Before we launch into the spring premier maelstrom — over the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing Louie, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep, Daredevil, and Avengers: Age of Ultron — I wanted to take this bye week to talk about up some shows that slipped through the cracks. So here’s my roundup of a sitcom and two documentaries worth checking out.
Fresh off the Boat
Based on the memoir of the same name by celebrity chef Eddy Huang, this is the first Asian-American sitcom to air on network television in more than 20 years. Set in the mid 1990s, the series follows the point of view of Eddy (Hudson Yang), the eldest son of an immigrant Taiwanese family living in Orlando, Florida.
Like Blackish, another ABC sitcom, about an African-American family living in present-day Los Angeles, Fresh off the Boat deals with issues of race and identity without being heavy handed or pedantic. Fresh off the Boat is a sitcom first; the politics are incidental.
Randal Park and Constance Wu play parents Louis and Jessica, young immigrants reaching for the American dream. Both deliver solid, complementary comic performances. Louis plays the pushover to Jessica’s stern tiger mom, who keeps her boys in check, pushing them to succeed as she delivers some of the show’s best lines.
Without feeling derivative, the series channels The Wonder Years, with its first-person narration and period setting. Being around the same age as Huang, the numerous pop-culture references hit a sweet spot for me personally. Jokes and plot points are well observed, from 90s fashion to the aching desire to own the next big video game.
As far as sitcoms go, Fresh off the Boat isn’t doing anything ground-breaking or ambitious. But it succeeds at being a straightforward, dependably funny series that brings some much-needed diversity to primetime television.
New episodes air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC. Watch old episodes on Hulu.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
This six-part documentary miniseries by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki is an unsettling exploration of wealth, murder, and madness. Troubled real estate heir Robert Durst makes for a terrifying subject, with his black eyes and compulsive blinking, and Jarecki does his best to get under his skin.
By now, you’ve likely heard how it ends — it was all over the news — but that doesn’t make this series any less riveting. Jarecki unpacks the story in detail, building tension as he follows the trail of bodies leading to Durst. It’s fun, pulpy viewing that scratches the same itch as other current true-crime hits like Serial and True Detective.
That said, The Jinx isn’t without its flaws. The numerous reenactments echo Dateline: NBC in their hokeyness, and much has been made about Jarecki’s fudging of the time line of events in order to deliver a stronger story. There’s also a concern that the series might actually complicate any future efforts to convict Durst.
Episodes of The Jinx are available on HBO Go and HBO on-demand.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Going Clear is filmmaker Alex Gibney’s fascinating glimpse inside the secretive world of Scientology. Based on the 2013 book of the same name by Lawrence Wright, the documentary, which premiered last month on HBO, takes a critical look at the controversial history and practices of this quasi-religious organization.
Despite Scientology’s notorious reputation for suppressing information, Gibney manages to get a number of former church members and even leaders to open up about the organization’s ugly history of intimidation and abuse. Through behind-the-scenes footage, writings, and interviews, the film delivers a harsh indictment of what might be the greatest con in recent history, revealing a cult of nonsense led by a greedy bully. Gibney doesn’t pull punches here, and while this may not be the most even-handed film, it’s hard to argue with the evidence.
Going Clear is available on HBO Go and HBO on-demand.