By Ariel Neidermeier
ABC’s new sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat, is the first network television show to feature an Asian American cast in 20 years.
“It’s great seeing an all-Asian cast on a television show for once,” said 24-year-old Oakland, Calif. resident, Bridget Rochios, “I’m not Asian but my grandparents immigrated from Greece so I can relate to the immigrant experience that the show references.”
The show centers around 11-year-old, American-born, Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang), and his family as they make the transition from Washington D.C. to a largely-white suburban community in Orlando, Fla. It particularly focuses on the eccentricities of Eddie’s Taiwanese-born parents, Louis (Randall Park) and Jessica (Constance Wu) as they run a steakhouse that serves a largely-white clientele.
Fresh Off the Boat is based on chef, Eddie Huang’s, memoir about growing up Asian in Orlando in the 1990s and feeling so alienated that he turned to hip-hop music to cope. “If you’re an outsider,” the opening voice-over in the pilot reads, “hip-hop is your anthem.”
“I liked how racial dynamics are dealt with head-on. Sometimes it feels like white people are afraid to acknowledge stereotypes and I think having more shows like this in the mainstream media will help open that dialogue and make people feel more comfortable to talk about racial issues,” said 25-year-old San Francisco resident, Alex Mallonee.
Fresh Off the Boat is funny. Not only that, it portrays racial topics in an amusing yet matter-of-fact way. In the pilot, Louis brainstorms ways to boost sales at his restaurant and becomes convinced that hiring a white spokesman will promote business by providing customers with a familiar white face. Later in the episode, when Eddie gets made fun of at lunchtime by his white classmates for his Chinese food, he convinces his mother to buy him Lunchables. The next day, as he swaggers through the cafeteria brandishing his “normal” lunch food, a black student – the only other minority at the school – calls him a “chink”.
The incident, which was adapted directly from Huang’s memoir, was described by Huang as revelatory when he first saw it on screen:
“It was the most formative moment of my childhood; the first time someone ever called me a chink, held in a two-shot. Two kids of color forced to battle each other at the bottom of America’s totem pole on ABC.”
Huang’s statement about the show’s novelty rings true: when else has a network television show portrayed two 11-year-olds of color infighting because of the social pressure to please other white 11-year-olds?
Fresh Off the Boat challenges the safe stereotypes of Asians usually portrayed on TV. Since Asian Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, it seems about time they have greater representation on television.
Fresh Off the Boat airs at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays on ABC.