‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “License to Sell”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 1, Episode 9: “License to Sell”
Original airdate March 24, 2015.

RANDALL PARKMicrosynopsis: Jessica, still trying to make it as a realtor, discovers that she needs a license to sell houses. The licensing exam proves more difficult than she expects, so she is forced to mislead her family, to whom she has preached the importance of being the best. Eddie, under the advice of his father, pretends to be interested in makeup and hair as a way to spend time with Nicole. Louis finally brings home something he’s always wanted: a salon-style, sit-down hair dryer.

Good: The show is always better when Nicole and Honey are in it, and Nicole gets a lot of screen time with Eddie this week. Ostensibly the B-story, the Eddie-Nicole bit actually ties the show together, providing some parallels for Jessica’s pretending to be a licensed realtor, and tying the whole beauty thing with Louis’s hair dryer. Louis has the best lines, and I laughed aloud when he said, “She’s cute and she’s older. You’re eleven and you sleep with a Glo Worm.” Emery and Evan continue to be adorable, something that’s not lost on their adoring father, and Louis continues to be the show’s truly endearing character. The gimmicky hair dryer provides context for a lot of genuinely cute and funny gags.

Two bonus likes: I appreciated the reprieve from scenes set in the restaurant, and Louis wears a pretty nice aloha shirt (“Hawaiian shirt” to you continental U.S.ers).

LUNA BLAISE, HUDSON YANGBad: Forgive my hypersensitivity, but in nine episodes so far, every grown-up in either of the boys’ schools is an extreme caricature, one creature after another who exists only in poorly conceived television and movies, an intellectual shorthand for all the problems young people face in school. I don’t mind it so much when it magnifies the intensity of our memories of school or when it’s just funny, but the detention teacher actually calls students “you little turds,” which this career educator finds unbearably annoying. I half expect to hear, in a future episode, a teacher’s dialogue presented as “wah-wah-wah, wah-wah,” like the grown-ups in the Peanuts specials.

FOB moment: Jessica tells a convenience store clerk, “The only place I am safe is here, by your junk food,” with emphasis on “food.” Combined with her accent, the emphasis makes it unclear whether she means “JUNK food,” as in hot dogs, nachos, and ice cream sandwiches, or “junk FOOD,” as in food that’s terrible.

Soundtrack flashback:Passin’ Me By” by the Pharcyde; “I’m the Only One” by Melissa Etheridge.

Final grade, this episode: If it weren’t for the hair-dryer story, this episode would be nearly laugh-less, but Louis and the younger boys manage almost to balance out a surprisingly lifeless main storyline. Jessica’s efforts to legitimize her real-estate career feel strangely like a different telling of the earlier real-estate story. There are long sequences with Jessica that are interesting but neither very entertaining nor very funny. I could live with it if Jessica’s character were somehow developed further via this story, yet we don’t know much about her when the episode’s over that we didn’t already know. I appreciate the writers’ recognizing that Randall Park is the strongest link in the show (something I admit I would never have predicted), letting him hold the show together at the micro level, with excellent timing and admirable acting chops, and setting him up to hold it together at the macro level, establishing plot tension so that his presence is felt even when he’s not on screen. If Eddie is the shooting guard and Jessica’s the brawny center, Louis is the sure-handed point guard who looks first to dish it out but can still make his own plays. B-minus.


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About Mitchell K. Dwyer

@scrivener likes movies.
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