Like the mixtapes Eddie erroneously crafts, this weeks Fresh Off The Boat plays like a smooth, greatest hits playlist of the show. There’s deep 90s cuts, a parent assembly, an Eddie/Emery story, and some, well some just really crazy funny work by child actors. It’s a packed one, but whereas last week’s episode relegated B and C-stories to levels of unnecessarily low-stakes, ”Phil’s Phaves” doesn’t over-extend itself in any one place–and the little that some characters have to do is precise and thoughtful (see: Evan’s elaborate sandwich with toothpick olives he carries out of the kitchen).

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Guest stars have always been treated well on Fresh Off The Boat, and The Return of Phillip Goldstein doesn’t disappoint. Albert Tsai continues to shine as the half-Chinese, half-Jewish nega-Eddie, and watching him and Jessica go toe-to-toe is like watching the battling of two great Titans with dial-up connections. The episode did raise some questions, like: Who is Albert Tsai? Why is he funnier than most grown ups working in Hollywood right now? How does his hair stay so impeccably shiny? Seriously, the comedic nuance that this kid can achieve is staggering–his slightly hunched posture as he recounts his tortured time on the internet adds immeasurably to the joke. And the way he shakes his head at Mitch and Nancy drips with disapproval, but more importantly, disappointment.

The way some viewers wait all year for a show’s Christmas episode, I’m a complete sucker for “people encountering the internet for the first time” stories. So it is with cautious enthusiasm that I watch Louis Huang unveil his family’s new Gateway computer. This time, instead of Eddie, it’s the elder Huangs who find themselves on the receiving end of poor marks, discovering that Cattlemen’s Ranch has received a Chinese F on a restaurant review site. The look of horror on Jessica and Louis’s faces as they realize an entire gasp-one-hundred-and-fifty-four people have seen the damning review reminds one of the first time they had the misfortune to stumble upon some new, inglorious facet of the interweb. Before “everything is on the internet” there was “can you believe that’s on the internet?” While they struggle to repair their reputation, Eddie juggles ditching the girl who won’t leave him alone with figuring out how to talk to the girl he’s dating on the phone–leading to a very hijinx-y situation involving mixtapes.

A period show can often become grating or a tiresome–a retreading of long worn out jokes. Fresh Off The Boat manages to escape this trap by keeping the show the tiniest bit surreal in its approach to era-specific topics. The five-way, parental cluster on the phone the first time Eddie attempts to call Allison is an exaggerated, broadly comical scene, but perfectly encapsulates a (now irrational) source of anxiety in my life thanks to some disastrous childhood phone calls. Then there’s the giant poster board, failing to coin the term “Compu-Teasing!” that smacks of the first “Cyber Awareness” posters to suddenly appear around our middle school–once our vice principal found out about AIM–and the stern warnings given by uniformed officers at assemblies where girls were warned “not to meet up with strangers from the internet” (look how far we’ve come since then, eh Jobs?) Let’s not forget the “fun science teacher” who teaches the Doppler Effect with a boombox on a skateboard. When Fresh Off The Boat nails the 90s, they really nail the 90s. And when they nail an episode, they nail an episode.

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Stray observations

  • Once in awhile a FOTB episode will really get to me. Not in a bad way–in a pure, nostalgic “oh man remember how bad the internet looked when we were kids wow wasn’t being a kid great?” way. No, an episode of Fresh Off The Boat that referenced Mavis Beacon made you kind of cry!
  • I wrote down too many lines on my phone as I watched to comfortably fit in this section. I have tried to parse down my entries, but please comment with your own favorite lines below, to buoey the spirit of your fellow man.
  • Louis’s ideas of a “fun” restaurant, including but not limited to, rocket ships on uniforms, crayons on the table, and tons of backwards “K”s.
  • Jessica’s awe: “Louis did it, he’s raising his own veal.”
  • “I accidentally went into a store that looked like it sold ice cream and got our first family internet computer.” BOOM, take that, the layout of every electronics store, ever!
  • The new “Cyber Crimes” unit headed by Peter. Let’s all congratulate Peter. Great work, Peter!
  • Phillip’s source of journalistic integrity: “Oh, no I can’t do that. Phillip’s father and I have been teaching him journalistic integrity, from our time at Mother Jones”
  • Louis, the mastermind, hath stolen Phil’s mouse: “I’ve crippled his access to the internet: I’ve shut him down.”
  • The purest heart on television: “Tell the firemen I know how busy they are and I’m sorry!”
  • The little bit of Evan we got was so good: “Evan I’m extending your bedtime.” “But why?!”
  • “I can’t believe www.PhillipGoldsteinHasBadOpinions.com hasn’t been taken!” Honestly, I can’t either Jessica.
  • Phillip accuses Jessica of not understanding magic: “Oh, and you do?!” *Phillip pulls flowers from his sleeve* “He just carries those around?”
  • “The great thing about computers is that they last forever.” How far we’ve come, Steve.
  • The new “Cyber Crimes” unit headed by Peter. Let’s all congratulate Peter. Great work, Peter!

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