Tuesday, March 24, 2015

FRESH OFF THE BOAT -- my review

FRESH OFF THE BOAT just keeps getting better. And how refreshing to find a new sitcom with some genuine laughs.

Created by Nahnatchka Khan, who also pumped some good laughs in DON’T TRUST THE B______ IN APT. 23, FRESH OFF THE BOAT is on ABC (so it’s obviously a family show) and deals with the culture clash of a Chinese family trying to make sense of Orlando, Florida (as if anyone could). It’s based on the memoir by Eddie Huang and set in 1995. So it’s WONDER YEARS, THE GOLDBERGS – a formula ABC is comfortable with – but more deliciously subversive.

I must admit I’m a sucker for Americana. Goofy-themed restaurants, fads, franchises, fashions, slogans – that’s what makes America great. And FRESH OFF THE BOAT explores all that nonsense, but through the unique perspective of foreign eyes. There’s actual social commentary going on here. It is possible to get yucks without crass vagina jokes. Who knew?

Just the fact that the show goes for laughs and doesn’t settle for smiles, low road humor, pop culture rhetoric, or tired irony separates it from the pack.

The pilot had some good moments but with each subsequent episode the series is really finding its stride. The stories are clever and offbeat. Centered primarily around 11-year-old, Eddie, one features his pubescent doofus friends getting all aroused over a sexual harassment video. In another they covet a new Shaquille O’Neal video game and one of the kids’ mother instead buys him a video game based on the Dolly Parton/Jane Fonda feminist workplace comedy, 9 TO 5. And it turns out to be better.

As mentioned, the show is focused on Eddie, played nicely by Hudson Yang but the actress who absolutely steals the show is Constance Wu, who plays his mother, Jessica. She’s a comic revelation. Can play attitude, cluelessness, and physical comedy at just the right pitch and level of dryness so it never looks like she sees the joke coming. No matter how broad or absurd the situation her character never knows she’s in a comedy. She deserves an Emmy nomination although I’m sure the Academy will fill that category with women who are not funny and not even in a comedy.

FRESH OFF THE BOAT airs tonight at 8:00 (for the six people who still actually watch TV shows live and in real time). And you can get access to past episodes on probably forty different streaming sites, On Demand channels, websites, or fish-out-of-water-comedy apps. Nahnatchka Khan is a funny writer, Constance Wu is a funny actress, and FRESH OFF THE BOAT is a funny show getting funnier.

35 comments:

Dan Ball said...

I'd been meaning to ask you about this one, Ken. I wholeheartedly agree. It's even better because I was probably the same age as Eddie was back then. I definitely remember Shaq Fu, but NBA Jam was all the rage for my friends. We barely touched Shaq Fu. Did Matt or Annie ever beg you to buy either one?

H Johnson said...

I agree this is worth keeping an eye on. I was a little skeptical with the first episode because I get a little tired of the "foreigners are so noble and white Americans are so stupid" shtick, but this show is getting funnier as it finds it's groove.

And I second the kudos for the mother, she is really good. I don't think the lead kid could be any better either. His facial expressions alone are laugh out loud funny and spot on.

Good call on this one.

Aloha

norm said...

You mean to DVO, all you put in is the Title? No date or time?
I am sure lagging back on the current ele's gizmo's.

McAlvie said...

I've enjoyed this show, too! It's so refreshing to watch a tv show that isn't trying to be edgy and trendy. The family is Asian, and fitting into their new neighborhood is part of the twist; but the situations could be about any family anywhere. Really, it's an old story ... the urbanite transplanted to a rural town; the small down girl making it in the big city, etc. It's a show about a family that just happens to be Asian.

Scott H said...

I'm enjoying this show, too, but I think the two actors playing Eddie's little brothers deserve a mention, too. They are great scene-stealers, and not for typically "cute kid" reasons. Forest Wheeler and Ian Chen's characters come across as much more likeable than Eddie, and the actors themselves seem like total professionals, delivering sometimes the funniest lines in the episode.

Oat Willie said...

The Goldbergs does the 80s, this show does the 90s, how much nostalgia is there left to milk?

WBow said...

The family in the show Taiwanese, not Chinese.

Jake said...

Thank you Ken. Constance Wu rocks and definitely should be Emmy-nominated, which means she probably won't be (ask Eden Sher). The brothers are also great, and the grandma has been getting some good moments.

"The Goldbergs" has also been on fire for the last two months, and "The Middle" is still mostly solid six seasons in (!). Maybe the suits at NBC should watch these shows and learn how to do comedy again.

Mike S. said...

Finally, this season: a sitcom that's actually FUNNY! FOTB is now in my permanent hard drive recording list. And I agree, Ken: Give an Emmy nomination to Constance Wu. Jake is also right--NBC needs to get its funny bone back. Fast.

Rashad Khan said...

I actually laughed when I read about the "9 to 5" video game and how it was better than the Shaquille O'Neal one. I think that says a lot.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Your review was spot on. FOTB and THE GOLDBERGS are the only two broadcast TV comedies I watch and enjoy. I also agree about Constance Wu, who really carries the show. I get more laughs from BETTER CALL SAUL (which has some very funny throwaway lines) than I do from MODERN FAMILY, which many people love. I just don't get it. Ditto BIG BANG THEORY. Neither tickles my funny bone.

Tim W. said...

Since you recommended Modern Family, it's been on my must watch list, so I'm going to check this one out, too. Thanks for the recommendation.

Cap'n Bob said...

Though I like the mother, the kid turns me off so much I can't watch the show. Too much damned rap noise, too. Now. get off my lawn!

Ken said...

In complete agreement about FOTB, and especially Constance Wu, she's just a joy to watch. I didn't realize that Nahnatchka Khan was apart of 'Don't Trust the B_____ in Apt 23,' that was a surprisingly good and funny show, wonder if a lot of folks didn't give it a shot because of the title.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I agree , it's very funny.

But as an aside, why is LA full of readers selling fake dreams to hard working low AND MID income screenwriters?

Why are they promising that we have talent? Yes we have talent, but isn't that our journey to discover? Readers are just raining on our parade. Is this true?

Anonymous said...

Hamid,
Thanks for your advice.

Btw, watch Fresh off the boat, it's very funny.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ken, Last night's premiere of the Late Late Show with James Corden had a in-person "retrospective" of Tom Hanks' movies starring Tom Hanks.

1 movie they missed completely...VOLUNTEERS!

Odd because of what it meant to him personally.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZWLWxpBv5g

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

Awesome. I hope we this is a new hit sitcom!

BrettJ said...

Ken - as I have been watching shows on my computer the past 3 years, shows like this are not on my radar. Thanks for the recommendation - I will watch it because your judgment tends to be spot on.

Howard Hoffman said...

Thank you, Ken, for flinging open the closet door and letting us out. We love this show, and always thought of it as a guilty pleasure...that no one else could possibly think it's a viable comedy. We started watching because we thought Randall Park was brilliant as Kim Jong Un in The Interview. We ended up falling in love with Constance. And Louis' reveal about how he started the steak house was perfectly executed...and finally showed his darkish side. Now we can watch with the lights on.

Howard Hoffman said...

(And just in case this is another "50 Shades" swerve) Ha! Gotcha too, Ken!

Just covering my bases.

jcs said...

I believe I read in the NYT that the showrunner and ABC decided to leave out an important detail: Eddie was beaten by his dead and Eddie's attitude was a reaction to this type of violence. Eddie Huang was not pleased about this form of censorship according to the article. FOTB might be funny, but it once again demonstrates that network execs shy away from any controversy regardless how important it might be for the narrative.

Southfield_Bob said...

I only watched the first episode and I strongly disagree with your review. So much so, that after a couple paragraphs I thought you were going to admit you were being sarcastic in your effusive praise. (Based on your opinion, I'll try to give it another shot).

First off, the show is titled "Fresh Off the Boat". But the characters aren't recently from another country, they're fresh off the freeway from...Washington DC. Huh? So they've been in America a while, it's just moving from a more cosmopolitan, urban area, to Orlando, FL.

I also disagree that it's laugh out loud funny. It's quirky. The Asian dad wanted to own a western steak house. Hoo-hoooo. It's trying to juxtapose odd things and make you think it's humorous. It's not. At all.

Finally, is it a comedy or "message" show? Suddenly, near the end of the episode, the African-American kid calls the 11-yr. old a derogatory name. Suddenly, it brings the family together and they must stand against this outrage and no one wants to go back to D.C. because of it. Not only not funny, but poor dramatic storytelling, too.

I like Big Bang, Modern Family The Middle and Last Man Standing (better this year) and get real laughs from them, but Fresh Off the Boat was stale and almost unwatchable.

Casey C(hang) said...

FOTB fulfills and exceeds my expectations every week! It isn't the book (never is), but that's okay, it's getting the themes and making me laugh. And it's refreshing to see Asian American's on TV again, last time was Margaret Cho's ALL AMERICAN GIRL. Few months back Eddie Huang did an article for vulture, going into detail what it was like giving his life story to network television.

www.vulture.com/2015/01/eddie-huang-fresh-off-the-boat-abc.html

Frank said...

Looking forward to seeing that, though Ken Huang sounded like someone I wouldn't want to listen to in the recent NY Times article.

By the way, Ken, you might want to check the comments on your Ellen post again.

Anonymous said...

Plus a good TV title.

I'm imagining how terrible this show would be with George Takei.

Albert Giesbrecht said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melanie Hummel said...

Hi Ken!
A big HELLO from Germany!
My husband found your blog quite a long time ago and I'm reading your posts for a couple of months now, too.
I want to say THANK YOU for recommending a new comedy show! On a regular basis I serach the network's homepages for good new comedy shows my husband and I can watch together. Unfortunately not all good shows air in Germany (e.g. THE MIDDLE) and if they do so, the translations turn out to be ... awful!
I just want you to know that you pretty much decide whether my husband and I watch new shows together or not. :-) Quite often I ask him to watch XYZ with me and his answer is often the same: "Oh no, I don't want to watch it, Ken Levine said it's crap!" :-) And then I have to watch it alone (and most of the time it turns out to be crap.)
So thank you for being so positive about FRESH OFF THE BOAT. A reason for us to watch the pilot right away and spent some more TV time together. We are not sure whether we like it or not, but we're defenitely going to watch some more epsiodes to find out!

Eric J said...

Watched the pilot and season opener on ABC.com after your recommendation. Funny and great chemistry among the cast. Constance Wu is low key, but hilarious.

Anonymous said...

I really want to like this show, but Eddie is such a disgusting person in real life I can't.

SharoneRosen said...

I watched the first two episodes. There were some good laughs, but it didn't grab me. I really wanted to like it.

On your recommendation, I'm gonna tune back in. You haven't steered me wrong yet!

Anonymous said...

Now that Parks and Rec is finished (still miss it), I need something to fill the gap. Glad you mentioned this, it's brilliant. Has the same heart to it with funny commentary about the weird side of society.

Can't believe the actress is only 26! She plays the mom really well!

kelly childress said...

Thanks for this recommendation. It wasn't on my radar but checked it out after reading your blog. Funny premiere and getting funnier each week.

Holly Dee said...

Loved season 1. That said, season 2 without narration is just awful. This show needs narration. It reins it in and makes it all the more entertaining. Mr. Huangs reasons for not doing this are boring. It is supposed to be a COMEDY. If he wants to be serious, do a documentary, not a comedy. Everybody Hates Chris was funny in part b/c of narration from Chris Rock. Did we believe every episode was the truth. NO! Seriously, Asians need a show like this. From poisoned pets to the way women are treated in China, seeing them as more American, more HUMAN is greatly needed. I have learned this is the truth "Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand." Mark Twain.