What I’m Watching: Fresh Off the Boat and The Real O’Neals

Alright, the last premieres of the fall for me! No more having to worry about missing something.

ABC’s comedy brand is literally all family comedies at the moment, and with so many on the table it’s interesting to see how many permutations can exist of one basic premise and how they can all have something different to say. I can’t say I watch any other than Fresh Off the Boat and The Real O’Neals, though, so they’re the only ones I’ll cover.

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This show has done a couple of “living painting” type posters and they are awesome.

I honestly don’t remember why I never watched Fresh Off the Boat back in season one, but when season two rolled around I started and it’s super good. The show makes great use of its setting of Orlando in the ’90s and the way it tackles issues of Chinese-American identity makes it a lot more engaging than your standard sitcom.

It’s small, I guess, but one of my favorite things about season two was the relationship between Eddie and his girlfriend. They’re presented as having very similar interests and the relationship is kind of low-key, almost playing out more like a friendship than a romantic relationship. Which I supposed is appropriate, given they’re both about 13, but it’s still refreshing to see a sitcom couple whose relationship is so casual and nice. You really don’t need a couple to be wildly different from each other, or in constant conflict, to get good humor.

Anyway, last night’s season three premiere was pretty much par for the course for the show, which is to say really clever and entertaining, not super laugh-out-loud funny but funny nonetheless. The cast continues to be absolutely stellar: Constance Wu is a standout, but all the series regulars have really good comedic chops. The Taiwan setting felt a little underutilized, but still led to some good material; I think it would have worked a bit better as a two-parter, really.

But this show continues to be really good. Not much else to say; moving on!

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I mean, I get what they’re going for here, but that green is just ugly.

Watching the first season of The Real O’Neals alongside Fresh Off the Boat really did the former no favors, as while it had a lot of potential it was still finding its groove.

The premise, of a seemingly-perfect Catholic family having all their secrets revealed, was really good on paper. But for some reason the writers decided to backtrack in the second episode: Jimmy’s eating disorder was magic’d away (which, UH), Shannon’s charity scam was fixed in an episode and going forwards her scheming was just played as an always-there part of her character, and the parents’ divorce didn’t have as much of an impact on the characters’ dynamics as it could have. (Part of this is the way that so many sitcom couples are wildly dysfunctional which kind of normalizes that, but the writers should have been aware of that.) In the end, this wasn’t a huge deal, but it did result in Shannon and Jimmy feeling sidelined next to the divorce plot and Kenny’s experience with coming out.

The show’s humor also had issues. It was pretty funny, sure, but the humor had a real lack of character or personality; the jokes all felt very generic and almost tacked-on, like they were scraps from other shows. Combined with the underdeveloped character work, The Real O’Neals definitely had room to grow in season two.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s possible to tell if the show is going to make improvements from last night’s season two premiere alone. On the plus side, the humor did feel more cohesive (and was laugh-out-loud funny on multiple occasions, which is far from a bad thing), and the addition of Allison could mean the show is going to be more focused on gay teen issues, which is a good direction.

On the other hand, Jimmy and Allison were still pretty extraneous, and I feel like there are way better directions the divorce plot could be taking than Eileen’s relationship with the vice principal (who I really don’t think is funny).

Still, though, the show is funny and quite entertaining. It’s mostly just because it’s next to the strong thematic material of Fresh Off the Boat that it looks so weak.

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