Not since Molly Picon appeared on Gomer Pyle USMC or a Chabad shaliach came ashore on Gilligan’s Island have I awaited the “Jewish episode” of a new television series.
Don’t all the series have one? With Jewish control of the media and so many Jewish writers and showrunners, don’t Jewish story lines pop up in everything from SNL and Little House on the Prairie to Sabado Gigante? Jewish themes appear everywhere except for on The Goldberg’s, unless you count the mother’s saying the word ‘bubbe’ in a second season episode.
So, last night it was FRESH OFF THE BOAT‘s turn to have its Jewish themed episode.
The episode was called the “Phillip Goldstein” episode.
The series is an “Asian American” series, the first in two decades to appear on prime time U.S. network TV. FRESH OFF THE BOAT is loosely based on a memoir of the same title by chef-celebrity Eddie Huang. ABC almost called it Far East Orlando. Yuck. It is the story of tween-age Eddie Huang, who moves with his family from Washington DC to Orlando, so that his father can open a Texas-inspired steak house, and break down the stereotypes of the Taiwanese immigrant who runs a Chinese restaurant. Rap-music loving Eddie must make friends at a new school where he is the only Asian-American and only one of perhaps two racial minority students.
Last night’s episode – “Phillip Goldstein” – marks a peak – or pivot episode – in the story arc for the new series. Eddie has been trying to fit in at school and make friends, and he finally is introduced to another new student, a Chinese immigrant. Sadly, Eddie learns that they have nothing in common. Phillip likes musicals, classical music, Shabbat, investments, Tolstoy, and gefilte fish. Eddie likes rap, noodles and the Beastie Boys. Eddie thought they would at least have Chinese food on Christmas in common – obviously a joke written by a Jewish writer for the series. They don’t. The become public enemies.Oh, did I mention that the new student, Phillip, is from Jerusalem. His Jewish parents adopted him from China and they moved to Orlando. He is a stickler for rules and solo cello, and has made his parents become very Sabbath observant.
Tell me… do writers in Hollywood loathe their Jewish backgrounds? Yes, it is a 24 minute sitcom, but do you have to make the Jewish character and his family so… selfish?
Goldstein was perfectly played by the young actor Albert Tsai, who sweats antagonistic smarmy-ness more than kung pao sweats peanuts. The character is even more manipulative than Eddie. (Hey Albert, Mazel on possibly landing a gig with Ken Jeong)
Alas… you wait for the Jewish episode, only to get dumped on when the Jewish characters are portrayed poorly. But that is TV, my friends.
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By the way, I popped by a viewing party for last night’s episode in Manhattan which featured Hudson Yang, the actor who plays Eddie. He didn’t speak at the event, but his father, culture critic Jeff Yang did assemble some prominent JewAsians and others to chat about their impressions of the new episode and give it more context. Marjorie Ingall of Tablet Magazine chatted about her impressions of the episode. You might recall her essay on why Jews have Asian inspired interior decorations or one on Jewish and Asian mothers as portrayed on TV. Veronica Chan of Lox & Woks was on stage. Lox and Woks is a Xmas Eve Jewish/Asian event in NYC, which is akin to Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in SF. Emily Ahn Levy of Also Known As talked about transnational adoption and her perception of the show as a Asian-Jewish adoptee. Veronica grew up in the Asian-dominant SGV in Los Angeles, but moved to the heavily Jewish Westchester County, NY as a teen. Emily, a Korean-American adoptee who grew up in St Louis was happy to see that Phillip owned his own voice and identity, unlike other adoptees on TV who are barely heard.
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Hey FRESH OFF THE BOAT, Nanatchka, Jake Kasdan, Eddie, … I will still watch the show and recommend it. Sure, the show is about Eddie, and Goldstein was only a lever to push the plot further. But still… it felt a little too nasty to me.
SEASON 1: EPISODE 8: THE PHILLIP GOLDSTEIN PROMO
MOLLY PICON ON GOMER PYLE:
FRESH OFF THE BOAT: EDDIE AND PHILLIP REALIZE THEY ARE NOT BFF’S OR MATCHES
EDDIE’S MOM DISCIPLINES A NOT SO NICE SABBATH OBSERVANT PHILLIP