Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Review - Fresh off the Boat


ABC premiered its latest family comedy tonight, Fresh off the Boat.  Certainly seems like the right network for it seeing as how ABC has the most family-centered sitcoms on the air right now, most f them big successes including Modern Family, The Middle, The Goldbergs and most recently, Black-ish.  From what I know, this seems like the Asian version of the latter, and since I didn't really care for that one, I wondered how I would feel about this.  So what did I think?

In Fresh off the Boat, it’s the '90s and 12 year old, hip-hop loving Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang) just moved to suburban Orlando from DC’s Chinatown with his parents Louis and Jessica (Randall Park, seen recently in the infamous movie The Interview playing Kim Jong Un, and Constance Wu). It’s culture shock for his immigrant family in this comedy about pursuing the American Dream. Co-stars Ian Chen and Forrest Wheeler as siblings Even and Emery.

Going in, I was pretty sure this sitcom was going to be full of Asian stereotypes, which would be a shame, being that this is the first Asian family-focused show that I can name as ever existing on TV (there aren't that many Asians on air/recently on air I can actually name en masse, save Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park on CBS' Hawaii Five-0, John Cho on the recently cancelled Selfie, Margaret Cho on the recently ended Drop Dead Diva and Jadyn Wong on CBS' Scorpion, to name a few).


Right off the bat I felt like I was watching an Asian version of The Goldbergs: a period piece (TG takes place in the 80s, this in the mid-90s) with voice-over from the center-focus kid as an adult (TG, it's Adam, here it's Eddie) as he describes what life in his family was like (both shows coincidentally are based on their real respective childhoods).  Eddie's adult self sounds like a rap-gangsta wannabe, which they establish by showing younger Eddie's hip-hop fascination (complimented by the show's soundtrack). 

Mom Jessica is the only one with a thick Asian accent and there are no Asian-typical names (though they apparently have them by birth, as shown when Eddie's teacher attempts to introduce him to the class, brutally slaughtering the pronunciation ...  the clan seemingly opts for easier American names), so they're not playing up the stereotype nearly as much as the forced attempt to portray suburban neighborhood moms who cluster together in a brightly-dressed cult-like manner (we first meet them as they roll by in their daily group rollerblading outing, giant smiles and aweness over their new ethnic neighbors - guess there really aren't a lot of Asians in Florida).  Of course Jessica jumps right in to make an effort to fit in, despite hating every minute of it.  Can't say she's necessarily a character to root for.  I have more respect for TG's Wendy McLendon-Covey's smothering Beverly (she is who she is and apologizes for and conforms to nothing).  I do appreciate Jessica's tendency to be passive-aggressive with Louis, but it's not funny enough. 

Part of the story involves Louis fulfilling his dream to own a western-themed restaurant.  See, that's supposed to be funny too, I think ... what could be more fish out of water?  What's funnier than a fish-out-of-water element, right?  Here, it's not so much.  Also, I've never been to DC's Chinatown, but as portrayed here it supposedly is very close to life in China, as we are shown when Jessica goes shopping at a very clean, quiet grocery store but yearns for the Taiwanese markets that "made her feel so calm" - to which we cut to a jam packed market full of people shouting all at once while clutching and grabbing for the surrounding food.  Obviously mom is not happy with the Americanization of her family.

Guess that's why they call this Fresh Off the Boat? Because it's such a culture shock for the family, even though they didn't move directly from Taiwan, but just from a different part of America?  Title would make more sense with the former.

I do respect the message given to us at the close of the pilot episode, about why Louis uprooted his family to their new home and wants to stick it out despite their initial obstacles (Jessica's displeasure (the humidity is murder on her hair), the change in culture, Eddie being bullied at school (the show actually had a classmate call him c**nk - pretty bold considering the severity of that word).  After Eddie fought back and Louis and Jessica defended his actions to the principal, Louis laid it out for his family:


"I'm sorry for what happened to Eddie but it's going to make him stronger.  In fact coming to this new place, it's going to make us all stronger.  I came down here and opened a wild west restaurant because this is the wild west!  A lawless land only for the bravest of families.  There is opportunity here to make a better life for our family.  Things were okay for us in DC, but I want more than okay for us."

Can't argue with that.  Two episodes aired tonight, and the second brought Jessica more into the forefront, establishing that she is her own kind of smother (ABC really loves that character trait).  Still didn't win me over.  I guess there's room for only one type of this show for me, and it's The Goldbergs, which I highly recommend.  But if you like family comedy, ABC certainly has plenty to go around, and you may enjoy this show more than I did.  I welcome you to give it a shot (but really, The Goldbergs is funnier.)

Fresh Off the Boat airs Tuesdays at 8pm on ABC.

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