‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Big Baby”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode  11: “Big Baby”
Original airdate January 2, 2018.

Synopsis:  Honey’s mom (Cheryl Hines!) comes to visit, just in time to cause the newly expectant mother all kinds of stress about their differing approaches to motherhood.  Jessica agrees to support Honey, but finds herself more often in agreement with Honey’s mom.  Since Jessica and Honey can’t use the free cruise they won on Wheel of Fortune before it expires, Marvin and Louis go instead, Louis determined not to spend any money on what’s supposed to be a free trip.  Eddie forms a quick friendship (and maybe more) with Karen (Jane Widdop), a new girl in school, but suspects he’s being yellow fevered, as his new friend’s past boyfriends were Asian and her favorite guitarist is James Iha.

Ooh:  It’s not the issues episode I now must admit I prefer, but it does bring up yellow fever with the interesting way this program usually treats the good stuff.  When Eddie accuses Karen of only liking him because he’s Asian, she asks, “Do you think it’s weird that all the girls you’ve liked have been white?”  Eddie responds that it’s not a preference, but it’s what’s available, which I kind of wish the high-schoolers had taken a moment to work out, but this is the B plot so it’s okay as is.  I really like that Eddie actually seems to have blown a chance to form a good friendship when he’s so quick to call yellow fever, treating himself as an object rather than the interesting guy Karen says she was drawn to.  But not anymore.

Other lines I liked:

“I’m not ready to be a dad.”  (Barefoot Dave when he thinks a dragonfly has laid eggs in his arm)

“My mom likes to tear into a bird when she wakes up.” (Honey)

“I’m just drawn to strong, critical energy.”  (Jessica)

“Everybody else’s melon looks happy!” (Honey)

“Bring me back a giant seashell I can blow to summon the kids.” (Jessica)

“That’s a lot of bivalves for one man.” (Marvin)

Ugh:  Seriously, is every phase of Honey’s pregnancy going to be a plot element?  Because I don’t know if I can take this.

FOB moment:  Jessica says, “When I first got pregnant, not only was my mom not here, but I was new to this country.  I didn’t know how anything worked.  I didn’t have any friends who were moms.  I had to figure it out on my own.”  I got a bit misty, as Jessica’s story reminds me of my mom, who came to a country where she barely spoke the language, to deal with pregnancy while my father was on a ship in the Pacific.  When she fell down some stairs at home, she had to ask a neighbor to get her to a hospital, where the doctors induced labor and gave her a baby six weeks ahead of schedule and five months before that ship returned.  I’m grateful Jessica had Louis, who was probably clueless but was undoubtedly doting.

Soundtrack flashback:  “Pony” by Ginuwine (1996).

Final grade, this episode: It’s 2018 in our time, which means now it’s 1998 in FoTB time.  With this episode, FoTB has given us three full seasons’ worth of episodes (it was a midseason replacement when it debuted), a pretty nice accomplishment.  I can barely take all the pregnancy talk in this episode (I know every child is unique and I know every pregnancy is each expectant mother’s own story, but to a middle-aged bachelor, these stories all sound the same!) and the Marvin-Louis story isn’t even worth remembering, but that yellow fever plot makes it all better than tolerable.  B.



‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode  10: “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Original airdate December 12, 2017.

Synopsis:  Deirdre’s college roomie Holly (it’s Paula Abdul!) is visiting, and since she’s a “performance and movement” instructor, she offers to coach the homeowners’ association carolers.  Jessica (who still takes Christmas very seriously) doesn’t think most of her neighbors sing very well, so she insists that Holly conduct tryouts, limiting this year’s group to six participants.  Although Jessica sings very well and does a great audition, Holly doesn’t include her in the group because Jessica doesn’t have enough Christmas spirit.

Louis and Honey have fallen in love with Titanic, and since they can’t get their familes to join them at the cinema, they go together.  Marvin is suspicious of Honey, since she promised to save Titanic for when they can watch it together at home on video.

In the best thing about the episode, Nicole asks Eddie to meet her at a cafe, where she’s crushing on Jackie, one of the baristas.  Nicole doesn’t know how to approach her (It’s Diamond White, from season two of The X Factor), so Eddie tries to help her out.  In a silly gag, Emery and Alison each pop out of nowhere when it’s convenient for the story, each eager to help Nicole as well.

Right On:  The Nicole story is really sweet, and I love the way her three friends help her out with every indication that Nicole’s crush being a girl is no big deal.  The over-caffeinated gag is kind of dumb, but the strategy of using coffee cups to get attention is cute.  I know I’m not alone in trying to read into the little things the cute baristas at my local cafe write on my cups!

Some lines I enjoyed:

“I can taste the laziness.  We all can!” (Jessica)

“Did you hear me ascend the ladder?  I climbed up over Celine — I stepped on the shoulders of that French Canadian angel and I kissed the heavens!” (Jessica)

“That kind of negative energy is toxic to a group.  Just look what happened to Oasis!” (Holly)

Bogus:  The Honey-Marvin-Louis story is soooooo dumb.  It adds nothing to this episode, and while I love the cultural references, there must be something better to do with this.  If it’s all a setup for the baby announcement, it’s even dumber.  Honestly, although I love (love!) Honey, I don’t think anyone really cares whether she’s having a baby or not.  In the context of this show, it’s kind of meaningless.  And I hate to say this, but everyone knows that one of the truest signs of a shark-jump in a TV sitcom is the introduction of new kid characters because the original kids are growing up.  Is there one show that got better when new kids were added?  Please don’t let this be Cousin Oliver Syndrome.

FOB moment:  The return of Chinese Santa, in flashback and as a disguise for Louis.

Soundtrack flashback:  “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler (1983, sung by Evan).  “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion (1997, sung by Jessica).

Final grade, this episode: This episode is saved by a solid Deirdre presence and the kids in the cafe.  Otherwise it’s annoying, and I am normally a sucker for Christmas episodes on sitcoms.  Add the gratuitous group carol as the closing credits close, and yeesh. C+.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Slide Effect”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 9: “Slide Effect”
Original airdate December 5, 2017.

Synopsis:  Eddie’s friends each sign up for school activities.  Trent’s the newest member of the Safety Patrol, while the others get into the school play, the book club, and the cheerleading team.  Eddie doesn’t like the image they project, and when Trent writes him up for breaking the dress code, he pushes back in order to cultivate what he hopes is his bad boy persona.  This impresses the second-coolest group on campus, a trio of “hackers,” older guys who play Hacky Sack.

Jessica’s working on proofs for her novel, A Case of a Knife to the Brain, which is apparently set for publication.  She can’t handle the pressure of being on the edge of her dreams’ realization while the prospect of failure remains in place.  The stress extends to selecting an author’s photo for her book jacket, and Honey volunteers to photograph her.

Way:  Yay for an episode that doesn’t try to cram everyone into a story.  Louis, Emery, and Evan are background players here, and Grandma’s not in the episode at all.  It’s okay!  It’s been four seasons.  We know who the Huangs are and we don’t have to see them deeply involved in every episode.  It makes for better storytelling, especially since Eddie and Jessica are the best characters.

Trent comes to the door in a robe, with a towel wrapped around his head, and holding a plate of Oreos, saying, “I don’t want you to see me like this.”  It’s one of a few laugh-aloud moments.  And thank goodness for a high-school principal who doesn’t seem like a cartoon.  The Louis gag where he’s on the phone with pollsters is funny, and the payoff in the last one, where he’s speaking to Grandma on the phone, is borderline hilarious.

No way:  Nothing much to complain about.  I didn’t enjoy the Rent/Brent bit, but that’s more because of awkwardness than any transgression in storytelling.

FOB moment:  “I guess it’s true.  Asian dads don’t say I love you.”

Soundtrack flashback:  A parody of “Bad Boys” by Inner Circle (1987) where the refrain goes “Good boys, good boys; whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they friends with you?”  “The Distance” by Cake (1996).  And a parody of “Seasons of Love” from Rent (1996).

That Cake song brings back a ton of memories of my first year as a teacher.  I bought the Fashion Nugget album in the year between my undergraduate studies and the beginning of my teaching career, and I discovered that it was very good music to listen to on endless repeat while grading endless papers.  That was a rough, lonely year (you have no idea what a first-year teacher goes through unless you lived it or were married to someone who lived it), and I will always be grateful to Cake for helping me through.

A few days after my review for the last episode, someone named Taint Kirk messaged me on FB and said the mystery Gwar song was “Penguin Attack,” which I said I would confirm but still haven’t.  I accidentally deleted the episode, so it’s going to take a bit before I do.  But shout-out and thank you either way!

Final grade, this episode: Honestly, it was kind of a boring episode despite its pleasant tone and Nice Guy Eddie.  B.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “The Vouch”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 8: “The Vouch”
Original airdate November 21, 2017.

Synopsis:  Jessica finally completes her novel, A Case of a Knife to the Brain, and Louis hates it but doesn’t want to hurt her feelings or discourage her.  She puts him in a difficult spot, asking him to pass her manuscript to Kenny Rogers, who will be in Orlando to visit Kenny Rogers’s Michael Bolton’s Cattleman’s Ranch.  Eddie and his friends go in together on a 300-CD disc changer, and conflict arises when Eddie disapproves of the music the others want to store in it.

Y: Some lines I enjoyed, some of them because it’s the last week of NaNoWriMo:
“How am I supposed to write without coffee?”
“Don’t push your vegetable agenda on me.”
“I can’t believe I finished a novel.  I feel like a runner at the end of a marathon, except words are my miles.”
“The Republic of Texas” (on Kenny Rogers’s return address label)
“More than thirty-five hundred songs inside a machine that’s only seventeen inches long by eight inches wide by nine inches deep, and she only weighs twenty pounds!”

N: I don’t have anything to complain about with this episode.  Must be the spirit of Thanksgiving.

FOB moment:  “Jessica, there is a character in your book that somehow manages to get murdered twice!  It doesn’t make any sense!”
“And a Chinese immigrant opening a western-themed steakhouse in central Florida does?”

Soundtrack flashback:  “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” by Busta Rhymes (1997).  “Circle of Life,” from the soundtrack for The Lion King by Elton John (1994).  “Book of Days” by Enya (1991).  There are two songs I couldn’t nail down: something with the lyrics or title “ride or die,” and something by Gwar.  I like Gwar a lot, but the sample was too short for even a guy with metal ears like mine to peg.  If you can identify either of these tunes in the comments, I’d be most grateful!

It was nice to have so many flashbacks in this one episode after a couple of weeks where there weren’t any.

Final grade, this episode: I can’t explain it, but I really enjoyed this episode even though nothing about it was outstanding.  B+.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “The Day After Thanksgiving”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 7: “The Day After Thanksgiving”
Original airdate November 14, 2017.

Synopsis:  Grandma: still taking an ESL course.  Louis: invites the ESL teacher to Thanksgiving dinner.  Jessica: agrees to host Thanksgiving dinner so she and Honey can use Grandma’s chair on Black Friday.  Eddie and Emery: take Evan to his first R-rated movie (I Know What You Did Last Summer).  Evan: gets spooked and takes a little trip to the dark side.  Barney: is cut up during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade much to Evan’s horror.

Thumbs up:  I love it when there are multiple scenes with just the three boys. Their acting and chemistry are really enjoyable, and this is Ian Chen’s best acting yet.

I’m going to avoid speaking very much about George Takei for a while, but I’ll say that it’s good to see him in another episode, in the way it was good to see Margaret Cho in those episodes of Dr. Ken and Sullivan & Son.  There’s something of a debt to be acknowledged.

Honey’s drunken phone message is funny.  And there’s some good arguing with Jessica and Louis.  And Louis rocks a pretty nice aloha shirt (we do not call them Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii).  I mean classy nice, the kind you’d see men wearing in downtown Honolulu instead of suits, ties, and jackets.

Thumbs down:  The professor stuff is a bit over the top, which I know is intentional, but it’s so over the top I had difficulty watching it.  I like the rationale behind the Jessica-Grandma stuff, but it feels abrupt and forced, although that might be worth it for the “I only keep an eye on my enemies” line, which made me laugh.

FOB moment:  Grandma is still taking an ESL class.

Soundtrack flashback:  “I Love You” by Barney (1988 ish?), sung by Evan.

Final grade, this episode: Eh.  It’s aight.  I looked it up and the Barney mishap actually happened on Thanksgiving 1997, the year in which this episode is set.  Other balloons suffered similar or worse.  B-minus.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “A League of Her Own”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 6: “A League of Her Own”
Original airdate November 7, 2017.

Synopsis:  Nicole comes out to Honey and Jessica, sort of by mistake, but Honey handles it admirably, as do the other patrons of the Denim Turtle where it happens.  Jessica handles it well too, although she’s adorably mystified that lesbianism even exists.  Now she’s stressed about telling her father.  Louis is amped about the start of another Orlando Bar and Restaurant Softball League season, but the dude representing Kenny Rogers’s interest in Kenny Rogers’s Michael Bolton’s Cattleman’s Ranch threatens to shut the team down if it doesn’t win a single game.  When Jessica learns that Louis won’t let her manage the team, she assumes leadership of the Denim Turtle team, leading to one bad Marvin pun and one pretty good one.

Yes:  The Nicole story has been interesting all season, and this plot is handled well throughout the episode, beginning with Nicole’s admission that she comes to the Denim Turtle to drink, and then when the entire bar comes to a halt when she says, “There’s something I have to tell you.”

Jessica is pleasantly sweet and naive.  It’s a side of her personality I enjoy.

Nicole’s Saturn as a sanctuary for private talk with Eddie is a really good device in the tradition of the Peanuts gang’s brick wall, and I hope the show keeps going back to it.  Nicole acknowledges the specialness of this place when she says they need “ground rules about what’s Saturn-worthy.”

Other lines I enjoyed:  “I sent a letter to Jodie Foster but haven’t heard back from her,” “The tent you gave me is too small for my bass guitar and my witch stuff,” and “Congratulations on your win” followed with “Congratulations on your one.”

No:  Eddie’s story is kind of dumb.  The softball stuff over all is kind of dumb.  And we need to find a way out of this Kenny Rogers stuff.  The name of the restaurant has become funny now, but the characters and situation are idiotic.  It’s like the proposed butler element to Jerry and George’s sitcom on Seinfeld.

FOB moment:  Jessica doesn’t bring orange slices to the softball game.  She brings Winner’s Pears.

Soundtrack flashback:  “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge (1994), twice.  Doesn’t it make you wonder what the alternate jukebox song was?  Any nominations?

Final grade, this episode: Not an especially funny episode, but I loved the Nicole-Honey stuff, the Nicole-Jessica stuff, the Nicole-Eddie stuff, and (for once) even the Nicole-Marvin stuff.  It’s nice to see Nicole get a good episode mostly to herself.  And Marvin’s good pun when he hugs Nicole while holding the ball is a nice way to end:  “You’re out.”  B+.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Four Funerals and a Wedding”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 5: “Four Funerals and a Wedding”
Original airdate October 31, 2017.

Synopsis:  Louis is determined to help Jessica and her father establish a closer relationship before it’s too late.  Emery continues to deal with his bad luck.  Evan amends his will.

Rad:  There are some laugh-aloud throw-away lines here.  I thought for a moment I was watching The Simpsons instead.  The paper-thin B and C stories mean there’s really only an A story, which I insist makes for better character-driven television.  And not only do we get nice Evan, but we get Emery and Eddie at their best too.  The young actors are still finding their voices, but here is an episode that plays to their strengths, which lean in favor of sincerity and interesting relationships with each other.

Yay for a Deidre sighting.

Bummer:  It’s a little weird that Jessica’s family assembles for all these funerals (and a wedding) but Connie and her weirdo husband aren’t there for any of it.  I have to say I laughed at Eddie’s veiled masturbation joke but question its appropriateness for this show.  Subversive is subversive, yes.  But inappropriate is also inappropriate.

FOB moment:  “Who is this again?”  “It’s your mom’s great aunt’s second cousin, so very closely related.”

Soundtrack flashback:  Another episode without a soundtrack flashback, as far as I could tell.  This is a disappointing trend.

Final grade, this episode:  This is the funniest episode all season so far, plus we get another dose of nice-guy Eddie, an awkward but sincere Emery, and strange but nice Evan.  Add some funny Chinese stuff and some super cute extras at the family gatherings and you get a B+. 

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “It’s a Plastic Pumpkin, Louis Huang”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 4: “It’s a Plastic Pumpkin, Louis Huang”
Original airdate October 24, 2017.

Synopsis:  (deep breath) Louis, as always, is stoked about Halloween and he’s got Seinfeld-themed costumes planned for his whole family but the rest of the Huangs have other plans. He still has hope for Evan, who agrees to hang out with his dad and pass out candy, but then sneaks off to Deidre’s grown-ups party.  Eddie and his fellow frosh friends have a plan to get invited to an older student’s party.  Jessica and Emery hear a strange male voice coming from Grandma’s room and are determined to find out what’s going on.

Woooo:  All the women are gorgeous in this episode.  I’m sorry but it’s just true.  Emery has a few excellent moments while dressed as Cosmo Kramer, demonstrating some physical comedy I didn’t see coming.  Jessica’s dreamy little gesture on Stephen King’s book jacket is hilarious.  I also really enjoyed the near-barrage of late-90s cultural references in the Halloween costumes, including references to Pokemon, The CraftPinky and the Brain, Netflix (established late August 1997!), and Daria.

Pttttth:  I don’t have much to complain about.  It’s not a great episode but it doesn’t have anything egregious.

FOB moment:  Grandma calls her family out for speaking rapidly in English when they don’t want her to know what they’re talking about, and now she’s secretly taking ESL classes.  From George Takei.

Soundtrack flashback:  M.C. Hammer’s “Addams Groove” (1991) and a snippet of the Seinfeld theme music, hummed by Louis.  There also might be something near the end, when Trent gets invited to the party but I can’t tell what it is.  Can you?

Final grade, this episode:  If Dr. Ken consistenly did one thing better than Fresh Off the Boat, it was repeatedly driving home the importance of letting kids be who they are, but in this episode, Louis and Evan have a confrontation about it that really works well, and the little twist where Louis is allowed also to be who he is is sweet. A nice episode for family viewing.  B.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Kids”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 3: “Kids”
Original airdate October 17, 2017.

Synopsis:  Jessica and Louis discover (to their amazement) that Eddie is responsible enough to be left alone in the house, and since he’s the last one to reach this level of maturity, they are now out of Kids Prison. They break out the nice furniture and make plans to go out for more than a hurried dinner. However, Honey and Marvin are part of their vision for a fun life, and Marvin is having his vasectomy reversed, which means they’ll be in Kids Prison for the long foreseeable future.  Jessica and Louis can’t have this, so they launch a passive-aggressive intervention.

Eddie learns that Alison and Evan have continued their friendship even now that he and Alison have broken up.  It’s awkward for Alison to be around, so the ex-sweethearts agree to tell Evan together that she won’t be hanging around anymore.

Emery is still having bad luck, but Grandma has a few ideas for making him feel better about it.

Rad:  There are some pretty cute themes here. I laughed (all three times I watched) when Jessica and Louis marveled that the last of their kids has grown up — and they mean Eddie.  Eddie and Alison’s who-gets-the-kid problem is also cute, and it brings out (for a while) Good Evan.  And Grandma’s half-evil, half-graceful plan to work with Emery is genuinely sweet.  The way Emery’s face lights up when he realizes his bad luck can be put to nefarious use for his grandmother’s benefit really works.

Bogus:  Acting by the young stars is pretty rough, especially in the Eddie-Alison scenes.  They’re learning, so of course I don’t offer this with any kind of malice or lack of understanding.  I think it’s fair to make note of, though, so I am.  Also we start off with Good Evan but we get Prick Evan by the end of the episode and it really doesn’t work.

The A plot is getting tiresome. Jessica has big ideas. Something threatens to foil them. Jessica does something uncool. Jessica feels bad and apologizes. Play the closing credits.  I don’t know how much more of this I can take.

I was going to say that it would have been nice for this Chinese couple to have made more of an effort to say “karaoke” the way my friends and I say it, but shoot. I don’t think I’ve ever said a Chinese word correctly in my life, so fair’s fair.

FOB moment:  The best I got is the continuation of Emery’s bad-luck-year.

Soundtrack flashback:  Karaoke snippets of Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” (1989), Elton John and Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (1976), Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants” (1992), Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” (1967) and Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” (1980).  None of them is very good.

Final grade, this episode: It has its moments but it’s just not very engaging or interesting, although the resolution of the Eddie-Alison story is nicely done.  Eddie’s a good kid and you can see why he and Alison were a good match.   B-minus.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “The First Day”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 2: “The First Day”
Original airdate October 10, 2017.

Synopsis: (deep breath) It’s the first day of school for the Huang boys. Eddie gets a little insecure when he sees the jocks flirting with Alison, so he tries out for the football team without his mom’s permission. Emery is excited to finally have middle school to himself, now that Eddie’s in high school, but the charmed life he has lived seems to have turned: the girls don’t respond to him, and he spills a droplet of milk on his school pants — right on the pleat! Evan has a little surprise for Emery too. Louis has some trouble with a Kenny Rogers representative, now that Michael Bolton has sold his interest in Michael Bolton’s Cattleman’s Ranch (now Kenny Rogers’s Michael Bolton’s Cattleman’s Ranch). I sorta can’t believe I just typed that sentence.

Yay: Evan and Jessica don’t really have their own stories here, and that’s completely okay! There’s still too much going on, but maybe the writers are coming around to one of my biggest complaints about this show: they try to cram too much story into each episode. There’s a teeny bit of further development of the secret Nicole shared with Eddie in episode one; I like that the writers don’t feel the need to push it way up front. I’ll be pleased if it takes its time.

I was worried last season that Hudson Yang as Eddie had hit a dead end as an actor, but he seems to be growing into his skin. He’s still a little cardboard at times, but he has his moments, especially with his timing in dialogue with his mom. That’s probably a reflection on Constance Woo as an actor too. Isabella Alexander as Alison continues to be the best of the regular young actors.

In case you’ve lost track of the timeline, it’s the fall of 1997. The Huangs move to Orlando in the spring of 1995 (as it still says in the opening music), so season two begins in the fall that same year, season three begins in the fall of 1996, and here we are in 1997, as confirmed by Grandma’s declaration that it’s the year of the ox in the Chinese zodiac. It’s good that they give us enough to keep this straight.

Eddie’s cafeteria scene with his estranged friends is really well edited. Not quite an O Captain My Captain moment, but you know, at least a distant cousin.

Boo: This Cattleman’s Ranch arc is getting ridiculous. The acting by Forrest Wheeler (as Emery) and Ian Chen (as Evan) is both awkward and charming at the same time. I’m not sure what I’m reading here, especially after Wheeler’s very good season last year, but I suspect they’ll find their groove.

FOB moment: Grandma tells Emery that everyone has bad luck during his or her zodiac year. Emery is smart: why doesn’t he ask her why it doesn’t seem like everyone else in his grade is also having a bad luck year?

Soundtrack flashback: I didn’t hear anything. Did you? Seems like they missed the chance to flash us back to almost anything great when Nicole is driving Eddie to school.

Final grade, this episode: Kind of a boring episode, but I do like the way what seems to be the A plot resolves fairly early while we get resolution on the antagonistic friends, which seemed to be a C plot at best. Nicely done. The Dolly Parton jokes are bizarre and funny, but this Kenny Rogers story has to go. B-minus.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Non-Spoiler Episode Preview: “B as in Best Friends”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 4, Episode 1: “B as in Best Friends”
Season 4 premiere airs tonight, October 3, 2017 on ABC.

Synopsis:  (deep breath) The Huangs have moved out of the new home they decided they don’t like.  They’re homeless because their former landlord has already leased their old place to a guy played by Chris Elliott.  Honey and Marvin invite them to stay over as long as they’d like until they get the housing situation resolved, but Jessica and her family are terrible houseguests.  Eddie’s friends haven’t forgiven him for calling them losers, so he hangs out with Nicole, his former crush who has a new car.  Emery and his father build a birdhouse.  Evan, committed to the reading list of the private school he’s been unadmitted to, turns his nose up at Nicole’s old books, a collection of The Babysitter’s Club.  Jessica and Honey compete on Wheel of Fortune.

Dope: It’s a genuine pleasure to have the Huangs back, and maybe it’s not fair to put extra weight on their return because Dr. Ken didn’t make the cut, but there it is.  They are back to being the only Asian-American sitcom on broadcast television.  I need them to be good.

I can’t explain it, but two little visual details really cracked me up.  A Dolly Parton photo in an unexpected (yet not surprising) place, and a tiny welcome mat.  They bode well for a show whose visual gags have usually been good.  And it’s great to have Nicole back.  She and Eddie have always been good together.

Whack:  I’m not backing down from my distaste for celebrity cameos, although I can sorta look the other way on Pat Sajak and Vanna White, who are pretty funny.  There’s another cameo I really dislike.

Also, Evan continues to be a little prick sometimes.  This is not an Evan I like.

The episode is all over the freaking place, but it’s okay.  It’s like that first day of school in eleventh grade.  You’re so busy running around making sure to say hi to everyone that you don’t have any real quality time with anyone except the hot Asian girl who can’t stand you.  But I showed her.  I took her best friend to the prom.

FOB moment:  Can’t type it without spoiling a moment, but it’s what Jessica says to Honey when Honey finally calls her out on her awful behavior.  Also, there’s a callback to the dishwasher episode.

Soundtrack flashback: Awwwwww yeeeeeah boyeeeee!  “Don’t Sweat the Technique” by Erik B. & Rakim (1992).  I seriously love this song.  Also a little snippet of the Michael Bolton cover of “Lean on Me” (1993).  I was less thrilled to hear that.

Final grade, this episode: You can’t get a high grade on the first day of school, or you’ll expect good marks for mediocre work all year.  Let’s grade this like summer homework: credit for doing it but no letter grade.  I’m just happy to see the Huangs again.  Really, though: you’ll want to see this one.  I’m leaving out something rather unexpected, so check it out and let me know what you think.  CREDIT for completion.

‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “This Isn’t Us”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 3, Episode 23: “This Isn’t Us”
Original airdate May  15, 2017.

Microsynopsis:  The Huangs move out of their rental, to the sadness of Honey, Marvin, and Eddie’s crew.  The boys agree to get matching tattoos to symbolize their brotherhood, but Eddie soon discovers that the bike ride from his new house to his old ‘hood is longer than it looks.  Louis is also taken aback by the distance he now commutes to the restaurant, and at first he doesn’t enjoy his new home because Jessica insists the family, now that it has spent all its savings, is “house poor,” which translates into never turning on the hot tub or the heated floors, and not making use of the house’s other amenities.  Emery points out to Evan that his new school blazer is made in China, and he’s been reading about the Kathie Lee Gifford sweatshop mess.  The younger Huang boys approach Evan’s headmaster (Dr. Johnny Feeeeeeeeeever!) who is not impressed by the stance they are taking.

Good:  I’m really liking the young man Emery is becoming.  He’s one of the more interesting characters on the show by virtue of being the least quirky, least troublesome member of the family.  He had a couple of psycho moments early in the season, but on the whole, he’s the Huang I’d most want to be friends with.  No wonder the ladies love him.  It’s also neat to see how Evan’s closeness to Jessica manifests itself in his feisty approach to this blazer problem.  He’s been a snotty, annoying little punk almost all year, but outside the confines of his family, he’s twice as shrewd as Eddie and maybe as subversive.  I’m not sure, but I think Eddie’s crew is still hanging out in Eddie’s old driveway.  Pretty cute.

Bad:  You’d think what’s essentially a two-parter could have gone a little bit deeper, but for some reason FOtB has avoided depth for the second half of the season.  It’s annoying.  The story has some potential, especially with the members of this family kind of spreading out in different directions, yet just as it’s getting intriguing, everyone is yanked back to where we started by the usual Jessica stuff.

FOB moment:  Grandma believes the new house is haunted, so she encircles her power chair with candles.

Soundtrack flashback:  “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” by Michael Bolton (1990).  Again.  Twice.

Final grade, this episode: I’ll save my thoughts abourt the third season for a lookback next week.  On its own, this is a weak way to go out and a disappointing conclusion for a season finale.   C.