‘Fresh off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Family Van” and “Commencement”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 6, Episodes 14 and 15: “Family Van” and “Commencement”
Original airdate February 21, 2020.

Synopses:  In episode 14, the family minivan acts up, inspiring a crisis for Jessica and Louis, who are torn between their attachment to the vehicle and the necessity of replacing it.  Eddie, Emery, and Evan take the other family car back to D.C. to dig up a time capsule they buried before moving to Orlando six years ago.  Jaleel White returns as the car salesman who sold the Huangs their RV (season 5, episode 1).

In episode 15, Eddie finally confesses to his mother that he scored 1500 on his SAT.  The Huangs are visited by a Harvard alum for an interview (Andy Richter, who’s not a Harvard grad, filling in for Conan O’Brien, who is).  Evan, writing his memoirs in anticipation of his running for HOA vice-president, steals stories from Emery and from Honey and Marvin.

Dope:  There is something very sweet about seeing our main characters in the combinations they work best: the three sons and the two parents.  The entire penultimate episode is full of nostalgia, as the boys openly discuss Eddie’s numbered days with the family, and Jessica and Louis relive memories of the van they purchased on their wedding night.  The final episode is a little more of the same, with Jessica remembering how hard she worked to turn Eddie into the successful young man he’s become.

Some lines I liked:

“I can’t wait to feel Gaston’s biceps!” (Grandma)

“Map?  Possible Treasure?  It’s like The Goonies but with three Asian boys.”  “Three inoffensive Asian boys.”  (Evan and Emery)

“I think I can drive.  I just can’t sit, think, or process moving objects.”  (Eddie)

“You can’t be president if you lie!  It’s unAmerican!” (Emery)

“You got a 1500 and you can cook.  You are going to make some woman I choose a great husband!” (Jessica)

Wack:  I hate to say this, but of the principal actors, only Randall Park seems to be fully engaged.  Acting by the three young men is flat and listless, and the storytelling is lazy.  In these final moments with the Huangs, do we really need a revisit by White and Richter?  Richter’s character serves only to drive Jessica to the realization that her being a helicopter parent may have had its benefits, but it simply cannot continue.

I don’t get why the writers introduced a silly guest character to do the job when it could have been so much more special for Jessica to understand it on her own, in the context of her own family.  It’s also unnecessary for the old white-man institution to tell the Huangs that their brand of parenting is a bad fit for Harvard.  For Fresh Off the Boat‘s parting middle finger, I wanted to see the Huangs reject the white patriarchy.  Or something!

This brings me to my biggest criticism of the show during most of its run.  For these last two episodes, we have separate plots for groups of characters.  Look at ABC’s synopsis for episode 14: “When the trusty Huang family van takes a turn for the worst, Jessica and Louis each process the loss in their own way. Meanwhile, the boys take advantage of the opportunity for some bonding time…”

For these last episodes, it would have been special to see the Huangs involved in something together, and while the writers try, framing episode 14 in a family visit to Disney World and episode 15 in a future commencement ceremony, both episodes are really separate plots held together weakly by these framing conceits.

FOB moment:  In the van on their way to Disney World, the entire family sings “Hakuna Matata” for a few measures before the van breaks down.  Louis says, “It’s our fault.  We were too happy.”

Soundtrack flashbacks:  

  • “Hakuna Matata” from the soundtrack for The Lion King (1994, sung by the Huangs).
  • “The Sign” by Ace of Base (1993, sung by the Huangs).
  • “Caravan” by Van Morrison (1970).
  • “This Used to be My Playground” by Madonna (1995, quoted by Evan in the year the moment is set, which is pretty cool).
  • “Baby I Got Your Money” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard featuring Kelis (1999).
  • “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree (1994, sung by Jessica and Eddie).
  • “Love Shack” by the B-52s (1989, sung by Honey and Marvin).

Final grade, this episode: I am not one of those people who hates a final episode of a beloved TV show because it’s not what I expected or wanted.  I liked the finales of CheersSeinfeld, and Friends.  There’s a lot here I just don’t like, but it isn’t enough to outweigh the stuff I have always liked about this show.  I’ll always remember Eddie, Jessica, Louis, Emery, Evan, Grandma, and Honey with overwhelming fondness for everything — good, bad, and really bad — they brought to a television landscape that needed them decades before they ever got the chance.  Whether or not they’ve altered the landscape in a lasting way isn’t clear, but they were so important for this country and for my heart while they were here.  A.

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About Mitchell K. Dwyer

@scrivener likes movies.
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