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Last week, Fresh Off The Boat stepped up its game by finally tying together its primary and secondary storylines at the episode’s end. In “Dribbling Tiger, Bounce Pass Dragon,” we get a successful inversion of that formula. During the very first scene, the Huang parents are told by Evan and Emery’s principal that they need to volunteer with the school district in lieu of recent budget cuts, lest they make a donation. The Huangs reluctantly agree, and the stories divide as Louis becomes coach of Eddie’s basketball team and Jessica is tasked with directing Evan and Emery’s school play.

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By establishing this forked structure right off the bat, writer Rich Blomquist is able to give each of the Huangs’ extracurricular activities equal amounts of screen time, keeping the focus sharp as we hop back and forth between their respective duties. Sure, it’s a fairly simple episode, but there’s something wonderful and slightly tense about watching Louis and Jessica interact with their children in a team setting. Not only is there pressure to work harmoniously with their kids—they also have to lead a group towards success, or at least some warped version of success, as is often with the case with the Huangs.

At first, Eddie is thrilled to have his father as a coach, as Louis played basketball semi-professionally back in Taiwan. But moves such as the Bounce Pass Dragon aren’t as glamorous as they sound, more rooted in cooperation than Shaq-esque acrobatics. Louis quickly loses cool points with Eddie and the rest of the boys, especially when he’s upstaged by Dmitri (Walter Schrass), the ubiquitous freakishly tall middle-schooler (there’s one on every team) who’s a lot better at the sport than his own coach.

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The rest of the guys eventually do come around to Louis, but not in the way you’d think. After he accidentally breaks both of Dmitri’s arms when squaring off against him at practice, all hope seems lost for their next game. Luckily, Eddie’s seen both of the Mighty Ducks films, and gives a locker-room pep talk that he twists into a call to constantly foul the opposing team. Louis, rather than make a last-ditch effort to get everyone to play nice, simply lets the boys rough-house, resulting in a loss that at least leaves the other team sore. It’s also the most surreal sequence Fresh Off The Boat has produced so far, filled with wrestling moves, a kid blinding two players with his ghostly white legs, and Louis (er, a stunt double of Louis) doing a series of Olympic-worthy victory flips across the gym floor. And yet the show builds up so much comic good will with the basketball storyline that the montage feels completely earned.

My only complaint about the business with Louis and Eddie has to do with the episode’s title. “Dribbling Tiger, Bounce Pass Dragon” is an obvious homage to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but that wasn’t released until 2000. And while I could understand if it was just a tossed-off reference, Eddie imagines his father playing basketball in the same aerial martial-arts style used by the characters in the film. Since we’re seeing this fantasy through Eddie’s eyes, it feels off that he’s inspired by a piece of pop culture that hasn’t even come out yet. Still, it’s a minor quibble with a sports yarn that does so many things so well.

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Jessica, meanwhile, is appalled at the silliness of the show she’s been assigned to helm. Titled The Sunflower Gang Goes To Yumland, it’s typical of most bad children’s plays in that it makes no sense whatsoever, rooted more in anthropomorphic plants, animals, and pieces of candy hopping around onstage than any kind of logical plot. So she changes it into a grim, cautionary tale about trying to make a living as an actor, nearly dashing Evan and Emery’s aspirations to ever perform again in the process. Jessica never got the option to pursue a risky, possibly non-lucrative career path, so why should her own children? Or anyone else’s children for that matter.

But Louis, having learned at this point that it’s sometimes alright to just let kids be kids and give them the options he and Jessica never had, persuades her to stop being so forceful in steering their children’s future. Besides bringing their two arcs back together at the episode’s conclusion, this interaction once again proves why the Huangs are such good partners, even if—when you think about it—it’s kind of messed up that Louis lets his team resort to violence on the court. On the other hand, his actions also bring him closer to his son and serve as the catalyst for the more traditional moral taught in Jessica’s storyline. Unlike most network sitcoms, Fresh Off The Boat actually works when it’s teaching a lesson, as long as it’s the lesson that’s never expected.

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Stray Observations

  • It’s always amusing to see Jessica revel in false victory, and we get two icy smiles from her tonight that quickly disappear when she doesn’t get her way.
  • A principal forcing a parent to do volunteer work seems pretty unrealistic to me, but my wife says this very thing happened to her own mother.
  • Like Arrested Development’s Steve Holt and the O’Doyle clan from Billy Madison, Dmitri is one of many adolescent alpha males in pop culture whose vocabulary mainly consists of their own name.
  • Man, I had forgotten all about rewind fees.
  • I also thought I had forgotten about the My Little Pony knockoff Sparkle-Time Beauty Horse, until Google showed me it was never actually a thing.
  • Did anyone else find it odd that the little girl who Jessica said had a lisp didn’t actually exhibit a lisp, but rhotacism? I wasn’t sure if Jessica was supposed to be wrong or if it was just an error on the production team’s part.
  • Walter’s face when Louis mistook him for Eddie and tried to hand him his whistle was priceless (and the main reason I chose the above review image that I did).
  • I had heard that Fresh Off The Boat was going to reference Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl at some point, and I appreciated that it was done rather tastefully without too much time spent on it.
  • “Hi, I’m Coach Huang. Your new…coach.”
  • “I don’t remember teaching you to nut-punch, but you did work together as a team.”

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