Fresh Off the Boat – Season 2 continues to look at everyday occurrences in family, school or work set-up through the eyes of Chinese-American family, the Huangs. Like the first season, the show displays intelligent yet funny writing and superb acting from the entire cast. Yes, it is a family show but the Huangs’ acerbic tongues and wild imaginations make sure that the show is neither predictable nor safe. Unlike the first season, the rather distracting voiceover of the real Eddie Huang is gone, thankfully.
Louis Huang (Randall Park) transforms from a struggling steakhouse restaurant owner into a semi-successful businessman. Wife Jessica (Constance Wu) now juggles family responsibilities and work as a realtor on top of watching Melrose Place and Denzel Washington movies. They high-five at the right moment, do their taxes in lieu of a romantic night or two, survive a leg injury, egg attack and lice infestation.
Louis is the likeable guy, the cool dad or the good cop who goes out of his way to please his customers and his children. Jessica is brutally frank, says the craziest things but always sees the bigger picture. These three qualities make her the star of Fresh Off the Boat, and the most quotable one. She is devoted to her family but does not sugarcoat her criticisms of them. She thinks she is visionary like Oprah and is never shy in saying so in public. She scares the shit out of those she considers inferior to her but worships intelligence. And this is where her chess-obsessed mind comes in. She always thinks several steps ahead of her mental opponents, be it a car salesman, her renters or her eldest son. She will not be a big-picture thinker if she has not planned out the entire lives of her three boys, none of whom is a teenager. Just what I expect from someone who reads a parenting book called “Advanced Chess Strategy”.
Despite their seemingly polar opposition, their tandem, also called Jessilou, works flawlessly. Sure, Contance Wu and her razor sharp tongue outshine Randall Park and his hairless chest 90% of the time, but watching them is just as delightful as imagining eating birthday noodles that took six hours to prepare or imagining a Chinese female Santa Claus.
Louis and Jessica’s firstborn and the black sheep of the family, Eddie (Hudson Yang) still loves music and black artists but has a life outside of them. He has grown closer to a bunch of classmates and eventually found himself a non-Chinese “boo” – a girlfriend for the uninitiated. Maybe his lovelife has made him more sensitive to the needs of his family, especially to his younger brothers’, because he gives them good advice and even defends one of them from “bullying”.
Eddie was my least favorite character in the first season, but I am close to changing my mind now. Maybe it is the absence of shirt three sizes too big or the less screen time for him, whatever it is, he is climbing up the likeable fictional kids ladder. He remains below his younger brothers but definitely above Lucky Man’s daughter.
Speaking of Eddie’s younger brothers, Emery (Forrest Wheeler) and Evan (Ian Chen) carry on being Jessica’s perfect angels, with good behavior and A++ grades (A+ makes Jessica sad and B- is the Chinese F). Emery retains his charm and young ladies besiege him with Valentine’s cards enough to cover one wall of their room. He is not only gifted with good looks, he has a chance to replace Michael Chang as the Chinese god of the tennis world and graduates (one of the many) valedictorian of his class. He just needs to work on his anger issues and he will be well on his way to being the best flight attendant (or astronaut if Jessica has her way).
Jessica’s favorite, Evan is also a ladies’ man, but of the older kind. He powerwalks with Jessica’s Melrose Place buddies and calls them by their first names. Instead of pasting hearts on the wall, he wields a gavel to oversee Home Owners’ Association meetings. Like his mother, he has a dark side to him and plots to overthrow the Queen Bee of powerwalking ladies.
Developing Emery and Evan’s characters gives Fresh Off the Boat more story arcs to explore, and two adorable young nerds are a well of unfathomable depth in terms of witty banters. Emery and Evan’s exchanges are second only to Louis and Jessica’s in terms of oh-no-you-didn’t-say-that gasps induced. When they go toe to toe against Eddie or Grandma Huang, their nerdy punchlines or graceless walkouts are wonderful. Forrest is almost as tall as Eddie and may or may not experience that awkward stage in the life of child actors before him, but the twinkle in his eyes is more than sufficient for him to power through the former. Ian is cute as a button and is right to retain his brand as the baby of the family.
The last member of the Huangs is Grandma Jenny Huang (Lucille Soong). She must have passed down the gangster genes to grandson Eddie because she is just zero Kelvin cool. She looks like a boss as she sits on a wheelchair, rolls it in and out of scenes, dish out stinging one-liners and gives a sly grin. It is good to see Grandma Huang do more than just “press play” the background music to Eddie’s pimp walks. This season reveals her lovelife, the origin of her American name, her “shady” past and love for Garfield. To show how much she values the grumpy cat, she sits at the back of Jessica’s car every day just to be near a stuffed Garfield. Awww.
Outside the Huang family, the only character worth mentioning is Honey (Chelsey Crisp). She lives right next to the Huangs and is Jessica’s only true friend in the neighborhood. She looks like an All-American girl with her wavy blond hair, tight abs and perfect white teeth. She acts as Jessica’s sounding board, book, wine and running buddy and for a while there, business partner (also with Grandma Huang). But she is more than those. She led a very colorful life, which comes out as spontaneous responses in their conversations. At first look, she is Jessica’s antithesis as the carefree stepmother who does nothing but exercise in her neon shorts and sports bras, but she gives great advice and is not afraid to voice out her opinions, whether Jessica like them or not. And she is Gayle to Jessica’s Oprah.
Fresh Off the Boat – Season 2 builds up on the good foundation set by the first season. The show remains true to the identity of the Huangs as a Chinese that try its best to take root in Orlando in the mid 90s. Situations that revolve around cultural differences and Jessica’s stringent set of beliefs and old-school upbringing of her children, coupled with their all-out expressive acting, draw the most laughter, but the great writing Fresh Off the Boat goes beyond hilarity by peppering each episode with small doses of useful real-life lessons. Also, the show is an open and moving time capsule of sorts as it affords the audience to look back in the past and remember iconic sports figures (Shaquille O’Neal, Pete Sampras and Billie Jean King) TV shows, popular games and passing fads, and the little-too-much nipple exposure of male stars in action films.
This is a review of Fresh Off the Boat – Season 2.
For related entries, please read Fresh Off the Boat – Season I, Fresh Off the Boat – Season II in Jessica Huang’s Words (Mostly), Fresh Off The Boat – Season III A (In the words of the Huangs), and Fresh Off The Boat – Season III B (In the words of the Huangs).