Fresh Off the Boat is an imperfect comedy, but that doesn't stop me for fiercely, passionately wanting it to succeed.
ABC's newest series premieres with two episodes on Wednesday at 8:30/7:30c and 9:30/8:30c and is based on the memoir of the same name by chef and restauranteur Eddie Huang. In the period comedy, it's 1995, and young Eddie (Hudson Yang) just wants to live the thug life. You know, as best an an 11-year-old Taiwanese Chinese American kid who just moved to Orlando, Fla., can after having left Washington, D.C.
Of course, his entire transplanted family is also making their own transitions: dad Louis (Randall Park) is running Cattleman's Ranch Steak House, and mom Jessica (Constance Wu) must find an ally among Melrose Place-obsessed neighborhood wives. Eddie's younger brothers Emery and Evan (Forrest Wheeler, Ian Chen) actually seem to be making friends just fine. And Grandma Huang (Lucille Soong)? Well, she doesn't say much, but when she does, it's a doozy (and subtitled).
Fresh Off the Boat is well-meaning, but uneven. The real-life Huang's "angry Asian man" persona only comes through in the writing occasionally, but for the most part, the show doesn't try to make any big socio-political statements as Black-ish does, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Half charming and half cringe-worthy, the humor is a mix of Asian references and just plain broad humor with nostalgic touches. If ABC and viewers give Fresh Off the Boat a chance, it has the potential to settle in and find its voice and identity, much like young Eddie did.
Here are eight reasons why we need Fresh Off the Boat on our TVs:
1. There aren't enough Asian shows on TV Spoiler alert: I'm Asian. This does not mean that I support all things Asian blindly, but it is gratifying to finally see a show about Asians on TV. The last time this was attempted was 20 years ago with Margaret Cho's horrific All-American Girl, which was mercifully put to rest after 19 episodes. Since then, only Maggie Q and Mindy Kaling (she counts, right?) have successfully headlined a series. John Cho, bless his heart, keeps on trying, and although we had high hopes for Selfie, that too was canceled. There are also Asian actors (such as Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh), who have been essential to their respective shows' successes and are part of the core cast, yet are not the leads per se. Although Asian representation is improving every day, it wasn't so strong 20 years ago. Is it any wonder that young Eddie looks to hip-hop culture, with its messages of identity and bucking the system, for cues on how to express himself?
Also, Asian actors seem to have broken into dramas more often then comedy. With very few exceptions, Asians aren't seen as funny unless they're playing stereotypes such as the computer nerd, the martial artist, the sexy girlfriend or the tiger mom that is essentially making fun of themselves.
2. It's time Asians stopped being "The Other" Asian representation isn't just important for Asians to see, but for everyone else to see as well. At the Television Critics Association winter previews in January, one Stone-Age reporter asked, to the dismay of everyone present, "I love the Asian culture. And I was just talking about the chopsticks, and I just love all that. Will I get to see that?" Face, meet palm. Let's be real: Not everyone in America lives in multi-ethnic cities and encounter Asians, but Fresh Off the Boat has a chance to put one Asian family -- in all of its chopsticks- and fork-wielding glory -- weekly into everyone's homes. So what if not every little Asian kid loves hip-hop? I certainly didn't, and hey, neither does every African-American kid. And that's precisely what I hope this series will accomplish: Teach people to see a kid, an American kid, not just an Asian kid. Unfortunately, my family is guilty of embracing this foreignness as well and refer to other people as American but not us. How have we bought into the idea that we don't belong? In fact, the times I feel the most American is when I'm in Asia.
3. Asian culture needs to be celebrated This is not a contradiction of my second point. America's strength is in its wealth of different cultures, not forcing everyone to conform to one white-washed norm. What's great about Fresh Off the Boat is that its very existence is a celebration of being Asian American. Yes, Jessica still cooks xiao long baos at home but she's also a diehard Stephen King fan. They're not mutually exclusive. What a concept!
4. The cast is hilarious Yang plays Eddie with a special brand of ornery glee that, even if you haven't met the real-life Huang, will be familiar to anyone who knows a mouthy kid. Park, fresh off of playing Kim Jong-Un in The Interview, brings that same charming enthusiasm and energy to the small screen. Wu may be the breakout star in the cast, as long as you can get past her accent in the first episode. Like her TV son, Wu's character is more upfront about her dissatisfaction, and there's nothing as winning as when she's expressing all sorts of discomfort and rage. Wheeler and Chen are adorably quirky, and Soong delivers her outrageous lines with a perfectly dry tone.
5. We still need conversations about race Just last week, Huang was up in arms about a promo that was posted on Fresh Off the Boat's Twitter account, but many people were baffled about why he found it so objectionable. Similarly, young Eddie on the show loses his cool when a classmate calls him the racial slur "chink." This also applies to so-called "positive" stereotyping, like when an Asian is deemed smart merely for being Asian. The show could do a lot for starting the conversation about why these ideas, words and actions perpetuate prejudice.
6. Albert Tsai can return to prime time! ABC can finally right their wrong when they canceled Trophy Wife by bringing back its breakout star. On Fresh Off the Boat, he'll play a boy who has been adopted by a Jewish family.
7. Other networks can learn from ABC The network is leading the charge with diverse programming that includes Black-ish, Cristela and all of Shonda Rhimes' #TGIT night. Fox has done well by adding Empire into the mix. If all this progress continues, who know? Maybe we'll finally get a Bachelor of color who will finally erase the memory of Juan Pablo from our minds!
8. The show will restore our faith in lucky numbers OK, we're only half kidding here. In Chinese culture, the number 8 is seen as lucky because it sounds like the word for "wealth," and it's even luckier if there is more than one 8; hence, the profusion of Chinese restaurants that have 88 in the name. The good folks at Fresh Off the Boat decided to make their stage particularly auspicious:
Will you give Fresh Off the Boat a chance?
Fresh Off the Boat premieres with two episodes on Wednesday at 8:30/7:30c and 9:30/8:30c on ABC.
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