Fresh Off the Boat Review: Dribbling Tiger, Bounce Pass Dragon

When I was a kid, my parents tried to get me into sports, but it was to no avail. My two elder brothers enjoyed and excelled at soccer and volleyball. I, on the other hand, once scored a goal against my own team and cried for the rest of the day. (I was, like, eight years old.) As the years went by, I quit soccer, then I quit golf, then I quit swimming, then I quit volleyball after serving my time on JV but not making the cut for the Varsity team. What did I do instead that spring? SAT prep.

Yet as I grew up, all around me there were Asian ballers. My peers loved playing basketball, watching baseball, discussing football. It has only grown more intense lately, to the point that sports fandom has become perhaps the greatest common denominator of my male Asian friends. I live with three Koreans who follow every Warriors game and play NBA Live weekly. My cousins organized their own Fantasy League last year, and I watched from the sidelines, somewhat confused. And every big game (Giants, Phillies, Lakers, Dub Nation, Golden Bears, Playoffs, Super Bowl, whatever) always ends up dominating my News Feed because I can’t be bothered to tell Facebook I don’t care. Perish the stereotype of the nerdy, uncultured Asian: we are, by and large, huge sports fans.

So I get where Fresh Off the Boat is coming from in “Dribbling Tiger, Bounce Pass Dragon”. I’d say that the Huangs’ reactions to Eddie, Emery, and Evan’s after-school activities is right on target: while Louis enthusiastically takes on coaching Eddie’s basketball team because he himself was point guard for the Mystic Tigers back in Taiwan, Jessica is horrified at the hippie-dippy performing arts atrocity that is the elementary school play, The Sunflower Gang Goes to Yumland. How are Evan and Emery going to get into law and med school (respectively) if they’re wasting time barking nonsense as anthropomorphic bugs and stars? More on that later. This week, the Huangs split up into two teams, and we get to see a little bit more of the parenting perspective set against the hilarious backdrop of, well, a childhood perspective.

The boys are unimpressed with Louis' life lessons about teamwork in ABC's "Fresh Off the Boat".

The boys are unimpressed with Louis’ life lessons about teamwork in ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat”.

Now, we all know Eddie’s a baller; he idolizes Shaq and has hoop dreams. Often this is only communicated in his bravado and false swagger. But what makes him so endearing in this episode is how his overactive imagination comes to life when he discovers that his own father used to play basketball, too. The way he looks up to Dad (“Teach us how to fly, kick, and dunk at the same time!!!”) is so adorable! I like this Eddie who’s actually acting like an eleven-year-old, one who will brag about his dad but also sass him when it turns out his mystic tiger street ball moves are just… drills. Bounce Pass Dragon is actually Bounce Pass Twohundredtimes. (It reminded me of when I was in the backyard shooting hoops for ‘fun’ and my father recommended that I not come back inside until I’d made ten free throws in a row. “That’s the only way you’ll get better.”)

Eddie is disappointed that Louis wants to teach him and his middle school friends about teamwork instead of the fancy moves that will help them look cool. But basketball isn’t about looking cool, Louis says, in what just might be his first piece of good advice ever: it’s about being a good teammate. What the Abraham Lincoln Middle School Logs (!) need to win is strategy and cooperation, especially when their star player, the Steve Holt-esque Dmitri, breaks both of his arms. When the big game is at half time with the home team down 6 to 74, though… what’s a pack of underdogs to do?

Now, as Louis tries to save a sinking ship on the basketball court, Jessica is busy hijacking one in the auditorium. When she finds out that Evan and Emery are in the school play, rather than immediately taking them out of it, she allows them to stay… as long as she can change the script. No more visit to Candy Corn Mountain and hugs for everyone on stage. Yumland is utterly transformed, thanks to Jessica’s typewriter (!) and the other parents’ convenient indifference, and becomes Acting: A Cautionary Tale (or, Mr. Gumdrop Goes to Lazywood). Kudos to Evan and Emery being cast as the leads! They play a doctor sunflower and a lawyer ladybug who come across their old classmate, Gumdrop, who is sleeping in a gutter because he wanted to become an actor and never studied. The moral of this story is obvious: don’t let Jessica anywhere near your child’s school play!

This episode of FOTB was extremely cute, and it brought laughs in a conventional albeit charming way. The Fightin’ Logs ended up putting their teamwork to use not to actually score any more points, but to collectively foul their opponents over forty times — setting some kind of terrible record in the process — and Louis may or may not have been ejected from the game, too. (He is proud of his kids for learning at least something about team unity, so in that respect I guess his earlier “good advice” was indeed too good to be true… and a welcome return to form!) And while Jessica begrudgingly stepped out of the director’s chair so that Yumland could once again be the juvenile hot mess it began as, she remarked that while Evan and Emery certainly were wasting their time, at least they were also having fun. And she snapped a photo with a disposable camera!

The common theme was Louis and Jessica approaching the same problem (remain too aloof about their children’s activities, and they’ll adopt a frighteningly mediocre status quo) with two different styles (inspire versus commandeer) but from the same perspective: We need to teach them valuable life lessons. Props to them for doing this, but also for being able to step back in the end and learn for themselves the intrinsic value of their children’s freedom to live life a little differently than they did.

I learned something, too, about the importance of sharing in the joy others find in their own pursuits. Although I’m still not a sports fan by any stretch of the imagination, I can approach the fandom that surrounds me with more appreciation for the way my peers choose to have fun. Perhaps that’s the first step in being able to relate to them.

Lastly, a note on Eddie’s CGI-aided dream sequences, with the Sharks (鯊魚) versus the Mystic Tigers (秘虎) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-meets-Shaolin Soccer style and the Lincoln Logs’ slapstick cavalcade of fouls. I found them quite entertaining, but also indicative of a kind of trend toward the cartoonish that Fresh Off the Boat has been inching toward all season. I think I like it, but we’ll have to see how far they go before it jumps the 鯊魚. I also liked the quick throwback (and meta commentary) at the end with the reference to All American Girl, which aired in 1994.

Emery: Me and Evan are in the play!
Jessica: You are? Why? You’re not gonna become actors. You think they’re gonna put two Chinese boys on TV? (#meta)

Louis: When you play that far below the rim, it’s all about fundamentals and teamwork.

Walter: We can’t have two goggle guys on the team! How are people gonna tell us apart?

Jessica: I mean, my husband and I moved to this country to give our kids a better life, not this nonsense.
Other mom: Do you think Tetris knows when you need an L and purposely doesn’t give it to you?

Gumdrop: I found a new thing to be when I grow up. It’s called acting!
Evan: Act…ing? What’s that?
Soon-to-be-Bumdrop: Something that doesn’t require preparation or hard work! (#meta)


About Andrew C.

I'm a grad student at UC Berkeley.
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