Fresh Off the Boat, Season 1, Episode 5: “Persistent Romeo”
Original airdate February 17, 2015.
Microsynopsis: Eddie invites the guys for a sleepover, promising a dirty movie he doesn’t have. Jessica conducts sexual harrassment training at the restaurant. Grandma teaches Evan and Emery how to play poker.
Good: Most of the good stuff is in very short, isolated moments. The grandma stuff with the younger brothers is pretty funny, and the scene in the video store actually reminds me of some of the misadventures of my youth. Randall Park’s sex talk is extremely well delivered. There’s a pretty good scene near the end where Jessica refuses to apologize to Eddie, and the voice-over by grown-up Eddie is interrupted by action on the screen, a creative move I don’t think I’ve seen in shows like this. They don’t show up for long, but Honey and Nicole make appearances.
Bad: Despite a few good laughs, most of the show’s humor depends on unbelievable premises, which is a disappointment because there’s a lot of good comedic ground in sexual harrasment training and in a sleepover with fifth grade boys. The problem is that the harrassment training zooms off into creepy silliness, while the sleepover seems more about boys much younger. Fifth-graders in the Nineties were well aware of sex, at least its basic concepts, and even then the boys knew what a dirty movie was. Most of the humor in either of the plots is just dumb as a result. I still enjoyed watching it, but it is a big let-down after episode 4.
FOB moment: “Eddie, half the reason I come to this country is so that you could have lots of sex. What I mean is that Taiwan was so conservative.”
Soundtrack flashback: LL Cool J’s “I Need Love.”
Final grade, this episode: In the early and middle Nineties, the national news was an endless barrage of frightening stories about child molestation, gang warfare, and kidnapping. Jessica’s response to the news feels exaggerated, but it taps into a mood I remember very well, and although this episode misses its mark with just about every arrow, this approach could pay off with a strong, comedic, social statement if the show figures out how to pull it off without sacrificing authenticity in the details. It’s one thing to make us laugh at dial-up modems and parachute pants; it’s another to make us laugh at attitudes twenty years ago in a manner that puts the magnifying glass on our attitudes today. “Persistent Romeo” doesn’t deliver that, and there’s no way to tell yet if that’s what it aspires to, but Fresh off the Boat could be really, really good if it keeps trying. Sadly, this episode is mostly just dumb, and not in the smart way it’s so far earned its better laughs. C-minus.
The editors of 8Asians have not asked me to justify my grades on these episodes, much to their credit, but I will offer a quick explanation for those who feel I’m grading too harshly. With all of television history to compare itself to, Fresh off the Boat and any other new sitcom can consider themselves successful if they hit the B mark on a consistent basis. The best episodes of M*A*S*H, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Arrested Development are A-pluses, and the second tiers of those great sitcoms are As. Where does that put whatever you consider the best episode so far of Fresh off the Boat? Nothing in this fledgling show even approaches the worst episode of M*A*S*H or Arrested Development, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But as much as I want this show to succeed, I can’t let it make excuses for itself. Nobody really wants a share of the first-place trophy just for trying. We all want it when we kick everyone else’s butts, with no qualifiers.