ABC’s new TV series, “Fresh Off the Boat”, premiered Tuesday, Feb. 3, and it was hilarious; the content in the show is a big step forward for not only the Asian community, but also for the TV industry itself. Apart from Margaret Cho’s show “All American Girl,” which aired in 1994, “Fresh off the Boat” is the only other Asian- American sitcom ever made.
The pilot begins with Eddie Huang, the first-born son and narrator of the sitcom dressed in gangster attire with Notorious B.I.G. playing in the background. He recounts his family’s move from Washington D.C. to Orlando, Florida in the 90s giving viewers a humorous introduction to the members of the Huang family. As they drive to their new home, Eddie looks around the car from his parents Louis and Jessica Huang, to his brothers Emery and Evan and to his silent Chinese-speaking grandma. Eddie takes off his headphones and is immediately exasperated at his family’s enthusiastic sing-a-long to a sugary 90s pop song — instantly the viewers connect with the young boy, the most relatable and rational character on the show.
As an Asian-American, I connected with Eddie’s situation in many ways; I appreciated the producer’s choice to include scenes of uncomfortable interactions between the white community and the Huangs. When their white neighbor Nancy compliments the D.C.-born Eddie for his perfect English, I cringed not only the awkwardness but also the accuracy — I knew what it felt like to have people assume you don’t speak English despite being born and raised in the U.S. There were times when I rolled my eyes at uncomfortable situations that I knew were for comical purposes. Since the show is set in the 90s, there were a lot of scenes that were exaggerated and stereotypical, but they were nonetheless funny and believable.
Louis Huang, the father and restaurant owner of a wild west-themed steakhouse, exhibits the typical characteristics of a hard-working, goal-oriented Asian father. Though he doesn’t share the thick accent of his wife, he does share many common ideologies of immigrant Asian paternal figures. The viewers see this in his sense of underlying competition with fellow Asians, a bull-headed drive to make ends meet, and a deeper investment in his business than in his kids. On the other hand, his wife Jessica is a comical play on the stereotypical “Tiger Mom,” or family- centered, grade-obsessed, success-achieving Chinese mother. The director shows the contrast between Jessica’s concerns and those of the typical suburban, white, middle-aged women when they rollerblade around the neighborhood. While Nancy gossiped about a petty topic, Jessica was clearly uninterested in their trivial concerns and left them to greet her children from school.
The three children are a more accurate depiction of American-Asians than their parents’ characters. The youngest boy, Evan, is mostly indifferent to the concerns of his older brothers, not old enough to care much about his family’s transition into a white suburb. The middle child, Emery, is the typical social Asian kid with no problem integrating into his new school. He easily befriends his classmates and even gets a white girlfriend, which Eddie, finds unusual given his difficult time even finding a place to eat lunch. Emery serves as a character foil with Eddie, who’s old enough to feel uncomfortable coming to terms with his identity and his reputation at his new, predominately white school.
A moment that I particularly related to was Eddie’s first lunch experience. He walks down the cafeteria glancing at the row of Lunchables, and instantly I knew what would happen next. He opens his homemade Chinese lunch and his new “friends” start groaning and complaining about the foreign odor produced from his Chinese noodles. The preteen Eddie’s pride has obviously been wounded, and his mother can’t understand the amount of importance kids at that age put on their reputation. As a caring mother, she thinks it’s natural to prepare Chinese home-cooked lunches for her sons, but doesn’t realize they will socially ostracize Eddie. Though Eddie’s preteen angst has him hating their new home and accusing his parents of never siding with him, he gradually appreciates them when Jessica buys him lunchables and his parents come to his defense after a fray with a peer.
The episode was comical, well-planned, and relatable. I initially thought this show would be an inaccurate representation of Asians in America, but upon seeing a humorous, yet true, representation of a very stereotypical situation, I was pleased. I appreciated Eddie, who started off an outcast because of his foreign culture, but used gangster rap to earn respect in his new environment, proving that Notorious B.I.G. was right: “everything ya get, ya gotta work hard for it”.