[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all "These are reviews." If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show: "Fresh Off The Boat" (ABC - MIDSEASON)
The Pitch: "It's an Asian 'Surviving Jack.'"
Quick Response: Say what I will about the things ABC does poorly, but the network does a very fine job with family comedies, even if they can't get people to watch all of them. "Fresh Off The Boat" would have been a good pairing with "Suburgatory" or "Trophy Wife" and it could still be well-paired with "Modern Family" or "black-ish" or "The Middle." And, honestly, it would probably be best paired with "The Goldbergs," as a slightly over-exerted period comedy with ethnic overtones driven by some smart writing and likable performances. "Fresh Off The Boat" isn't as shout-y as "The Goldbergs," but some of the cast is pushing the ethnic humor a tiny bit too hard. OK, maybe it's just Constance Wu who's pushing the accent-based punchlines too hard -- She's the Jeff Garlin of "Fresh Off The Boat" -- but she's also getting chuckles and, in contrast, Randall Park is mostly underplaying nicely. The key on a family show like this, especially one mining terrain without all that much network TV precedent, is the successful casting of the kids and "Fresh Off The Boat" has done a bang-up job. Hudson Yang hits exactly the right notes in conveying 11-year-old Eddie's appropriation of hip-hop culture, but also the outsider insecurities that fuel him. And both Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen have moments of natural comedic energy. Working from Eddie Huang's memoir, Nahnatchka Khan does a good job of concentrating on the universality of the central family's fish-out-of-water existence and peppering in just enough non-stereotypical specificity that the occasional over-the-top bits don't play as offensive. "Fresh Off The Boat" takes place in the same *general* time period that I was a Jewish kid going to public schools in Mississippi and this feels like *my* experience, even if all of the specifics are different, so I assume more than a few people who have been outsiders in their own ways will feel the same. Oh and as with "The Goldbergs," even though "Fresh Off The Boat" explicitly says it's set in 1994, it's probably going to cause some slight quibbles on exact timing for musical cues and whatnot. I only caught one obvious anachronism, but I only Googled two songs to check, so... It shouldn't matter, though, because "Fresh Off The Boat" is much less hung up on endless pop culture references than "The Goldbergs." Yeah, "Fresh Off The Boat" isn't perfect, but by comedy pilot standards, it has a lot of potential. It makes me wonder why ABC insists on trying things like "Mixology" and "Super Fun Night" and "Manhattan Love Story" and "Selfie." Why waste time on something you do poorly when the thing you're doing well is something none of the other networks seem to be doing?
Desire To Watch Again: Strong. I hope ABC can figure out how to give "Fresh Off The Boat" a healthy time period and nurture it and let it grow. Unfortunately, after last year's "Trophy Wife" fiasco and with "The Middle" and "Modern Family" both occupied as lead-ins, I'm skeptical.

 

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