In my previous blog post, on the 2014 movie Second Chance, I highlighted that it was the first film to originate from Taiwan focused on billiards, which was ironic, given nearly 10% of the Taiwanese population plays billiards, second only to baseball in sports popularity.
For this reason then, it’s hardly surprising that the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, about a Taiwanese family’s journey from Washington DC’s Chinatown to Orlando, Florida, prominently featured billiards in its March 2016 Season 2 episode, “Keep ‘Em Separated.”
Fresh Off the Boat, now in its third season, is the first American sitcom in more than 20 years to prominently feature an Asian-American family on a major network during a primetime slot. Starring Randall Park as Louis Huang and the comically sharp Constance Wu as his wife Jessica, the show highlights daily life as the family opens a cowboy-themed steak restaurant in 1995.
In “Keep ‘Em Separated,” the premise is that Louis now has a lot of free time because he’s no longer personally responsible for closing the restaurant. That’s creating a lot of tension on the home front, since Louis is continually interrupting Jessica’s ‘girl time’ with her next door BFF Honey. Deciding that he should get back into pool, Jessica surprises her husband by unveiling his retired now re-tipped cue stick, Black Ball Betty, which Louis explains is “not a bo staff [but] a different kind of weapon…a two piece low deflection maple staff pool cue.”
Emboldened by the reunion with Black Ball Betty, Louis – aka Louis Short Pocket – heads over to the Cue Tips Pool Hall, where he has a great night: “Cheap beer, non-stop [George] Thorogood on the jukebox, the smell of Camel Lights and desperation.” This pleases Jessica silly, until she learns that Louis’ billiards partner is a woman named Toni.
The introduction of Toni (Angelique Cabral) provides the episode’s funniest moments. Entering Cue Tips to the sound of Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet,” a “song that can make everything sexy,” Toni struts out in stiletto heels, skin-tight black jeans, and a spaghetti strap top, then delicately blows billows of red chalk dust into the air from the tip of her cue stick.
Jessica, who subscribes to the When Harry Met Sally school of thought that men and women cannot be friends, immediately interrogates Toni, with both needle-sharp questions (“Why did your parents name you Toni? It’s a man’s name.”) and over-the-top comments (“You have no power here, witch…you heard me, demon.”)
The madcap situation continues when Jessica insists that Louis drop Toni and make her his partner instead. Expectations run high as Jessica then enters the pool hall to ZZ Top’s “La Grange” in red heels, black leather pants, and wind (?!) blowing her hair. But, the fantasy quickly crash lands back on Planet Earth, with Jessica swapping the heels for Keds, missing simple shots, and using all the quarters on the table to put Amy Grant on repeat on the jukebox. She laments, “Pool is so boring, there is so much standing around…it’s worse than baseball.”
The episode comes to closure as Jessica ultimately concedes she doesn’t want to be a “wet blanket wife” and realizes that Louis will have far more fun shooting with someone who can play. That said, she still insists, “no touching and always show the wedding ring.”
Unfortunately, while “Keep ‘Em Separated” provides its share of good laughs, it is completely lacking in good pool. Admittedly, I was hopeful, as I first learned about the existence of this episode from Trickshot Tim Chin, who was the billiards technical advisor during filming. But, as Tim posted in his December 2015 blog:
It came together real fast with the director calling me the week beforehand and I was glad I wasn’t busy. I got to coach Randall Park, who plays Louis Huang, and Angelique Cabral, who plays Tony, on how to look like a pool player. Unfortunately, the team didn’t really put my trick shot skills to great use due to the time constraints of filming, but the actors did quite well on their own and improved tremendously in the short time I had with them.
The Fresh Off the Boat “Keep ‘Em Separated” episode is available to purchase through YouTube.