LOADING ...

Eddie’s too reactive on a one-note episode of Fresh Off The Boat

Dan Caffrey May 18, 2016. 24 comments
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.  

“The Manchurian Dinner Date” sets up an explosive confrontation between Eddie and Jessica, only to resolve their conflict with a satisfied sigh. To the writers’ credit, it’s an unexpected move when considering the forcefulness of Jessica’s personality. She spends the entire episode gushing over Eddie’s (fake) girlfriend, so when he reveals that Alison’s not an orange-toting Chinese girl whose real name is Audrey, but the white piccolo player onstage, we’re meant to think that Jessica’s going to blow up or at least intensify everything around her with one of her laser-focused glares. But she doesn’t. Instead, she accepts Eddie’s choice in a partner and admits that she’s quickly grown bored with how traditionally perfect Audrey is. To everyone’s surprise, she ends up liking Alison, who she praises for being Chinese in her heart, if not in her actual background. As off-color as that remark is, it’s just about the best compliment you could expect from Jessica.

On the downside, however, the tender moment between mother and son also exemplifies how static “The Manchurian Dinner Date” feels as an episode, largely because Eddie spends most of it being reactive instead of proactive. He has zero agency in the central scheme of switching out Alison with Audrey to impress Jessica, and even when he makes several attempts to correct the situation, it’s done with resignation. He’s more or less just going with the flow.

Does “The Manchurian Dinner Date” need him to run around like a maniac or have a loud freakout on his mom in the middle of the graduation ceremony? Of course not. But because he responds to everything with the same slightly bewildered stare—a stare that never wrenches itself into full-on panic mode due to the relaxed nature of the ending—the episode has almost no stakes. While the story’s unexpected resolution is something to be admired on network television, Eddie’s girlfriend meeting his mother for the first time is a watershed moment in his life, just like it’s a watershed moment in any young person’s life. Despite this, the episode takes on a decidedly one-note tone, preventing us from ever getting a palpable sense of the pressure, neuroses, and flat-out fear that usually accompany such an event.

There’s also the issue of the relationship itself. As Alison, Isabella Alexander has always found both a kindness and a toughness that make her more likable than Nicole, but the episodes centered around her and Eddie have been some of the weakest of the season. That’s more on the writers than the performers, as their scripts often give the young actors little to do. We know the characters like each other because we’re told they like each other, but we don’t know a ton about what Eddie and Alison are like as a couple. Even if that reflects the bashfulness of real-life adolescent romances (middle-schoolers seem to talk to each other less when they’re “dating”), it doesn’t make for especially captivating television.

At the very least, the warmth shown by Jessica towards their relationship extends to the two subplots of the episode, both of which involve a parental figure helping out a child. As Emery gears up for graduation, Louis shows him how to add flair to his valedictorian speech—advice that Emery eventually rejects in favor of talking about how much he loves his family. Elsewhere, Granny Huang assists Evan in creating the perfect suit for the evening. He gets his own show-stopping moment when he struts into the post-graduation dinner at Cattleman’s Ranch in his miniature three-piece, complete with his name sequined onto the back of the jacket. Like the exchange between Eddie and Jessica at the ceremony, both of these storylines are sweet, if minor. But Fresh Off The Boat’s a sitcom that’s proven time and time again that it has the ability to be both sweet and major. And if “The Manchurian Dinner Date” had shown a little more variety—specifically in how Eddie deals with the problems surrounding him—perhaps his dilemma would have felt more dire, which would in turn make the conclusion more satisfying.

Stray observations

  • Malcolm X on VHS really was that enormous. You could kill someone with that thing with just a couple hits.
  • Would “The Manchurian Dinner Date” pass the Bechdel Test? Eddie’s obviously the center of the events, but I can’t remember if Jessica actually talks about him with Audrey or Alison.
  • Did anyone else feel bad for that second, more boneheaded valedictorian? I loved how she confused the microphone with the light.
  • “Don’t get sick” reads the marquee in front of the school. Sage advice!
  • “What a crowd. I don’t know what I like more—the pomp or the circumstance.”
  • “She’s like tofu. She absorbs flavor. Got none of her own.”

24 Comments

Other Dan Caffrey's posts

Everyone lies and pays for it on Fresh Off The Boat Everyone lies and pays for it on Fresh Off The Boat

TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.  Fresh Off The BoatSeason 2Fresh Off The BoatSeason 2"Rent Day"B+Fresh Off The BoatSeason 2"Rent Day"B+B+"Rent Day"Episode21I’ve heard several people complain that, in its second season, Fresh Off The Boat hasn’t explored the Huangs’ Chinese heritage as much as it did in its first season; that the show has become less...

Galavant: “Completely Mad...Alena”/”Dungeons And Dragon Lady” Galavant: “Completely Mad...Alena”/”Dungeons And Dragon Lady”

TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.  GalavantSeason 1GalavantSeason 1"Completely Mad...Alena"/"Dungeons And Dragon Lady"BGalavantSeason 1"Completely Mad...Alena"/"Dungeons And Dragon Lady"BB"Completely Mad...Alena"/"Dungeons And Dragon Lady"Episode5As enjoyable as the show can be, Galavant’s weaknesses have been fairly consistent over its first four episodes: off-color puns, randomness for randomness’ sake, and, most crippling of all, wasted guest characters. These one-off parts...

The Muppets go into PSA mode for their most empowering episode to date The Muppets go into PSA mode for their most empowering episode to date

TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.  The MuppetsSeason 1The MuppetsSeason 1"A Tail Of Two Piggies"A-The MuppetsSeason 1"A Tail Of Two Piggies"A-A-"A Tail Of Two Piggies"Episode12On a surface level, the title “A Tail Of Two Piggies” refers to the duo of pigs at its center: Miss Piggy (of course) and a porcine teenager named Alynda who looks...

The 2016 election season comes to its merciful conclusion The 2016 election season comes to its merciful conclusion

Here’s what’s up in the world of TV for Tuesday, November 8. All times are Eastern.Top picksUnited States Presidential Election, 2016 (all night, everywhere): Last Tuesday, the World Series dominated basically everything on television, and tonight, the election—which is like the World Series of politics, but with more spitting—will do the same. There isn’t just one place to watch...

Suggested posts

Thomas Lennon to play Mister Mxyzptlk on Supergirl Thomas Lennon to play Mister Mxyzptlk on Supergirl

Kara Danvers is currently dealing with the eradication of all reality in The CW’s Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover spectacular, but when the dust clears on the multiverse (assuming there is still a multiverse) she’s going to have a new extra-dimensional annoyance to deal with. According to Deadline, lovable-ish fifth-dimensional imp Mister Mxyzptlk is returning to Supergirl, and this...

Michael Chabon bringing Kavalier & Clay adaptation to Showtime Michael Chabon bringing Kavalier & Clay adaptation to Showtime

Showtime is getting a subversive comic book epic of its very own, as Variety reports that the network has landed a series adaptation of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay. Chabon and his producing partner (and fellow author) Ayelet Waldman will serve as executive producers and showrunners for the series, which follows the lives...

James Frain on playing Spock’s dad and wearing the biggest fangs on True Blood James Frain on playing Spock’s dad and wearing the biggest fangs on True Blood

Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them about.The actor: Few actors have the range of James Frain. Born in Leeds, England, he has a strong Shakespearean stage background, and has performed with The Royal Shakespeare Company, Almeida, and Royal Court...

Black Lightning joins the Arrowverse in the third hour of Crisis On Infinite Earths Black Lightning joins the Arrowverse in the third hour of Crisis On Infinite Earths

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Tuesday, December 10. All times are Eastern. Top pickThe Flash, “Crisis On Infinite Earths: Part Three” (The CW, 8 p.m.): The madness continues—and tonight’s the last of it you’ll get until January, so enjoy it while it lasts. The big news in the third installment of Crisis On Infinite Earths is the...

It's a race against the cruelest of clocks in Crisis On Infinite Earths part two It's a race against the cruelest of clocks in Crisis On Infinite Earths part two

TV Reviews All of our TV reviews in one convenient place.Prev NextView All In what might be the most fast-paced crossover event yet, the gang of Arrowverse superheroes is racing against time. They need to gather all pieces of a puzzle to keep the antimatter from destroying the rest of the universe. The stakes are even higher now that...

His Dark Materials lets Mrs. Coulter shine in one of its strongest episodes yet (newbies) His Dark Materials lets Mrs. Coulter shine in one of its strongest episodes yet (newbies)

TV Reviews All of our TV reviews in one convenient place.Prev NextView All And like clockwork, His Dark Materials improves when Mrs. Coulter reappears. This episode was a real high water mark for the character, because so many of the actions she’s taken suddenly have an additional degree of nuance, from her bizarre relationship with her daemon to her...

His Dark Materials buckles under the weight of its missing daemons (experts) His Dark Materials buckles under the weight of its missing daemons (experts)

TV Reviews All of our TV reviews in one convenient place.Prev NextView All Welcome to The A.V. Club’s “Experts” reviews of HBO’s His Dark Materials. It is written from the perspective of someone who has read all three books in Philip Pullman’s trilogy, and intended for an audience of viewers who have also read these books. While the main...

When they don’t see you: The A.V. Club’s biggest Golden Globes snubs When they don’t see you: The A.V. Club’s biggest Golden Globes snubs

This morning, the nominations for the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards were announced in Los Angeles, with Dakota Fanning, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Tim Allen taking turns breaking the good news to their fellow actors. Netflix emerged the big winner (for now), with the highest number of nominations across the film and TV categories, including best motion picture–drama nods...

The "Peloton Husband" isn't all that thrilled with the ad's reception either The "Peloton Husband" isn't all that thrilled with the ad's reception either

Peloton’s holiday commercial is a bad advertisement for a pricey robot bicycle that features a woman psychically enthralled to video selfies and her exercise routine. It’s also making stars out of its actors. On one hand, the Peloton Lady (Monica Ruiz) appears to be doing all right, having been cast in a commercial for Ryan Reynolds’ gin company that...

The 25 best TV shows of 2019 The 25 best TV shows of 2019

In our look back at the best television of 2019, we’ll spare you the requisite references to “peak TV” and the 500-plus scripted series that aired or streamed this year, because nothing demonstrates that magnitude quite like lining up our mid-year findings with our year-end list. Some early contenders, including a fantastically awkward Hulu series and a stalwart sitcom, weren’t...

Language