Friday, February 24, 2017

REVIEW: ABC's 'Fresh Off the Boat,' 'Speechless,' 'The Real O'Neals' and 'black-ish' (February 21-22)

Some brief reviews for ABC comedies from February 21-22:

ABC's Fresh Off the Boat - Episode 3.14 "The Gloves Are Off"
ABC's The Real O'Neals - Episode 2.13 "The Real Confirmation"
ABC's Speechless - Episode 1.16 "O-S-- OSCAR P-A-- PARTY"
ABC's black-ish - Episode 3.16 "One Angry Man"

Due to the demands of Peak TV, it is becoming more and more difficult for this website to devote the time to full length episodic reviews. And yet, there are still thoughts to be had about the ongoing adventures on a number of series. So I thought it would be good to still write down a couple of brief thoughts about each episode on a weekly basis. Of course, you can still probably expect full reviews for premieres and finales. If ABC should make screeners available, those episodes would get detailed analysis as well. But for now, this will be the way to continue to provide content for these shows while also being a lighter workload for me.

And for those  wondering if reviews of other ABC comedies will ever appear in this recurring post, it seems doubtful because these four are the ones I choose to keep up with. The Middle and The Goldbergs are still good but I don't feel the urgency to watch every episode or in a timely manner. I finally quit watching Modern Family early in Season 6. And finally, I've had no urge to watch American Housewife, Last Man Standing or Dr. Ken in a long time.

Fresh Off the Boat - "The Gloves Are Off"
Jessica accidentally befriends Marvin's ex-wife, Sarah, and tries to help her and Honey settle their longstanding rift. Louis and the boys are on a mission to determine Grandma's true age in hopes of surprising her with a new, free motorized wheelchair. Written by Sheng Wang and directed by Fred Savage

This episode is a little more conventional and predictable than the show usually is. The main story works because of the humor that comes from Jessica not knowing what Honey is asking of her and not knowing what the appeal of Marvin is. Plus, Heather Locklear is a fun guest star to have come in as Marvin's ex-wife. But it felt inevitable that the story would ultimately build to the reveal of the feud being about Nicole and not Marvin and how Sarah wants to be perceived as the fun mom so her daughter will still see her. Meanwhile, the subplot with the rest of the family trying to determine Grandma's age doesn't quite go far enough. Yes, it's hilarious that no one - including Grandma - knows the truth. The show could use that as social commentary on the lack of records in her upbringing. But instead, it's largely just this light and fluffy subplot that just builds to Grandma keying someone's car. That's a fun visual. But it would have been better if the show could have dug a little deeper in the specifics. B

The Real O'Neals - "The Real Confirmation"
When Shannon asks VP Murray to be her godfather leading up to her confirmation, Eileen fears her own relationship with him might be moving too fast. Shannon's big day also has a surprising effect on Kenny's relationship when Brett says, "I love you," sending Kenny into a tailspin. The return of a hot former babysitter puts Pat and Jimmy at odds when she constantly makes passes at Pat. Written by Billy Finnegan and directed by Todd Holland

Eileen and Kenny really are the best character pairing on this show. They work so well together because they are so similar but are easily frustrated by the other. It's been a few episodes since there has been a story about them. So, it's fascinating to watch as they deal with similar relationship problems heading into Sharon's confirmation. They have to decide how committed they want to be with their respective partners. Clive really steps up and proves himself to be a good godfather for Sharon - even though Eileen doesn't support what she's doing. That makes it easy for Eileen to commit. It's also fascinating to watch Kenny struggle with his emotions. Sure, it goes to some pretty over-the-top and conventional places. But it's also an understandable struggle of uncertainty. His relationship has been really important over the last few episodes. Yes, Brett saying "I love you" does feel fast. Kenny doesn't do a great job expressing that. But there is probably some hope still alive about the two of them working things out. Until then, he'll still have his family for support. That's a strong hook for this episode - even though it loses some momentum with the weird Jimmy-Pat story about former babysitters. B+

Speechless - "O-S-- OSCAR P-A-- PARTY"
When the Dimeos throw their annual Oscar party with other special-needs families, Maya feels threatened by new mom Becca, who seems a little too perfect. Jimmy encourages the fathers at the party to let loose. Ray tries to impress a girl by pretending to be someone he is not. Written by Danny Chun & Scott Silveri and directed by Christine Gernon

I haven't really written about Speechless since it premiered - except its blurb in the Best of 2016 list. It has quickly emerged as one of my favorite comedies on TV. It fits in well with ABC's established family comedy brand while also presenting a new take on familiar tropes. This episode is particularly impressive. It continues the recurring theme of how raising a special needs child has changed Maya and Jimmy's lives. But both of their stories are excellent. Michaela Watkins is always a welcome addition to any show. The quality that she brings out of Maya - a sense that she could be doing better as a mom - is really terrific. Plus, that food fight is a great visual that also does a wonderful job towing the line of sympathy and awfulness in Maya. The same is also true of Jimmy's story as he encourages the dads to take back some aspect of their lives. It's not done with malice but instead to show that their lives don't need to be defined by their challenges. Plus, the pairing of the dads' party and the kids' fight is one very hilarious sequence. A

black-ish - "One Angry Man"
Dre is forced to participate in jury duty after Junior responds to the summons that was thrown away. The case is supposed to be open and shut, but when Dre sees that the defendant is a young African American, he feels a civic responsibility to give him a fair trial. Bow decides to let the kids swear in the house since they are more open with her that way, but she and Ruby soon regret the decision. Written by Doug Hall and directed by John Fortenberry

The setup for Dre's story is a little too forced to take seriously. Dre's anger oftentimes is an over-the-top response and personality flaw of his. But it's also understandable here why he is angry with Junior for getting him on a jury. Of course, the episode then takes a really interesting turn into examining the criminal justice system. It's a fairly straight-forward and simple story. It's also great that the show recognizes that Dre lectures his co-workers about black history a lot of the time. But it's also just amusing to watch him be the only person engaged in this case, able to change one opinion, and then that person takes all the credit from him for proving the defendant's innocence. It's a nice and funny resolution to the story. Meanwhile, Bow letting the kids swear in the house feels a little disconnected. Surely, Dre would have an opinion about that. But instead, it's largely just Bow and Ruby reacting - which is always a reliable comedic pairing. Plus, it's just funny watching Jack try and fail to swear only to finally get it and get punished by Ruby. B+