Fresh Off the Boat, Season 2, Episode 22: “Gotta Be Me”
Original airdate May 10, 2016.
Microsynopsis: Emery is suddenly having difficulty getting along with the other boys in school, so Louis gives him some advice on making his behavior more manly so he’ll fit in. Jessica chaperones Eddie’s class field trip to Colonial Floridatown, where she demonstrates (much to Eddie’s surprise and anger) that she can be a lot of fun.
Good: This is a strong episode with two fun plots that give the actors a lot to work with. There is a scene in the car where Emery blames his father for his trouble, and Forrest Wheeler delivers his lines like he’s on the verge of crying, out of both confusion at his circumstances and anger at his father. It’s Wheeler’s finest bit of acting all season. And I have never thought Hudson Yang did anger very well, but he also has a moment, just before he gets on the school bus, where he lets loose on Jessica, and it’s believable as the release of several years’ worth of confusion and anger.
There is kind of a masterful but subtle parallelism in the two plots, with Emery’s struggle to express himself sincerely without alienating himself from his peers, and with Eddie reconciling his perception of his mother with a new reality. Then, a late scene adds a third conflicted identity issue, one developed in the first scene but seeming to be a throw-away gag for setting up Emery’s story. And this third layer, explained by Grandma (who for the third time in recent weeks is the voice of sympathy, compassion, and wisdom), folds everything together and leaves you wondering how the writers pack so much good stuff into 22 minutes of television. It is almost Seinfeldian.
Bad: More idiocy from Eddie’s school principal. And I’ve been casually trying to nail Fresh off the Boat for anachronisms, but my eye must not be very good, because I haven’t found one in more than thirty episodes so far, but aha! I kind of found one, although you could make the case that when Louis says he mistook the “Critter Capers” section at the video store for the “Criterion” section, he was just reaching for anything that might be conceivable, and not mistakenly thinking that Criterion ever released titles on VHS (it didn’t–in those days, its titles were on LaserDisc, which this store doesn’t seem to rent). It’s weak, but it’s all I’ve got so far.
FOB moment: Jessica says, “Colonial Americans were like the Chinese of today … their struggle, their work ethic, their ability to use every single part of the buffalo!”
Soundtrack flashback: “Sneakin’ Up On Ya” by Fu-Schnickens (1994; edited); “Know How” by Young M.C. (1988; the whole first verse!).
Final grade, this episode: This is a heck of an episode. It’s not one of those TV-changing moments, but it’s a great example of how a family sitcom can address common growing-up themes without looking or sounding like every other show that’s done it before. Excellent writing and acting make this a high point of the season. A-minus.