I’ve been some events where she was present, especially if I was in San Francisco’s Chinatown for an event. And I did blog about Pak back in 2011.
I do remember reading about Pak convincing then interim Mayor of San Francisco Ed Lee to run for permanent Mayor of San Francisco, and that annoyed me a bit since Lee’s appointment was based on the promise that Lee would not run for mayor. I was a David Chiu for Mayor of San Francisco supporter.
May she rest in peace.
Photography courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Voices of Our Vote is a new compliation album featuring “32 politically empowering tracks by an eclectic mix of Asian American musicians.” Presented by activist group 18MillionRising in partnership with Kollaboration, Traktivist, Tuesday Night Project, and Mishthi, the collection of diverse tunes aims to inspire Asian Americans to vote in the upcoming elections. The album’s release coincides with the #MyAAPIVote campaign, “encouraging AAPIs using forward thinking digital tactics and culture-shifting online tools to get people out to vote” and the VoterVox program, which connects voters with registration resources and ballot translations.
The album is available for purchase at VoicesofOurVote.org on a name-your-price basis. Proceeds from album sales will be donated to 18MillionRising.
I’ve given the album four good listens (and one slightly distracted one), and can recommend at least taking it for a spin. It is quite an “eclectic mix,” especially if your tastes lean toward hip-hop, contemporary folk, and R&B. Pickings are slim if you’re more of a rocker, but there are a couple of tracks here that may fit your groove. Continue Reading »