This week’s was a funny and fascinating episode of Fresh Off the Boat. Funny in that it tackled same-sex relationships and attraction in an irreverent way. Fascinating in that it had an opportunity to look at intra-racial marginalization but failed to deliver.

Okay, so to quickly recap: Jessica’s college boyfriend Oscar is in town and is staying with them while he auditions for the role of Aladdin for Aladdin on Ice. Jessica is sure that Oscar’s visit will bring out the jealous side of Louis, but when it doesn’t Jessica demands to know why. Louis says that it’s because Oscar’s gay—Jessica never picked up on Oscar’s sexuality because she, as Louis says, has no gaydar.

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But soon enough, the joke’s on Louis, because while he’s been happily drinking coffee from the $100 French press Oscar bought him, Jessica realizes that the only reason Oscar bought that is because he was actually in love with Louis throughout their college years. Jessica may not have gaydar, but Louis doesn’t have lovedar. As Jessica points out, it took six trips with him to the white rapids for Louis to realize that Jessica liked him (to paraphrase her, no one likes the rapids that much to go six times).

Towards the middle of the episode, we have Jessica feeling bad about being Oscar’s beard and that Louis was the catch in college, and Louis feels bad for leading Oscar on. Things come back together when Oscar and Louis share a dessert at the restaurant, like they used to do back in college. Oscar says that Louis and Jessica helped him when he needed it, during a time when he didn’t know himself well enough.

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Oscar wants to explain himself to Jessica, which he’s able to do at the lesbian bar she frequently hangs out in (again, she has no gaydar, so she just thinks it’s a communal bar for women). The status quo is put back in place: Jessica is once again the hot one, Louis finally shows that he can get jealous of other people eyeing his wife, and Oscar is their friend once again.

Meanwhile, Eddie, Emery, and Evan are preparing for the school science fair. Evan, the brainiac of the three, has somehow concocted an invention that will distill Dr. Pepper down to its unique components, while Emery is doing the standard volcano. However, since it’s Emery, he’s putting his own romantic spin on things, waxing rhapsodically about the lives lost from the majestic currents of Mt. Vesuvius’ lava.

But, as a funny animation shows us, Evan gets the chicken pox, leaving him unable to show off his project. Even worse, Evan might not be eligible for the pizza party allotted to the winner of the fair. Eddie doesn’t even want to participate in the science fair, so Evan takes out his anger on Emery, whom he views as his direct competition and unworthy adversary, since he feels the volcano project is lazy and uninspired.

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Evan is determined not to let Emery win, so he does everything he can to give Emery the chicken pox. Eddie is also trying to get the chicken pox from Evan just so he can miss school.  But, as fate would have it, Emery ends up getting the chicken pox and Eddie is still healthy, leaving Eddie angry that he went through the trouble of doing research and learning to find out everything he could about the illness.

Evan and Emery are surprised Eddie decided to learn something voluntarily, so they decide he’s the one that should carry on in their place. With a quickness, they help him get a project together that brings home the pizza. The boys triumph in their victory, even Evan, who can’t eat dairy products.

Okay, recap DONE. Now to get in depth with some stuff.

Jessica’s hotness: Jessica always wants to be the best, we know this. But it’s so interesting how her quest to be the best is also entwined with her quest to be the hottest. I know I always say Jessica is like my mom in so many ways, but she really is, even down to her humongous self-esteem. It’s hilarious seeing my mom on TV in a different woman’s body.

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Move over, Jessica—Louis is hot: Yes, I said it. Is it the gold chain with the jade pendant that does it? Comedian and Fresh Off the Show co-host Jenny Yang and I seem to think so.

Louis is just a good-looking man anyways. But the undercover swag doesn’t hurt.

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Brownface or bad bronzer?: Okay, now to the serious portion of the article. Once again, Yang and I agreed that Oscar’s questionable theatrical makeup was…really brown. Dangerously so.

The scene itself and the subsequent discussion about it (or lack thereof) on Fresh Off the Show left a lot of points off the table, chief of which being if it the makeup was brownface at all or just bad bronzer. Particularly left off the table was why Nahnatchka Khan, the showrunner, wasn’t more forthcoming about the decisions behind Oscar’s theatrical makeup when she was asked by Yang during Fresh Off the Show.

I was under the impression that Khan had specifically written this episode, but upon doing research today for this post, I found that David Smithyman was the writer. But, that still doesn’t make Khan less culpable, especially since Khan is the showrunner and brownface is something that directly affects Khan, seeing how Khan is, in fact, brown. 

It might sound non-PC to lay out the issue in this manner, but I’m ganging up on Khan especially because she had a chance to address Yang’s (and others’) misgivings about that scene, but instead, she chose to laugh it off as “It’s heavy bronzer” and something to the effect of “It’s Orlando and maybe he felt he needed to look like he had more sun.” Does that explanation fly to anyone?

Let me give an example of why I’m being harsh—If I was a black showrunner of a show that had a hint of blackface in it, people would immediately wonder why I, a black showrunner, let that happen. This mode of thinking is what led me to wonder why Khan didn’t say something about the whiff of brownface Oscar’s makeup had about it.

But that also leads me to think that there was a bigger joke there that got cut out. The sight gag of Oscar in full Aladdin regalia, including the makeup, seemed to be a setup to a funny, biting joke, which I never received. I’m here for offensive comedy, but if the comedy’s going to be offensive, it’s got to be offensive for a reason. There’s got to be a point behind it. I mean, why put that aggressive makeup on TV if there isn’t a point that was going to be made? It’s like a joke that’s missing the punchline.

What’s even weirder is that I haven’t found many others who have addressed the makeup situation. Are people afraid to say it since Fresh Off the Boat is a show that is breaking all types of records for Asian representation on TV? Are some letting it slide? Or am I blowing the makeup thing out of proportion?

All I want to know if it was brownface or not, and if so, was there a harder-hitting joke behind it. Because if there was supposed to be a harder-hitting joke behind it, it could have easily been one that tackled prejudices Asians might have against other Asians. That would have been a deep moment, on the same level as when Walter called Eddie a derogatory term as a way to keep his pecking order on the “Accepted Minorities in School” list. Ah well. Spilled milk.

Evan’s scary kid-ness: Evan’s a cute kid, but he can also be very scary when he wants to be. Seeing him become the classic scary horror kid when terrorizing Emery was funny (and legitimately freaky). Good job, Ian Chen.

“Hero”: Emery singing “Hero” is 1) straight out of Emery’s life philosophy of openly loving others and 2) brought me back to my childhood at EPIC School.

EPIC School is a magnet elementary school in Birmingham, AL. It was one of the most exclusive schools back in my day, and still probably is. For the second grade Black History PTA program, we had to sing songs, recite lines, and basically put on a show for our parents. The songs every EPIC kid can remember are “Black Butterfly” and “Hero.” To this day, I still know all the words to both. I used to know how to sign “Hero” as well; since EPIC was a school that also accepted kids with various disabilities, including hearing disabilities, we were also taught sign language. Are any readers former EPIC students? let me know in the comments section.

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Louis and Oscar’s WHAM! costume: I’ll just let it speak for itself:

Also, Louis’ spit-take was one of the best spit-takes I’ve seen in a while. Too funny. Also very funny was him saying how affordable it was for him and Louis to share desserts, not realizing that sharing desserts is something people in relationships do. (Yes, everyone else, like families, share desserts when they don’t want to pay for individual pieces, but you know what I mean.)

Vanessa: The joke of Louis having no lovedar was embodied in the new character Vanessa, a worker at Cattleman’s Ranch. Vanessa is clearly in love with Louis, but Louis has no idea. Will Vanessa return? Will she try to steal Louis from Jessica? More importantly, what will happen when Jessica finds out? That’s a bloodbath I’m excited to see.

The lesbians: The “spermbags” line is rather stock humor for lesbians. Something less stereotypical could have been used there, for sure. And I doubt lesbians wouldn’t kick men out of the bar.

So there you have it. The good, the bad, and the WHAM! What did you think of this week’s episode? What did you make of Oscar’s Aladdin makeup? Did you grow up singing “Hero” for your school productions? Give your opinions and stories in the comments section below!

Edited to reflect certain redactions. 

Edit #2: Reader Ebony Lay sent in a theory on Makeup-gate. She asserts that Oscar’s makeup might have been true to the time and true to theatrical makeup in general. She states that the ’90s theatrical makeup catalog was chronically lacking in proper skin tone colors that matched darker skintones. She wrote:

Back in the late nineties, in every professional theatre makeup catalog available it had multiple kits for fair and pink complexions, but anyone with an olive or brown complexion had only 2 or 3 kits of brown to choose from: orange-brown, yellow-brown, and brown-brown, though olive also has a green-brown that no one liked using. Those colors didn’t blend well with any of the fair shades and we were hard pressed finding anything darker than brown and had to contour with blue or green and hope the lights would make that work somehow.

For Asian actors, the results would end up, as Lay wrote, “either far too light or way too dark.” Lay also wrote that with stage lighting, ” it’s recommended to go several shades darker than your natural complexion as your base foundation, as the lights are direct and filtered to to wash out certain colors.”

In general theatrical makeup looks horrible in natural light, as it did in Oscar’s scene (probably why it didn’t even bother me when I saw it), but I imagine with the light bouncing off of the ice plus having a direct spotlight following him he’s not going to look brown while actually performing, if anything he’ll end up looking closer to his completion, though slightly blue-tinged at his temples and jawline… the ice and spotlight would have been the reason Oscar would go dark instead of light, if he picked the latter he’d end up having the light bounce off of his skin like one of the aliens from those old Cocoon movies.

Thanks for the analysis, Ebony! It does clear up a lot. It makes me wish this amount of theatrical knowledge was imparted to the viewers at home, since without the ice, the makeup just looks dodgy.

Photo credit: John Fleenor/ABC

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