There has not been a show focused on an Asian family in about 20 years. Margaret Cho’s All American Girl was a short lived show. And apparently the biggest lesson that was taken by all of mainstream television was…nobody wants to watch a majority Asian cast.
It is a frustrating part of television and mainstream film that one film or series failing to succeed confirms a “conventional wisdom” about audiences.
ABC has been building it’s comedy block on family themed comedies setting them alongside Modern Family. ABC (ironically enough the same network that aired All American Girl) has now added Fresh Off the Boat. I remember cringing at the title, because I thought it was inferring that this was a family new to America and the jokes would be hung on the notion of “wacky foreigners in a strange land.”
The title is, in a way accurate. Except this is the story of a Chinese American family whose father (Randall Park) has moved the entire family from DC to Orlando, FL to run a western themed restaurant. The story is told from the perspective of oldest son Eddie (Hudson Yang). The opening of the first episode emphasized this with Eddie telling you extensively about himself his Father and Mother (Constance Wu)…then quickly naming off his brothers and grandmother in rapid succession with a who cares tone and no exposition about them.
The first episode was a bit clunky, especially in that I felt like the writers made some references “for the benefit of white expectations.” Eddie’s mother is tough and pushes her family to succeed…not necessarily bad, but the show makes use of the term Tiger Mom at the start of the first episode. By the second episode, I felt they were already pushing back against that, as Eddie’s mom becomes more expanded. Yes, she is domineering and aggressive, but she also wants her family to have a better life. She wants her husband’s business to succeed…and she also wants to see him rewarded for his kind nature.
Eddie struggles as the Asian kid in a largely white world…trying to fit in through his attachment to rap music. Made even more frustrating for Eddie, his younger brother seems to find his place and get friends right away.
While the first episode was clunky, the second episode was stronger. And both had jokes that suggested to me that we could be in for a skewering of traditional fish out of water tales. The father, Louis, hires a white host (Paul Scheer), very specifically because he presumes a southern white person would not be comfortable walking into the western themed restaurant and being greeted by an Asian man. There is also a joke in the first episode where the mother is greeted by a crew of the neighborhood mothers and the “leader” expresses mild disappointment that the mothers name is Jessica, rather than something more “exotic”.
Overall, I think this has the potential to be a solid comedy. It has quirky humor (Jessica and Eddie stand in front of a Costco type of store whose name includes exclamation points at the end…Jessica asks, “What is this store so excited about?”) and has addressed issues of racism in a fairly creative way (Eddie seems to be making friends until they make fun of his “ethnic” lunch food). I am hoping they find their footing and voice quickly (a challenge for most any show) and that ABC is not quick to cut it loose if they take some time building an audience. I am certainly sticking around.