Why American Television Needed 'Fresh Off The Boat'
On February 4, ABC premiered the Asian American family sitcom “Fresh Off The Boat.” The situation comedy which is slated for Tuesdays, premiered with two back-to-back episodes in the time slot normally occupied by the series, “The Goldbergs.” The sitcom illustrates the trials and tribulations of The Huang family, who uproot their household from the streets of Washington, D.C. to run a Wild West theme restaurant in Orlando.
The show is the first Asian American comedy to air on U.S. prime time, in twenty years. While the sitcom was highly anticipated, detractors were concerned for its success after the romantic comedy “Selfie” starring John Cho, failed to grab the attention of American audiences. One of the biggest drawbacks of “Selfie” was that the comedy perpetuated stereotypes that are held by many Americans, reflecting a one-dimensional Asian male. The same criticism can be said for the Tiger mother character of Jessica Huang from “Fresh Off The Boat,” which is portrayed by Constance Wu. However, the heart of the show does not lie with Jessica but is rooted within the hip-hop loving character Eddie Huang.
The preteen version of Eddie Huang is brilliantly portrayed by Hudson Yang. Eddie reflects the loss of innocence many American minorities experience in adolescence, as they attempt to navigate racially homogeneous suburbs. While his younger brothers instantly make new friends in their Florida neighborhood, Eddie struggles to maintain the ties he had with African American hip-hop culture that he established while living in Washington, D.C.
One of the most disturbing and perplexing moments of “Fresh Off The Boat” comes when Eddie attempts to befriend the lone African American student in his grade. Rather than opening himself up for a new friendship, this student shoots him down, while calling him a derogatory term. Eddie learns that survival in Florida's suburbs may be more difficult to navigate than the seedy streets of D.C.
Randall Park, who previously starred as Kim Jong Un in “The Interview,” portrays Louis Huang. As a Korean American actor, his accent sometimes comes off as affected, but his gentle deliver as the family's patriarch helps to elevate the show beyond one-liners.
“Fresh Off The Boat” is a television adaptation of the seminal novel from Eddie Huang which humorously chronicles his struggles in suburbia as a descendant of Taiwanese parents. Huang expressed his ambivalence about the adaptation in a controversial New York magazine article, in which he detailed the ways his vision of the story diverged, as it was shaped for American viewership. His frustration resembles the disdain that was delivered by Aaron McGruder, the creator of “The Boondocks,” after the animated program morphed into a display of minstrelsy. However, “Fresh Off The Boat” is a necessary step towards the inclusion of Asian families on American prime time television.
“Fresh Off The Boat” has room to grow and is a show which is worth exploring. The sitcom serves as a reminder to Americans that the United States is a nation which was founded on the backs of immigrants, from all cultures.
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