by Massiel Ramos
First came Black-ish, and now Fresh Off the Boat adds to sitcoms introduced recently that focus on families of color. But this new ABC ½ hour comedy that follows a Taiwanese family living in Orlando would be better if it let go of the assimilation factor. “Fresh Off the Boat“ should stop pandering to whites and represent more progressive Asian values.
Almost 8 million viewers watched the show’s premiere, making it an automatic success. But it would have done better if it did not reject other people of color and create characters who exist to become accepted by the white people in their neighborhood. For example, the protagonist, Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang) was once pinned against one of his black classmates, Walter (Prophet Bolden) as a means of becoming accepted to the popular white boys table. Before Eddie, Walter was the odd man out. When Walter is introduced in the pilot, he sits alone in the cafeteria and heckles Eddie for trying to fit in with the white kids. By the end of the episode, they get into an altercation where Eddie beats up Walter for calling him a “chink, ”, but finally gains the respect of the other white boys in his school. Although he gets in trouble, his parents let him slide because he was only trying to defend himself.
The show’s matriarch Jessica Huang (Constance Wu) is the only person resisting white culture and regularly jokes about her sons trying to integrate into American culture at school. She praises her youngest son, Evan (Ian Chen), for becoming sick from lactose intolerance saying, “his body is rejecting white culture.” Then, when she and her eldest son go to an American supermarket in search of Lunchables she asks, “You want to fit into a box? Why are you so American?” referring to the brand where lunch fits neatly into a box.
It has been two decades since an Asian- American family has been on the screen, and Fresh off the Boat shows a glimpse of the current culture clashes between Asian Americans and the greater public. Since Margaret Cho’s All- American Girl was canceled after one season, it has left a void in Asian American comedy since the mid-nineties. Eddie Huang, the show’s creator and author of a memoir Fresh Off the Boat, wrote a piece for the New Yorker, stating that the creators were making a show marketed toward a white audience. Similar to Huang, whose book inspired the television show, Cho’s sitcom was based on her stand-up comedy. By comparing pilots, both comedies have a nuclear family structure and hysterical comedy. But, “All American Girl’ integrates Asian values better.
They both have grandmothers living with them, but in All American Girl she is a critical part of the story, while Grandma Huang (Lucille Soong) has one or two lines throughout the whole episode. Grandma Huang is the only person not interacting with white people or searching for their approval, therefore she should have more of an influence in the show. She plays poker with her grandsons, believes that O. J. Simpson didn’t actually stand trial and supports Eddie’s hip hop obsession. During the pilot episode, she even plays a boom box on her lap so that Eddie can make a dramatic entrance.
If Fresh Off the Boat could rework itself away from its targeted audience and expand on more notions of Asian life, it could attract a wider variety of viewers.