Fresh Off the Boat Review: Block Parties and Success Perms

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If you've been following the press behind the show, Eddie Huang has alternated quite wildly on his feelings towards how well of a job show runner Nahnotchka Kahn and her team are doing at adapting his memoir.

Fresh Off the Boat Season 1 Episode 3 and Fresh off the Boat Season 1 Episode 4 show signs of a series that's starting to gel in terms of comedic pacing. Kahn, who previously wrote Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, has imbued the show with comedic set pieces that might very well be the show's saving grace.

Perceptive figures will be able to figure out that Fresh Off the Boat Season 1 Episode 3 was intended to be aired as the second episode. It's Louis's discovery of Jessica's singing voice at the block party that prompts him to showcase her as the restaurant's main attraction which leads us to Fresh Off the Boat Season 1 Episode 2.

Similarly, Eddie's popularity at school undergoes a confusing trajectory if the viewer is unaware of the viewing order.

Whether this was the right decision depends on whether you agree with my assessment that tonight's episode wasn't just the series' most solid episode to date but the episode that sold me on the future of the show.

As I pointed out in my review last week, the idea of an Asian family on TV is still enough of a novelty that being transported to an Asian-American household for a half-hour is exotic enough to give this show a reason to exist. In terms of separating this show from the pack, one hopes that there is an intelligent comic tone and that's starting to fall into place.

Based on what we've seen so far, the episodic structure aims to center around three relatively constant storylines each episode for its three main characters (I'm aware there are six in the Huang household, but Emery and Grandma have only been used as comic relief thus far and Evan mainly just nods and smiles) as Eddie struggles to fit in, Jessica struggles to adjust and Louis struggles to get customers for his restaurant.

Nothing was particularly new in this episode from that perspective but the storylines wove together in a labyrinthine way that was consistent with the comic tone and suggested the makings of an intelligent sitcom. Plus it was pretty darn amusing.

The humor also cemented the show's character beats such as Eddie's reliance on hip-hop for life guidance and Jessica's outspokenness.

Sibling Rivalry - Fresh Off the Boat

Fresh off the Boat Season 1 Episode 4 had a few strengths as well, although I found it tonally a little more problematic.

The episode introduces Jessica's family and (as far as I can remember) solves the question once and for all over which side of the family Granny is on.

Jessica's sister and mother come for a visit and the sibling rivalry for their mother's affections that I found overly formulaic in the first act. By the time the rivalry turned into an unrealistic form of extreme resentment in the second act, I just found the whole thing ridiculous  I'm all for dark comedy, but the comic climate of this show doesn't lend itself to anything more than lighthearted goofiness and the situation started veering into Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf territory..

By the time we got to the third act, I appreciated the sentimental turn-around but I had trouble buying the transitions.

At the same time, the show's comic voice is still somewhat strong here. The set piece at the restaurant has a lot of great disparate threads being juggled around: Mitch (Paul Sheer is knocking his role out of the park) is simultaneously going on a date and accepting reservations, Nancy is pretending to be a waitress and a customer, and Louis is desperately trying to maintain the illusion that his restaurant isn't empty. 

These episodes also indicate that the show intends to hit us over the head with 1990's references with little regard to subtlety. As a child of the 1990s, I honestly don't even mind because it's just plain fun to take this trip down memory lane at a time when I was roughly Eddie's (or more realistically Emery's) age when these events were happening. I actually thought the OJ Simpson joke landed and I found it amusing that Eddie's cousin would be into grunge as someone who had a passing knowledge of Nirvana in 4th grade.

What did you guys think of the episodes? Do you think the show is overly reliant on 90's references? Is the show's breakout character Mitch or Jessica? Have you ever heard of a Success Perm before? Don't forget you can watch Fresh Off the Boat online here at TV Fanatic.

The Shunning Review

Editor Rating: 3.9 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.1 / 5.0 (8 Votes)

Orrin Konheim is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and his personal blog at Sophomore Critic.

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Fresh Off the Boat Season 1 Episode 3 Quotes

Louis: Stop reading those books. Those stories give you nightmares.
Jessica: You know what gives me nightmares. Our bank account. Stephen King should publish my checkbook.

Eddie: I had to find a way to fit in or be stuck eating lunch with the janitor and his kite
(cut to janitor)
Janitor: I'm just saying don't call it a fruit salad if it's nothing but melons.