To be entirely honest, I was very skeptical of Fresh Off the Boat (“FOB”) when I first heard about it — after all, how would the American Broadcasting Company (“ABC”) pull off an entertaining and accurate depiction of the Chinese-American experience? Would FOB simply be another social justice mouthpiece? Would it be a fount of dry intellectualism?
Yet when I first saw the cast, I decided it should be worth a try — after all, Constance Wu was beautiful and I’m not passing up the opportunity to see Kim Jong-un run a family.
To my delight, I was laugh non-stop through the first two episodes of FOB — not only did it manage to capture many of the cultural milieus of the modern Chinese-American family more accurately than seeking truths from facts, from the humorous “tiger mom” moments of after-school tutoring and the fear over report card day, to the more socially telling lack of acceptance of the Chinese-American packed lunch over “Lunchables” by white classmates, FOB managed to portray the essential and serious points of the Asian-American experience in a nicely-packaged comedy. FOB even manages to poke fun at the stereotypes that many Asians have about Americans (“When my neck gets red ’cause of my white skin is out in the yellow sun”). FOB manages to miraculously combine social commentary and comedic bytes of entertainment in a package more cohesive than Singapore’s racial harmony programs.
To the credit of the actors, Constance Wu and Randall Park work together more harmoniously than a Chinese society of Hu Jintao’s dreams — in particular I found Wu’s acting to be particularly on-point in portraying the Asian-American mother, and while Park certainly acts as a more “chill dad”, his role in representing the Asian-American strive to provide a better life for one’s family is quintessential. And when Wu’s character runs her afterschool tutoring session in her kitchen, I was instantly reminded of my summer-long “supplementary maths struggle sessions” held by my father to put me ahead of the “American kids” at school (something which today, holding a degree in Mathematics, I appreciate in hindsight).
Certainly, it takes a particular sense of humor to appreciate FOB without feeling offended — and to that point, it may offend a large number of highly-sensitive Asian-American viewers. However, for the type of audience that found Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother more hilarious (and to a certain extent, identifiable) than controversial or offensive, FOB presents a rather strikingly accurate depiction of modern Asian-American life (which surprises me, as Orlando, FL is likely the furthest you could get from the heart of the Silicon Valley). And although I may relate more to the Brought Over By Airplane (BOBA) Asian immigrants in California, I look forward to watching many more episodes of FOB in the coming weeks.
Fresh Off the Boat — United States. First broadcast February 2015 on ABC. Created by Nahnatchka Khan, based on an original work by Eddie Huang. Starring Randall Park, Constance Wu, Ian Chen, Hudson Yang, and Forrest Wheeler.