TV Review: Fresh Off the Boat
by Jason Shiga | 2015-12-01 23:00:44
I remember I once met a 50 year old woman on the bus who was very proud of her red fedora and how taboo it was to be wearing something so vibrant on her head. She was so proud that she joined a red hat club where she and her old lady friends commiserated over how naughty they were being. What was she talking about!? Why did this mean so much to her? Did she just step out of a cave? I’m sorry but I just couldn’t get worked up over her issue, especially since I’d just watched “Girl With a Dragon Tattoo” about a woman with bleached eyebrows and about 5 pounds of metal and rocks and feathers sticking out of her face. Welp, here I am. Now, I’m the old lady trying to explain to you why “Fresh Off the Boat” is the most awesome, edgy, revolutionary thing ever broadcast on TV.
Yeah, I know you just saw a thousand breasts on Game of Thrones. I know the kids today don’t even watch sitcoms any more. And in its bones, “Fresh Off the Boat” is just another generic ABC family sitcom, the kind they’ve been cranking out for decades. But people, it’s been 20 years since “All American Girl” premiered. That’s two decades. There are UCLA graduates who until this year have no living memory of seeing an Asian face on their TV set. I can still remember watching every single episode of “All American Girl” in college, even though I hated it. You might think Asians are a minority so of course most shows will be about white people. But, I don’t know man, Asians aren’t that minority. There have literally been 500 sitcoms over the course of history of television. “Fresh off the Boat” (ABC, Tuesdays 7:00pm) is number 2, thus bringing the percentage from 0.2% to 0.4%. There’s literally more shows about teenage vampires and teenage vampires are an even smaller minority than Asian Americans in my opinion.
Set in 1995 and modeled after Everybody Hates Chris, “Fresh Off the Boat” tells the story of a Taiwanese family who have just moved from DC to Orlando and are adjusting to culture shock and trying to fit into a mostly white suburb. Randall Park (the dude who played a dog daycare owner in that Chase commercial and Kim Jung Un) plays the Dad. Hudson Yang plays the son who grows up to become the famous chef Eddie Hwang and author of the memoir “Fresh Off the Boat” upon which the sitcom is based but then later disowns the sitcom. But the real breakout in my opinion is Constance Wu as the Mom, Jessica.
A lot of the best episodes are about Jessica trying to work her way into a white suburban housewife clique but never quite feeling like she belongs. The Dad owns a restaurant called “Cattleman’s Steakhouse” and a lot of his storylines revolve around him coming up with some goofy way to promote the restaurant. These episodes aren’t supposed to be as poignant but I relate to them even more since my Dad worked at a Hickory Pit BBQ when I was a kid in the 90’s and I remember always being excited when he’d come home with a giant garbage bag of ribs or a peanut butter pie.
As much of a kick as I get out of that Cattleman’s set, I’d say my favorite episodes are the ones where they deal with the subject of race in a fresh way. For example the best aspect of the pilot was Eddie’s relationship with the one other minority at school, a black kid named Walter. At first they eat lunch together but then Eddie abandons him the second he gains acceptance from the other white kids at school. It’s so cold blooded, almost like something you’d see an HBO character do. At the end of he episode, Walter calls Eddie a “chink” and they get into a fistfight. It was sad but also realistic. It was still 1995 so I guess they couldn’t have seen Rush Hour or Martial Law or that Jet Li Rza movie. If they had, they’d have known that Blacks and Asians should combine their powers to defeat whitey.
Another recent episode dealt with Louis, the Dad, living in the shadow of Long Duk Dong. After going on TV to promote the Steakhouse, joking around with the newscasters and doing some funny duck voices Louis comes home and Jessica mentions Long Duk Dong. The mere mention of his name, like Voldemort, brings up so many feelings of insecurity, judgement, and fear for Louis he has to cover his ears in denial before Jessica can even spit out the second syllable. Louis spends the remainder of the episode in a berserker rage intent on proving to the world that he’s a man. For those who haven’t seen “16 Candles” or are unfamiliar with Long Duk Dong, I feel this one character more than anyone has haunted the Asian male psyche, causing us to overcompensate in the other direction, leading to the existence of people like David Choe and coincidentally the real life Eddie Hwang. It’s hard to describe the joy I felt seeing this very specific issue dealt with on an ABC family sitcom.
Speaking of Eddie Hwang, he’s very publicly criticized the show for being too gentle. In real life his Dad punched his Mom in the neck and Eddie had to hide in the closet and call the cops. But I’m not exactly sure that tone would be a good fit for the show. Unlike Eddie, I don’t really want to see Randal Park slapping Constance Wu around the house. Maybe gritty isn’t always better.
Another complaint I’ve heard is that the parent’s accents are phony. I can see why folks would feel that way but I’m not even sure that it’s as phony as they think. In my experience, everyone who’s self taught in English learns to speak in their own jacked up way. My Dad’s accent was not the same as Ken Watanabe’s accent which was different from Ichiro’s accent. This is all to say there is no one single Taiwanese accept in my opinion.
Yet another complaint I heard is that Randall Park is Korean but he’s playing a Taiwanese immigrant. I’m always kinda weary of these types of criticisms too. This isn’t the 1940’s. I don’t hear white people throwing a fit when Sean Connery plays some Russian submarine commander. I think what makes these types of criticisms stick is that a lot of Asians hate other types of Asians. Malaysians hate Singaporeans, Chinese hate Taiwanese, Vietnamese hate communist Vietnamese. Also everybody hates the Japanese. But whatever. It’s 2015! Why squabble over these old tribal conflicts. If you notice all these complaints about the show are coming from other Asians. But I feel Asians should unite together instead of fighting among ourselves like Eddie and Walter, criticizing the show for not being perfect and getting it taken off the air, because seriously it might be 20 more years before we get another chance, folks, and I don’t know about you but I’d like my son Kazuo to see an Asian face on TV sometime before he graduates college. And even if we do get our act together, the truth of it is every Asian in the country could watch the show it could still get cancelled. So I hope white people like the show too.
August 30-31, 2014
SF Zine Fest | San Francisco, CA
August 9, 2014
Dr. Comics and Mr. Games | Oakland, CA
The kind folks at Dr. Comics and Mr. Games in Oakland will be hosting my first and only in store signing for Demon. If you want your own personalized copy, now’s your chance! Or just stop by and ask me any question about the series or life in general. Contact the store for more details.
October 4-5, 2014
Alternative Press Expo | San Francisco, CA
If you’re in the Bay Area, please feel free to come by and say hello to me at the Alternative Press Expo. I don’t have too many details yet. But I will be tabling, signing books and giving out comics to whomever can solve my impossible brainteasers. See you there!