Fresh Off the Boat Is Not Only Groundbreaking – It’s Really Good

It has been twenty years since an Asian American family has been the subject of a network sitcom. Let me just say that again: It has been TWENTY years since an Asian American family has been the subject of a network sitcom. For a lot of young Asians that means February 4th marked the first time in their lives they’ve seen a family like theirs on network TV.

In

Their

Lives.

Sure, we had John Cho as the first romantic Asian American male lead in a sitcom, but just as Selfie was starting to find it’s footing it was cancelled. Seeing an Asian male lead was like finding a mythical unicorn, and we were left staring into the dust wondering if it ever really happened.

That’s why the February 4th premiere of Fresh Off the Boat on ABC was so groundbreaking. The sitcom is based on Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name, and is narrated by his eleven year old character in beefed-up Wonder Years style.
 

 
I was skeptical before watching the show – delighted to see Asian Americans represented, but wary of the title and Asians being made the butt of the jokes. Ten minutes into the first episode, I threw skepticism to the wind.

Hudson Yang is adorably rough in the role of young Eddie, Randall Park’s glorious optimism as the father doesn’t overshadow a multi-dimensioned character, and Constance Wu as Eddie’s mother is the serrated queen of comedic timing.

Yes, some of the characters can put a check mark next to some stereotype boxes: Eddie’s mom is a definite “tiger-mom”… but with an inner life and real-ness that I find perfectly acceptable.

The show is not afraid to tackle the aspects of race, and because it’s from Eddie’s point of view, we see the racially insensitive (instead of the racially marginalized) as the butt of most jokes. The show is the voice of a family who is “other” in America. It’s a voice that has been sorely lacking on network TV.

I live-tweeted during the premiere and saw so many tweets about recognition and representation from Asian Americans – it was truly staggering.

 

 

 

 
 
Of course there were some Caucasian folk who did not take too kindly to the white people in the show being the joke:
    


 

He has a point… but after a lifetime of seeing Asian men represented as the sexless friend or one-dimensional bad guy, and my years in Hollywood auditioning for the “exotic” sexpot, cute math-loving best friend, or hard to understand nail tech…

I am 100% okay with a little trope table turning.

I have high hopes that some of the white characters in the show will evolve into multidimensional human beings, but the show is not told from the white point of view. It is not the white voice… and that will naturally make some people uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable is a feeling some of us non-whites know all too well.

Aside from it’s point of view and the groundbreaking-ness of it all, as simply a self-contained half hour comedy it holds it’s own. It has just the right amount of dark and light. The nineties culture and hip hop soundtrack is to die for. It has relatable sibling dynamics, school awkwardness, family warmth, and sharply executed comedy from the parents. This family is a new American family… and one that I think all Americans could fall in love with if it’s given a chance.

Yes, it’s got some sharp edges… but for me that’s exactly what’s needed to cut through the staleness that has become American sitcoms lately.

Fresh Off the Boat is a brave show that has the daunting task of tackling race while remaining somewhat appealing to the masses. It’s the only way it will survive… and I think it can.

One of the standout moments for me was in the first episode when Eddie’s parents find themselves in the principals office after Eddie has gotten into a brawl at school when he was called a “chink”.  The mix of humor, love, and pride in that scene perfectly encapsulates the tone of the show.

 


Fresh Off the Boat will air Tuesday evenings on ABC. Check your listings, put it in your DVR, order Chinese take out… and enjoy.

 

asians on tv

 



3 responses to “Fresh Off the Boat Is Not Only Groundbreaking – It’s Really Good”

  1. Lani says:

    Your FB update reminded me that I needed to watch it (way over here in Thailand) and I really liked it. I was excited and well, Selfie was great so I figured it would be good, too. My only fear is it being cancelled because shows can’t have a chance to grow anymore…

    My mom would have never been able to articulate so perfectly “I will never be mad at you for standing up for yourself.” But she has told my brother and I, “If someone hits you, you hit back.” Asian mothers.

    Good write up. xxoo

  2. I’ve been reading a lot of posts about the response to Fresh off the Boat (including writing one myself). I love hearing the different opinions. I’m actually wondering what NON-Asians think of it. Will there be enough viewer-ship to keep this afloat? After all, as much as Asian-Americans are under-represented in the media, we are still a very small percentage of the national market. If only Asians are watching, is that enough to keep i on the air?

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