The comedy debuting Wednesday night in a two episode premier (8:30 and 9:30 pm Eastern/Pacific) is the story of an immigrant Taiwanese family and the struggles typical families deal with.
The kids played by Hudson Yang as the hip hop loving Eddie Huang, Forest Wheeler as the well adjusted Emery and Ian Chen as mommy’s boy Evan adjust in their own ways to a new city and a new school. Yang plays it just right exhibiting the hip in hip hop while exposing his vulnerabilities as a child trying to find his space. Wheeler and Chen make the most of their screen time and are involved in some of the show’s best laughs in the first two episodes.
Randall Park who plays the father Louis Huang is an optimistic entrepreneur who opens a new western steakhouse. He’s moved his reluctant family from Washington, D.C. to Orlando and hasn’t been exactly honest about how much he’s struggled building the restaurant’s business. Park, who played the North Korean dictator in the movie The Interview, is the target of frustration from the entire family uncertain about their futures. Park brings sympathy to his character and gives the audience a reason to root for the entire family.
Constance Wu plays tiger mom Jessica Huang. Her vision of how the restaurant should be run differs sharply from Louis and is a running thread of comedy through the first two episodes. Jessica is a frugal one of the two. Her thoughts about saving the restaurant money impact the entire family, not to mention the restaurant’s employees and customers. Wu plays this conflict up in chuckle-inducing ways
Fresh Off the Boat incorporates universal themes and experiences of chasing a dream, trying to fit in and marital spats over finances. The only difference is that these issues are seen through the lens of an Asian American family, specifically through Eddie Huang.
This provides opportunities to play up differences in culture and values held by Chinese American and white families . What is an Asian guy doing running a cowboy themed restaurant? Why is Eddie’s lunch so different from his fellow students? What causes Jessica to yell at the principal when her son comes home with straight A’s? And why does the isolated black kid give Eddie such a hard time?
ABC hit pay dirt with Blackish, the story of an African American father struggling to get his children to retain their culture. It’s the number 1 new comedy of the season and ranks 16th in the all important 18-49 demographic. It’s proof that network TV can have a multicultural cast with diverse themes and still attract a wide audience.
Fresh Off the Boat has been named by numerous critics as one of the best shows of the mid-season. It has promise to follow the same path of success as Blackish. Can America become invested in Eddie, Louis, Jessica, Emery and Evan? ABC is betting it can, sandwiching the double premier around the highly rated Modern Family. The network has also shown confidence in the program by premiering it during the February ratings period, one of the three most important months in television.
The following week, Fresh Off the Boat moves to its permanent Tuesday night slot at 8pm. Leading off the night’s prime time schedule is a tough one for any first year show to survive. It’s one that doomed John Cho’s Selfie. Here’s hoping Fresh Off the Boat will have a much different fate.