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‘Fresh Off The Boat’ a refreshing addition to TV

| Monday, February 9, 2015

fresh-off-the-boat-graphic-WEBKeri O'Mara | The Observer

There is a promising amount of comedy television programming that displays newfound racial diversity this season.

ABC currently airs Anthony Anderson’s “Black-ish,” in which an African-American family lives in a white upper-class neighborhood and rediscovers their heritage, and “Cristela,” in which comedian Cristela Alonzo attends law school part-time and lives with her Mexican-American family. Rounding out this trilogy of minority-led sitcoms on ABC is “Fresh Off the Boat,” a new show loosely based on the life of chef and food personality Eddie Huang and his memoir of the same name.

Similar in style to the criminally underrated “Everybody Hates Chris,” Huang narrates the series about his early ’90s childhood, when his American-obsessed dad (Randall Park) dragged his Taiwanese family from Washington DC’s Chinatown to Orlando, Florida to open a Western-themed steakhouse.

The Huangs all have their own struggles in making the transition. Eddie finds comfort in rap music, but fails to connect with the only black boy in the cafeteria because associating with the other minority will only make him stand out more. His father Louis has problems getting customers to the restaurant. But it’s made clear from the beginning that the center of comic relief in “Fresh Off the Boat” is the hilariously overbearing wife and mother Jessica, played by Constance Wu.

Out of everyone in the Huang family, Jessica is the least willing to adapt to her new American surroundings. She frequently battles between managing her three sons and assimilating with other suburban wives. However, Wu does it all with a charisma and charm that make it easy to forget Jessica is having the toughest time getting used to Orlando, as she’s so quickly become the hilarious star of the show. 

At its core, this is just another gentle family “fish-out-of-water” sitcom, with great performances (again, I can’t say enough about Wu) and decent writing. But being the first Asian-American sitcom since Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl” back in 1994, “Fresh Off the Boat” is undoubtedly important.

The good news is that creator Nahnatchka Khan (best known for “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23”) and the show’s likable cast seem more than willing to step up to the plate and represent Asian-Americans on TV. Two episodes in, “Fresh Off the Boat” has displayed a lot of intelligence in its immigrant and culture clash storylines, without falling back on easy stereotypical jokes.

But that’s not to say that “Fresh Off the Boat” shies away from talking about race. As evidenced by its very title, the show is often upfront about the Huangs’ attempts to remain true both to their Taiwanese-Chinese roots and their desire to fit in. And although some situations may be a bit heavy-handed, “Fresh Off the Boat” certainly shows promise in providing sharp comedy and commentary on the Asian-American experience.

Besides some clumsy situations and occasional broad and boring humor (the Huangs’ grandmother gettin’ down to hip-hop, for example), one also can’t help but wonder if family-friendly ABC is the proper home for “Fresh Off the Boat.” Chef Eddie Huang will be the first to tell you that he wishes the show could be more provocative and edgy, something you might find on HBO or Amazon as opposed to ABC.

On the whole, however, it doesn’t matter where the show could air and what may have been different. What matters is that it exists. And as the show continues to find its groove, “Fresh Off the Boat” certainly has the potential to find success and become a staple in television’s increasingly diverse landscape.

“Fresh Off the Boat” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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About Kevin Salat

Kevin is a junior from the suburbs of Chicago pursuing a degree in Marketing. He is currently studying abroad in Shanghai, China.

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