FRESH OFF THE BOAT, Season One, “Fajita Man”
FRESH OFF THE BOAT on ABC is new this year, telling the story of Eddie Huang and his Asian immigrant family as they move from Chinatown, D.C. to Orlando, FL in the ’90s. The show fits nicely alongside two other ABC Comedies: THE GOLDBERGS, which shares “Boat’s” voiceover and takes place in a different era, and BLACK-ISH, another show advertising diversity but not letting it run the series.
Both FRESH OFF THE BOAT and BLACKISH wear their race on their sleeves with the titles and it is too bad. Neither show is ultimately about that topic so much as it is about the lives of the families depicted. Regardless, the writing and excellent casts shine, and in the case of “Boat,” they have a potential star with the female lead played by Constance Wu.
With the show being in its first season, there are ample story opportunities, and with clear storytelling this show makes an excellent choice for a spec sample. Now to break it down…
Act Breaks in Comedy
When I was in school we were taught that comedy was two acts with the first half being the set up and second being the punchline. It is not inaccurate but in the post-FRIENDS television era is can be a limiting way to analyze a script. We will look at the show in three acts, plus teaser/tag while noting that there are always two clear storylines.
Eddie Huang – middle schooler, oldest of three boys, adult-Eddie narrates the show
Jessica – Eddie’s mother
Louis – Eddie’s father
Emery and Evan – Eddie’s brothers
Grandma – Louis’s mother
B-STORY: Jessica searches for a job. Money is so tight they cannot turn on the air conditioning, so Jessica searches for jobs in the newspaper while in the freezer section of the grocery store with her children.
A-STORY: Eddie learns that Shaq is coming out with his own video game and it costs $50. He asks his parents for the money, but Louis insists his son learns to work hard and tells Eddie he will work in the restaurant. Eddie starts work and hates it.
B-STORY: Jessica declares she has a job interview with a furniture store.
A-STORY: Eddie complains to his father after work about how hard it is and Louis gives him a pep talk. Eddie goes to school and brags to his friends about his job, quoting his father to his friends. When Eddie returns to work he owns the job as “Fajita Boy,” serving hot, sizzling dishes Florida’s latest food trend. After work, Louis gives Eddie his pay check for the week. Eddie is disappointed to see how much money was docked from Eddie’s accidents.
B-STORY: Jessica goes to her “interview” but they are not actually hiring. While sitting on the lawn with her sons the neighbors give her a flyer for an Open House while gossiping. Jessica takes her kids to the house to bask in the air conditioned house while she continues to dig through the newspaper for work.
A-STORY: Eddie tells his friends he can’t buy the game yet while the others plan to go to the store together. Eddie is disappointed he can’t even go with them since he has to work. Later, Louis is disappointed when Eddie is a no-show for his shift. Louis goes home and Grandma tells him to ease up on Eddie. Louis talks to Eddie about how good he has been and gives him the money for the game. The next day, Eddie arrives at work and tells his dad he wants to earn the game.
B-STORY: Jessica and the boys hang out at another house, even using the house phone to call companies. As people walk through the house, she mutters all the negatives causing potential buyers to walk away. When a gay couple comes in she suggests another house she had hung out at and takes them over to show it to them. Within a few minutes she not only talks them into buying the house, but also talks the realtor down from the asking price. Wen Jessica returns home and announces the good new that she is now a real estate agent (even though she needs a license) she allows her children to turn on the air conditioner to “low.”
The kids return to school and all agree that they hate the game.
Now these descriptions might not be all that funny, but that is because all the jokes come from the specifics of character. For example, the B-Story is entirely about Jessica looking for a job which has a direct correlation to the air conditioner. Therefore, every time she is somewhere job hunting she is also using it as an opportunity for her boys to cool down like when they use the pool of one of the open houses.
The Teaser and Act One introduce each storyline: protagonist, goal, and means to achieve that goal.
A-STORY: Eddie, Shaq video game, working at his father’s restaurant.
B-STORY: Jessica, a job so they can turn on air conditioner, searching and making calls in cool places.
In Act Two, each protagonist is given a set back that turns them in a new direction.
A-STORY: Eddie slowly finds his way at work only to be disappointed when he sees how little money he has made.
B-STORY: Jessica does not get the job she said she had an interview for and is back on the hunt, finding a new location in the open houses.
Act Three, as always, is the climax and resolution. It should provide a larger punchline in the entire story.
A-STORY: Eddie decides the game is not worth the work and skips, causing his father to apologize for being tough on him. Eddie returns to work on his own.
B-STORY: Jessica aggravates real estate agents but eventually finds her calling when she talks a couple into finding house. She is now a realtor and the family can use a little air conditioning.
The Tag should provide one final joke that typically references a running joke. Here it is the kids desperation to get their hands on the video game.
A-STORY: Eddie returns to school and finds his friends are all disappointed with the game.
While Jessica’s story is presented first, Eddie’s requires more screen time to tell which is why it is the A-Story. Jessica’s story however, provides the overall punchline when she gets a job by pure accident from basically squatting at various homes. The structure is simple and straight forward and the characters are strong, providing a lot of potential. While the writing of the series as it exists now could definitely be made stronger, this still makes for an excellent series to spec.