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.