ABC will soon launch a new sitcom called “Fresh off the Boat,” and already Asian-Americans are weighing in with their opinions. Some are proud of the show. Others are offended. Most are just hoping it doesn’t embarrass us. Why such a massive response? Because we’re Asians and we don’t see too much of our kind on American TV.
The title has already gotten the show off to a rocky start, as “fresh off the boat” is generally associated with immigrant Asians who have yet to assimilate. But it also happens to be the title of a memoir by Eddie Huang, the celebrity chef who opened New York’s famous BaoHaus restaurant. The show centers on his childhood as a hip hop-loving Asian kid growing up in Florida.
“Fresh off the Boat” will be the first Asian-American comedy on TV since Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl” aired for one season in 1994-95. “Sullivan & Son” which is about a half-Korean family, currently airs on TBS and is doing quite well, but for the sake of this blog let’s focus on 100 percent Asian-Americans. Twenty years is way too long, so one can understand the excitement. But will this second chance be good or bad for AAs? It all depends on the quality of the show.
Best case scenario would be if it’s actually funny and can gain an audience without pandering to racial stereotypes. It would be great if it could positively portray Asian culture and educate while it entertains. But the fear is that laughs will come at the expense of Asians and reinforce horrible stereotypes. After all, no matter how good the intentions of the show’s creators, the final product will ultimately be decided by non-Asian executives who have their own idea of humor and what they believe people want to see.
Based on the trailer, “Fresh off the Boat” appears to have some promise. The jokes are mainly based on family dysfunction and fish-out-of-water elements, with just the right amount of racial references to remind audiences that the show is about a Chinese-American family. In fact, it reminds me a lot of another current favorite show of mine, “The Goldbergs,” which also utilizes flashback storytelling and features a crazy mother. If “Fresh off the Boat” is anything like “The Goldbergs,” I’m sure it will be just fine. And I have faith in producer Nahnatchka Khan — not because she’s Asian herself, but because she was a writer and producer on “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23,” which I found very funny during its short run a few years ago.
It’s hard enough for a new TV show to find an audience and get picked up for a full season, let alone a second one. But “Fresh off the Boat” will also have to bear the scrutiny of the growing and increasingly vocal Asian-American community. The show has been slotted as a mid-season replacement, so it probably won’t air until early 2015. You can bet that we will all be watching closely — and you know how demanding we can be when it comes to results.