Friday, November 25, 2016

Fresh Off The Boat: "Huangsgiving"

Premiered November 17, 2015

Louis: We're gonna throw the best Huangsgiving your mother's ever seen!
Jessica: You're really committed to that name, huh?  
Louis: That's the shortened version.  The full name is Louis Huang's Huangsgiving, featuring Louis and the Huangs.

It's almost Thanksgiving.  Jessica Huang (Constance Wu) and her sister Connie (Susan Park) are competitive when it comes to hosting Thanksgiving dinner.  This year, their mother (Shu Lan Tuan) selects Jessica to host, much to Connie's dismay.

The Huang family gathers for a planning meeting.  Clipboard in hand, Louis (Randall Park) decides their feast will be called "Huangsgiving" and the the family will serve up some new spins on tradition.  Instead of the usual roast duck, they will serve individual cornish hens.

Individual cornish hens are the personal pizzas of the bird world, according to Louis.
Jessica intends to  make her own cranberry sauce instead of the usual canned variety.  She also invites Oscar Chow (Rex Lee), her mother's favorite person.  (Oscar and Jessica's mom like to re-enact scenes from Dynasty.)

Younger sons, Evan (Ian Chen) and Emery (Forrest Wheeler) will play to their strengths and create table decorations.

Oldest son Eddie (Hudson Yang) ... promises not to bump into stuff and is looking forward to impressing his cousin Justin (Lance Lim) with his new Pearl Jam CD.

The Huang family awaiting their guests' arrival
Connie and her mother arrive, but Connie's husband Steve (C.S. Lee) pulls up in a separate car.  Connie announces that their marriage is over, which changes dinner seating plans, and upstages Jessica's feast.

Louis had planned to stay up late to work on dinner preparations, but that changes when a lonely Steve asks Louis to have a drink with him.

One drink turns into way more than that and Louis awakens on Thanksgiving morning in quite a sorry state.

This means that NO prep work got done the night before and that they're already behind schedule, which angers Jessica.

Things get worse when the cornish hens arrive...and Louis did not realize he'd ordered live hens!

Luckily, Louis has a turkey at his restaurant, but it's frozen solid.

The turkey is missing a drumstick as a result of being chipped out of the restaurant freezer!!
Neighbors Honey (Chelsey Crisp) and Marvin (Ray Wise) show up and add to the mayhem.   All Jessica and Louis can think of to do is stall by playing football or by any other means until they can get Huangsgiving on the table.

Meanwhile Eddie and his cousin Justin discover the wonders of the mid-1990s internet.

Waiting for a "sexy" picture to load ...
Will Huangsgiving turn out to be an utter disaster?

RigbyMel says:

This is a very funny Turkey day episode with an Asian-American twist.

Jessica and Connie's sibling rivalry is both amusing and believable.  And Jessica's tribulations in the kitchen ("The cranberry is a very stingy berry!") are hilarious.

Grandma Huang's (Lucille Soong) commentary on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and obsession with Garfield are awesome.  Her willingness to dispatch the poor cornish hens is a bit disturbing, but funny.

Having the series set in the 1990s adds a dash of nostalgia to the Thanksgiving fun.  (I well remember how long it took things to load from the Internet back then!)   However, it does lead to a bit of anachronistic dialogue -- I do not believe anyone was saying "It's on like Donkey Kong!" in the mid to late '90s.

Jessica and hair dryer vs. frozen turkey
Holidays are times of heightened emotion -- often spurred by inter-familial drama -- and lend themselves well to comedy.  As things spin out of control for the Huangs in this episode, we can laugh at their escapades and be glad that (maybe) our own Thanksgiving experiences won't wind up being quite so wacky as all this!

RigbyMel's rating: 

3 and a half pumpkin pies.

The family gathers for the Huangsgiving feast
J.A. Morris says: 
"Huangsgiving" is a very entertaining holiday episode.  It features lots of the tropes found in other Thanksgiving programming (cooking disasters, family quarrels, old rivalries rearing their heads), but still manages to be original.  Fresh Off The Boat is one of my favorite current series, so it makes sense that I'd enjoy this episode.

I thought Randall Park was particularly funny in "Huangsgiving."  He is determined to sell his family on the name Huangsgiving and says it as often as he can.  Louis is also optimistic throughout "Huangsgiving," never freaking out despite the odds mounting further and further against the family.

Constance Wu is equally good as Jessica.  Her best moment comes when she tells Louis that she seems calm, "but it's a calm anger, which is a much scarier type of anger."

C.S. Lee also delivers some memorable lines as Steve.

Since my family has hosted Thanksgiving before, I can say that visiting relatives often serve to unify one's immediate family.  "Huangsgiving" nails this aspect of the holidays, since Jessica, Louis and their kids always keep up a united front (despite Jessica's frustration with Louis).

The only problem I have with "Huangsgiving" is Oscar's boyfriend Michael (David Smityman). Michael feels like an outdated stereotype and adds nothing to the episode.

Oscar arrives with his new boyfriend, Michael.
"Huangsgiving" has not been released on DVD, but it's available for streaming on Amazon and iTunes.

This episode is recommended, but Michael's characterization keeps me from giving it a higher rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 pumpkin pies.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Archie Bunker's Place: "Thanksgiving Reunion"

Premiered November 18, 1979.

"I set aside one day out of the year to celebrate the birth of the pilgrims and this guy spoils it!"
-Archie Bunker

Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) and her niece Stephanie (Danielle Brisebois) are preparing Thanksgiving dinner.  Edith mentions that her daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), son-in-law Michael (Rob Reiner) and grandson Joey (Dick Billingsley) will be joining them for Thanksgiving.  But it's a secret and Stephanie must not tell her uncle Archie (Caroll O'Connor) about this.

That's not the only thing Stephanie is told to keep under wraps.  Michael has recently lost his teaching job.  He was fired after participating in a nude anti-nuclear protest.

When Michael and Gloria arrive, Archie is shocked but happy to see them.

He even smiles and hugs his son-in-law "Meathead."

Everything is going well until Archie learns that Michael has been fired.  He is enraged when he hears about the anti-nuclear protest.  Archie gets into a heated argument with Michael, just like the old days.

Michael says he did so because he believes nuclear power is dangerous and he wants Joey to grow up in a safer world.

Archie doesn't want to hear it, so he storms out and goes to his bar.  It appears that Thanksgiving has been ruined.

Can Thanksgiving be saved?

J.A. Morris says:

Most people remember All In The Family since it was one of the best and most important series of all time.  In addition to being a very funny sitcom, the show broke many TV taboos and was a huge hit with viewers and critics alike.  In later seasons, Michael and Gloria departed, while Archie spent more time at the bar he came to co-own.  All In The Family eventually morphed into this sequel series.

Archie Bunker's Place isn't well remembered, and that's for good reason.  It wasn't nearly as good as All In The Family.  I know because I was a regular viewer of the series.  Archie had mellowed into a generally likeable grandfatherly type.  His arguments with Murray (Martin Balsam), the liberally-minded co-owner of their bar, were never as entertaining or thought provoking as his quarrels with Gloria and Michael.

Murray gives Archie some advice.
Edith was eventually written out of Archie Bunker's Place and killed off.

But this is a very good episode.  It feels like the last episode of All In The Family that should have been.  Michael and Archie get one last episode to engage in intense political arguments.  It's worth noting that this episode aired eight months after a meltdown occurred at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant.  So nukes were a major topic in the news in 1979.

There's a scene where Gloria and Michael have a private conversation in the living room.  It doesn't really have anything to do with the plot, but it's nice to see these characters get a scene to show how much they love each other.

There are some moments in "Thanksgiving Reunion" that don't work.  Early in the episode, Barney (Allan Melvin), a regular at Archie's bar, is featured in a scene where he talks about how he always misses his ex-wife at Thanksgiving.  This just feels like padding, since it's never revisited.

This episode has been released on DVD as part of the Archie Bunker's Place:Season 1 set.

"Thanksgiving Reunion" is a nice farewell to one of TV's all-time great ensemble casts and is recommended.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 and a half pumpkin pies.

RigbyMel says:

I was familiar with All In The Family, but had never heard of Archie Bunker's Place until we started getting seriously into our holiday blogging!

As J.A. Morris says above, this feels like a good send off for the original All In The Family cast.  I've always liked the fact that even though Michael, Gloria and Edith disagree with Archie on a lot of issues,  it's also very evident that these characters really love each other deep down.

I like the way this episode uses the trope of family arguments at Thanksgiving as a way of highlighting those differences and disagreements, but at the end of the day, we see the family gathered over turkey in a late night fridge-raiding session enjoying each others' company DESPITE their differences.

This episode of Archie Bunker's Place does suffer from "Cousin Oliver" syndrome a bit, with the addition of the ever so slightly too cutesey/precocious sitcom moppets.

For instance, there is a silly subplot about Joey hiding the knobs for the TV, thereby preventing Archie from watching Thanksgiving football.   As J.A. Morris mentions, there's no payoff for the bit at the bar where one of the regulars bemoans that he has no one with whom to celebrate the holiday.

I also feel like Edith doesn't have quite enough to do in the episode, other than inadvertently spill the beans about the impending arrival of Michael & Gloria.  This is partly because Jean Stapleton was pretty much over playing the character at this point, I suspect, but it would've been nice to see more of her!

Considering that this is an extra-long episode, it doesn't really feel like it needs to be extra-long.

Still, this is a Thanksgiving episode worth watching at least once, if only because it is the last time that these beloved characters all appeared on a show together.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 pumpkin pies