TV Review - Fresh Off the Boat

Of the new TV series that have premiered this season and this past year, this is one of the best. It presents a family, the likes of which you don't normally see. It's very funny with very compelling characters. Based on the book by celebrity chef Eddie Huang, it chronicles Eddie's childhood starting in 1995 when his parents moved his family from Washington, DC to Orlando, Florida. At the age of 11, Eddie with his two younger brothers and grandmother have to adjust from life in the city with a diverse population to a more suburban area with predominantly a white population. It seems like a riff on ABC's Suburgatory mixed with Black-ish. At other times, it seems like a Taiwanese version of Malcolm in the Middle.

Randall Park (Veep and The Interview) stars as Louis Huang, the father of the family who wants to open a restaurant in the Sunshine State. His restaurant is called Cattleman's Ranch. It's a steakhouse that mimics a popular franchise. Louis is desperate to make the restaurant work and be successful. He's optimistic and dedicated, despite all the stumbling blocks and set-backs.

Constance Wu (Eastsiders) co-stars as Jessica Huang, the mother of the family who could be classified as a tiger mom. She believes in tough love. She's very strict. She can be perceived as a nag as well as super critical, harsh and highly cynical. Yet, the true nature of Jessica isn't revealed until Episode 2, in a very hilarious sequence where she runs down some people in her car.

Hudson Yang co-stars as Eddie Huang, the prepubescent boy at the center of this story. Yet, despite being a pre-teen, he thinks himself to be older. He loves hip hop music and fancies himself as what's portrayed in rap videos and on records. He apes and mimics the behavior. His efforts to be cool and to fit-in fail initially. He typically ends up looking the opposite.

Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen play Emery and Evan respectively, the two younger brothers. They have no trouble fitting into their new school and even thriving. Emery in fact thrives the most, even landing a girlfriend before Eddie. Evan has no complaints. He is a bit quirky, but he is certainly well-adjusted. Lucille Soong (Desperate Housewives) plays the grandmother and she seems to be somewhere in between the grandmother in Jane the Virgin and the grandmother in Raising Hope.

The writing led by Nahnatchka Khan and the directing from those like Lynn Shelton, Max Winkler and Jake Kasdan craft great gags in every episode. So many great ones are given to Constance Wu to deliver. In Episode 6, Jessica says, "No one appreciates that I'm good at everything I do," and Wu says it with absolutely no irony. From her loving Stephen King to her singing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," Wu knocks it out the park each time. The subtitles in English of English dialogue revealing opposite and antagonistic meaning isn't new but it is used to great effect here.

There was a very kitschy moment in Episode 4 when the show references the decade they're in. Louis' brother-in-law Steven, played by C.S. Lee (True Detective and Dexter) has to wait and listen to a dial-up modem and grandmother watches the OJ Simpson trial. Both gags were very funny. The relationship between Eddie and Louis has been funny and heartwarming as depicted in Episodes 5 and 6.

There's a questionable moment in Episode 6 where Jessica doesn't acknowledge a gay couple, but I'm willing to let that slide. The development of a side character like Nicole, a teenage girl who is Eddie's object of affection, played by Luna Blaise, is an example of the great things that the show can do. Nicole's role in Episode 7 is proof of that. This has been a great show so far.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG-VLD.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Tuesdays at 8PM on ABC.


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