As someone that hangs onto any thread of potential visibility for Asians in American pop culture, you might wonder why I waited until today, almost a week after “Fresh Off the Boat” premiered to finally watch the show.
One would think I would have immediately jumped on a comedy sitcom featuring an Asian-American family as the primary characters, but I waited. Why?
It’s a good question that most Asian-Americans could answer for me: I was nervous and concerned that “Fresh Off the Boat” would be a disappointment. Worse, I thought it would be unfunny. Even worse, I thought it would perpetuate stereotypes in exchange for cheap laughs. And then it would be canceled.
Why the concern? If FOB wasn’t funny and successful, it could be another two decades before we got another shot; it’s been 20 years since Asian-Americans were last given a chance at network visibility with Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl”.
“All-American Girl” put me int the headspace I am in today. It was terrible. It was an unfunny flop that made Asians the butt of jokes and we haven’t sniffed our own show since then. Can’t say that I blame them, “All-American Girl,” like Cho’s stand-up, was a train wreck.
At the behest of a friend’s Facebook post, I downloaded the first episode onto my phone before a cross-country flight (THANK YOU TECHNOLOGY). As I played the episode, my anxiety turned into a smile as the episode opened with a chubby Asian kid donning on a new NBA jersey, a fresh NBA cap to the soundtrack of M.C. Breed’s “Ain’t No Future in Your Frontin'”. When he walks out and asks his mother whether he could buy it, she responds coldly that it’s “too much”.
In that one minute opening, I could tell “Fresh Off the Boat” was no “All-American Girl”.
Fortunately, the tone and approach that FOB chose settled the trauma caused by All-American-Girl. Though it was a bit clunky at points, the rest of the pilot didn’t disappoint. And so far, it’s getting good grades from IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, TV.com and Meta Critic:
Clearly race is core to the show, but it wasn’t heavy-handed. FOB took the Asian perspective and made our upbringings seem normal. Despite the Huangs being the fishes out of water, the show made Eddie, his two brothers, mother, father and grandmother seem normal by poking fun at the extremes of suburban living in the United States.
“Fresh Off the Boat” captured many of the everyday issues and awkward interactions that are common for Asians in the United States (Here’s 17, but there were many more). I’ll tune in again, but the good news is that I think it has the comedic chops to be a success, hopefully America is ready.