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Fresh Off The Boat gets its obligatory awkward musician cameo out of the way

Dan Caffrey Dec 02, 2015. 24 comments
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.  

Ah, the awkward musician cameo on a network sitcom. It was only a matter of time before Fresh Off The Boat went there. Unfortunately, from the moment Eddie arrives at the door of DMX’s McMansion, the gruff rapper, like so many guest-star musicians on so many other shows before him, serves as a little more than a distraction.

At least FOTB gets his and Eddie’s dynamic right. DMX has enough acting experience to sell the idea of him giving dating advice to Eddie, using the plants in his greenhouse (a legal greenhouse, ahem) as a metaphor for the virtues of care and patience when it comes to new romance. Eddie later uses one of these plants as a birthday gift for Alison, which she ends up loving much more than the expensive necklace he was originally planning to get her.

I don’t necessarily mind Eddie bonding with a celebrity. After all, he does reside in Orlando, so it’s not too far-fetched that someone famous would live in his neighborhood, or even that they’d ask him to babysit their kid. And hey, hip-hop is an important part of his life, so why not make that person a rapper? But for how much DMX‘s appearance in “We Done Son” was hyped, his presence feels out of place for several reasons.

For one, it makes the show’s timeline all the more confusing. As the pre-credits sequence for “The Big 1-2” proved, we’re still in 1995, despite many articles citing the second season as being in 1997 (I got the year wrong in several reviews myself). But even if FOTB was set in ’97, DMX wasn’t a household name until 1998, when he released his debut studio album, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot. He had a couple of under-the-radar singles and made a handful of guest appearances on other rappers’ tracks before then (does anyone else remember “24 Hours To Live”?), but there’s no way a couple of average suburban middle-schoolers would have known who he was in ’95. Even “Ghetto Life”—the song mentioned by Alison at the episode’s end—wasn’t in the public eye until his 1998 mixtape, Unleashed & Unreleased.

There’s also the fact that DMX doesn’t have a daughter named Genesis and most likely didn’t live in Orlando at the time, if ever (although he does frequent the city’s amusement parks). But those inaccuracies are more forgivable when compared to the fudged dates. It may seem like nitpicking, but hip-hop’s a huge part of the show and Eddie’s identity, so it’s important to get those facts right. Having DMX show up a full three years before any of these characters would know who he is seems like a huge oversight, proving that he’s there for little more than novelty value. Despite his scenes with Eddie having an easy sweetness to them, his storyline ends up feeling forced and sucks the momentum out of the narrative surrounding Eddie and Alison’s burgeoning relationship.

His screen-time also overloads an episode that’s already a little too heavy on plot, with Louis’ scenes suffering the most. When Barry, his obnoxious mooch of a friend played by J.B. Smoove, comes to stay with the Huangs, he pesters Louis about investing in a dot-com company that sells new and used goods. Louis, in typical Louis fashion, doesn’t know how to say no to him until some forceful urging from Jessica. The punchline ends up being that Barry’s company is eBay, and Louis could have made a lot of money if he had actually succumbed to his usual pushover tendencies. But because the show never takes the time to move Barry beyond his parasitic nature or establish a strong rapport between him and Louis, the final joke falls flat. Smoove usually enlivens any show he’s on, but FOTB fares much better with Connie and Steve as the go-to for annoying houseguests.

The only section of “We Done Son” that holds any kind of weight in the show’s greater narrative involves Jessica and Honey. As they try and grow their real-estate business, the former dismisses the latter’s practical suggestions of attending workshops and baking cookies for their clients, despite insisting they spend money on Jessica’s fortune teller for business tips. After continuing to laugh off every idea thrown her way, Jessica ends hers and Honey’s partnership, which in turn leads to them ending their friendship.

Honey’s always worked as a character for me because she goes against her stereotype. Even though the other women in the neighborhood write her off as a ditzy, gold-digging trophy wife, she’s proven time and time again to be intelligent, ambitious, funny, and, most importantly, one of the few people unafraid to call Jessica out on her shit. By the time Jessica returns to her and agrees that they can implement her ideas, Honey refuses since it’s not an actual apology. That happens after a poignant scene with Granny Huang, who actually agrees with Jessica, telling her “I’d rather be lonely and right.” Seated in her wheelchair in front of the television, she serves as an all-too-proud tableau of what Jessica could become if she’s not nicer to her friends.

Writer Ali Wong isn’t critiquing Granny Huang, who seems content with her own pride. She’s just showing how she and her daughter-in-law are different. As stubborn and cold as Jessica often presents herself, she also has a warmth to her that can only be kept alive by staying close to her loved ones. Once she realizes this after talking with Louis, she attends a painfully unfunny improv seminar (which means it’s funny to us) to make more sincere amends with Honey. Now that Fresh Off The Boat has its obligatory shoehorned musician cameo out of the way, hopefully it can get back to similarly honest stories such as this one next week.

Stray observations

  • I admittedly have never seen a Delia’s catalog, but my wife tells me it’s very ‘90s.
  • It seemed strange that DMX was so insistent about Eddie signing a non-disclosure agreement, but had no problem driving him around the neighborhood with his car’s top down.
  • “I don’t know if I can explain it to you if you don’t get it from the title. She tells fortunes.”
  • “He’s a leech, Louis. Like a barnacle. Or a leech.”
  • “You know I don’t like to rip off Band-Aids. I like to wet them for a few days and hopefully they just come off in the shower.”

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