In the months leading up to its premiere, there have been thought pieces written, regarding what this show could mean for the future of the media landscape (in particular, in diversifying it) and now that the first two episodes have aired, even more thought pieces- and of course, reviews- are pouring in. Many news sources and media outlets have had something to say about it; from NPR and the New York Times, to Angry Asian Man and Hyphen Magazine. My Facebook and Twitter feeds flooded in with numerous posts Wednesday night regarding viewing parties taking place in New York and Los Angeles, as well as from people I know who watched it from the comfort of their own homes. There’s been much to say about it- some good, some bad- and before the next two episodes air this Tuesday, I wanted to go ahead and present my two cents on ABC’s newest series, “Fresh off the Boat.”
For those who don’t know, “Fresh off the Boat” is a comedy that is loosely based off of the 2013 memoir of the same name by chef and food personality, Eddie Huang. It follows his Taiwanese-American family as they move from Washington D.C. to the not-so diverse suburbs of Orlando, Florida in the mid 90’s, so Eddie’s father can start up a steak restaurant. It proves to be a struggle, not only for Eddie’s immigrant father to remain optimistic in light of the “American Dream,” but also for his mother, who struggles with the culture clash between D.C. and Orlando. Eddie and his younger brothers face problems of their own as they try to fit in at their new schools, where they’re the only Asian kids to be seen in the area.
Already the show has gotten lots of positive praise. Rotten Tomatoes has already given it an 89% approval rating and Colorlines did an in-depth piece about how the show won’t make you cringe. It’s normal for the pilot for any show to be a little shaky, but with the fact that “Fresh off the Boat” already appears to be very sure about what direction to take it in is what’s kicking if off with a very good start.
It’s hard to talk about this show and not acknowledge the white elephant in the room. Again, for those who don’t know, “Fresh off the Boat” is the first network television series to feature an Asian-American family in 20 years; the previous show being Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl” which only ran for one season back in the mid 90’s. There is an extremely slim appearance of Asian-Americans in the television landscape where they’re not sidelined or have stereotypes attached to them (perhaps the few exceptions being “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Hawaii 5-0”). However, it’s believed that if this show does well- given the fact that it’s the only Asian-American sitcom out there right now- then it might actually break ground for more content of a similar kind to be made in the future to come.
That’s not to say that this show hasn’t come with its doubts and worries. Take for instance the actors who portray the immigrant parents, Randall Park and Constance Wu; both of whom are American and had to put on Taiwanese accents. This could be seen as troublesome, for in the past, accents were used as a way to mock Asian characters. But in this case, it’s more so to bring authenticity to the characters. In fact, in his interview for Angry Asian Man’s Sound and Fury podcast, Randall even talked about how he started taking Mandarin classes while filming, just to get to the core root of the language alone; and I personally cannot help but consider that a smart move on his part.
Of course that wasn’t the only concern regarding “Fresh off the Boat.” There was also the case of staying true to the original material its based off of, and last month, Eddie Huang himself wrote a thought piece about that, regarding his fears and the difficulties in making the first season of the show. There has also been the case of what kind of response the show could get, especially as of December, for Randall- whom I originally recognize from this comedy sketch from Wong Fu Productions- is the actor many will recognize from playing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in the controversial film, “The Interview.”
You get what I’m saying. There were some fears regarding this show; not that that’s not normal when it comes to creating a new television series, but for this particular one, it was at so many pressure points. Even I felt a little uneasy about it- especially when the title of the show was changed- for fear of the possibilities of how ABC could completely screw it up.
Due to obligations taking up my day the day it premiered, I didn’t get around to seeing the first two episodes until the following morning on Hulu. As I said before, for the first two episodes, they already seem very well made and to the point where you already have an idea what direction it will head in. Not to mention, they were very funny. Everyone- including the young cast members who play the sons- have a natural comedic timing. Not to mention that this Buzzfeed listicle really goes in depth on how on point it was in presenting an Asian-American family.
So far, I really like the show, and we’re only a few episodes in. I’m already looking forward to this Tuesday’s episodes.
As many have said in one way or another, it really is nice to finally see an Asian-American family being portrayed- and being portrayed accurately– on television. Although Eddie’s upbringing was evidently different from mine, in a sense, the show brings a comforting familiarity to me.
Despite coming from a mixed race family, there have been little things that feel reminiscent to Eddie’s situation of feeling like an outsider; like being a kid in elementary school and looking in the mirror and realizing for the first time that I don’t look like most of the girls- who were, with a few exceptions, blonde or brunette- in my grade. When not being asked about my local famous grandpa, I grew up being asked “What are you?” due to my ambiguous appearance. Of course the moment Eddie was called the “ch” word (I refuse to write out the word on this forum) was definitely reminiscent of the time I was called a Nazi, just because I’m part German. We’ve both been ostracized- to some degree- for our appearances, and yet I also connect with the character in terms of not letting the other guy win. I know that sounds weird for a young adult to be connecting with an 11-year-old character, but Eddie’s situation serve as a testament to struggles people of all ages, and in a similar position, have gone through.
“Fresh off the Boat” hones power- power to change the game; which, based upon my knowledge, the real Eddie has a knack for doing. Whether you’re Asian or mixed, black or white, of a different religion or sexuality, I’d recommend giving this show a shot. It’s more than just another family sitcom; it’s a game changer that shouldn’t be messed with.