Fresh Off the Boat Season 1 Episode 7 Review: “Showdown at the Golden Saddle”

Fresh Off the Boat

Fresh Off the Boat‘s in media res opening to “Showdown at the Golden Saddle” (along with the title) suggest a new dramatic height is awaiting in the episode’s third act. It’s a clever little ruse, disguising an unimportant moment after the true climax as something much more dramatic, a visual perking of the ears and eyes of the audience, you could say. Does it work? Though it ultimately fails to deliver on its dramatic promise, “Showdown at the Golden Saddle” is another strong episode, piggybacking on established traits and bringing some welcomed nuance to its characterizations.

The only characters allowed to go full tilt at this point are the parents; smartly, Fresh Off the Boat is bringing the simpler material to the children in the last few episodes, and letting the parents occupy the wacky, over-the-top personas: Eddie’s fantasies still remain, but they’ve become a sideshow to the eternally familiar story of young kid has crush on older girl, which leads to hilarious results when Eddie loses his pants trying to talk to Nicole, who sits in the whirlwind of hellfire that is the “back of the bus” (anyone who shared a bus with high schoolers knows what that feeling is like, especially when there’s a cute, older girl back there).

We’ll get back to Eddie; the biggest pleasure of “Showdown at the Golden Saddle” is the glee with which the Huang parents enjoy their taste of upper crust life (even though I do think the show does wash over some of the racism they would’ve faced during it, from the Golden Saddle owner or elsewhere) – and underneath it, Louis’s stress about his wife finding out his restaurant is really a rip-off of a more popular restaurant run by Stevie Janikow – err, by a rich Texan who wanted $50,000 as a franchise fee. Louis determination to provide for his family is compared to gangster films depicting the struggles of immigrants – and oddly enough, makes for a hilarious comparison, with Louie’s devious ways (in a noble pursuit) only leading to his family coming closer together, the ever-present value of honesty somehow willing away the inevitable lawsuit Eddie’s father would receive in real life.

It makes for a neat conclusion, but the performances of Randall Park and Constance Wu continue to fill in the holes where the script can’t. Park’s enthusiasm and Wu’s combative nature playing off each other wonderfully in any scene they share together. It’s the support they have for each other that ultimately ties it altogether, though: Louis is no longer bemoaning his wife’s passionate ways around every turn, and Jessica’s stance on her husband has considerably softened since the pilot (an improving restaurant would help, sure) – and that underlying feeling of support propels an otherwise incidental plot into something slightly more engaging, and endlessly more emotionally rewarding.

As much as I enjoyed watching Jessica and Louis, though, the real highlight of the night is what happens with Eddie and Nicole. Any young male who grew up with a beautiful, slightly older girl in the neighborhood will understand every beat of this story, from the broad notes (being embarrassed when she comes over to baby-sit), the more subtle and rewarding (her stealing his Ice Cube CD and enjoying it is the most rewarding thing that could ever happen to a slightly nerdy kid really, really into hip-hop). Pouring hot sauce on his food, pretending to dress cool in his Shaq jersey when she shows up, trying to start a car pool to get her out of the hell of the backseat… as the series progresses, Eddie’s slight obsession with Nicole has gotten less creepy and misogynistic, and infinitely more believable (and thus, adorable). Fresh Off the Boat is finding a great mix of pop culture references (though it’s becoming clear they got a budget deal on B.I.G. songs, the use of the “One More Chance” remix is second to only LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” in its deployment on the show) and familiar comedic beats.

Fresh Off the Boat‘s even getting better at filling in the spaces in between, with the expensive grandmother (she charges $100/hr to babysit; “The price is the price,” she barks at Jessica), Evan’s friends making him burritos, and Emery losing his Always-There Bear (replacing it with the lesser Usually There Bear), three characters who are becoming great comedic foils to the main cast, even if they feel a bit disconnected from them at times (particularly in the last two episodes). Anchored by Louis’ hilarious love of his own billboard sign and Eddie’s love of Ice Cube, “Showdown at the Golden Saddle” is another strong half hour for Fresh Off the Boat, as the series continues to quickly grow out of the broad, shrill notes of earlier episodes into something much smoother and refined.

[Photo via ABC]


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