New sitcom “Fresh Off The Boat” brings Asian Americans back into TV spotlight

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ABC's new sitcom "Fresh Off The Boat" challenges Asian-American stereotypes.

ABC’s new sitcom “Fresh Off The Boat” challenges Asian American stereotypes.

Fresh Off The Boat, recently picked up by ABC for its 2014-15 primetime lineup, is the first Asian American-focused sitcom in 20 years.

Based on the memoir of chef and restaurateur Eddie Huang, the half-hour, single-camera comedy set in the 1990’s focuses on a 12-year-old Eddie and his Taiwanese Family who experience culture shock when they move from Washington D.C. to predominantly Caucasian Orlando, Florida.

The show stars Randall Park (who plays Danny Chung in Veep), Constance Wu, Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler, and Ian Chen.

Asian Americans are probably the least represented minority group on television, even with an estimated of 18.9 million people of Asian descent living in the U.S.

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This will be the first time in two decades since an Asian American family had their own sitcom. The last was the 1994 Korean-American comedy All-American Girl, starring Margaret Cho, which was canceled by ABC after one season because of low ratings.

A few shows, like Elementary (which stars Lucy Liu) and The Mindy Project (which stars Mindy Kaling) feature Asian protagonists, but they’re typically the single Asian American character in an otherwise white context. Asian Americans in other shows like 2 Broke Girls (which stars Han Bryce Lee) and Grey’s Anatomy (which stars Cristina Yang) are few and often sidelined or are heavily stereotyped.

Shows that are recognized and celebrated for their diversity like Orange is the New Black or Brooklyn Nine-Nine do not have any consistent Asian cast members. Even Modern Family’s Lily and Trophy Wife’s Bert who are the two highest-profile Asian children on television right now are characters adopted by white families. Hawaii Five-O, a show championed for having two main Asian cast members, is an anomaly in American crime TV series. Similar shows like NCIS, Castle, Law and Order, and CSI do not have any major Asian cast members.

The Twitter sphere erupted with heated conversations after ABC unveiled the official trailer for Fresh Off the Boat this past week.

So far, the series has been met with both criticism and support. The biggest criticism is that titling a mainstream sitcom Fresh Off The Boat is inconsiderate of the origins and the oppression associated with the term “F.O.B.” and might normalize the term in the American mainstream.

Eddie Huang, whose voice you can hear in the narration of the trailer, creator of the memoir of the same name and co-producer of the show responded to the Twitter backlash.

“There are people in every race who try to speak for everybody and try to legislate what you can think and what you can’t think, with no understanding of what it means to interpret an experience,” Huang told Buzzfeed. “It’s ‘fresh off the boat.’ That’s a term that Asians call each other and we claim it and it’s worn with pride.”

“It’s really sizzling. It’s a very, very, very distinctive voice,” said Paul Lee, the president of ABC network’s entertainment group. “I do think it’s the right thing to do.”

Fresh Of The Boat has found support on Facebook. Popular Youtube channel Wong Fu Productions praised the show in a recent Facebook post that has over 6,000 likes and 1,000 shares saying, “This is major and it’s so important for us to support this show. It actually looks good too, so let’s all get behind something really positive for our community in mainstream media.” 

“It seems like a funny and entertaining way to demonstrate aspects of Asian American culture,” said Diana Zhou, past president of Chinese Student Association at the University of Washington. “I definitely can relate and I’m excited for it to premiere.”

Alice Day is a Junior at the University of Washington pursuing degrees in Journalism, Political Science, and Sales. She aspires to become either a radio personality, a political ambassador, or english content creator in China. She spends her free time blogging, shooting, and filming for her website www.alicedaylight.com.

14 COMMENTS

  1. “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has 2 chinese female in the lead role.”

    Oh yeah, that’s real inclusion in the arts. We should be soooooo thankful that even two East Asian characters are on a single series…both women too! Where are the men? Another Asian American series is exactly what we need, but I feel like this is going to turn into one big joke.

    In that case, I’d rather see it fail. The title and that trailer do not bode well.

  2. 50 years ago in Brooklyn, NY, the term “off the boat” referred to immigrants who had recently arrived (generally Italian in a neighborhood like Bensonhurst), as opposed to those who had been in the country for a generation or more. The term was meant to indicate that these individuals didn’t (or barely) spoke English, and had not yet assimilated in any real way, e.g., manner of dress and cooking (lots of newly planted gardens of tomatoes and figs!).

    It WAS used pejoratively by ignorant, prejudiced people, but it was also used as an innocently meant, simple descriptor. How to tell the difference? The first group also used common slurs of the day (e.g., w**p, g**zo), while the second never did, and would almost certainly have stopped using the term if they had any inkling that it was experienced as insulting.

  3. Regardless of all the positive press, there’s no denying the history of this derogatory phrase which translates to: “you don’t belong here.” Should we start having black sitcoms called “Nigga?” and latino sitcoms named “wetbacks?” No, because these are very offensive terms that roots from a very sensitive background. There’s definitely a racial hierarchy, where race issues regarding Asian Americans are pushed aside when it comes to black and/or latino Americans. All in all, obviously white Americans are going to base every Asian American they know now on this show, because surprise surprise, racism still exists. Although this show may be ground-breaking in many senses, such as being the first Asian-American sitcom, it is still simply a show greenlighted by ABC, a corporation run by white Americans who sees no harm in this racial slur. Maybe we should have a show called “crackers.”

  4. Regardless of all the positive press, there’s no denying the history of this derogatory phrase which translates to: “you don’t belong here.” Should we start having black sitcoms called “Nigga?” and latino sitcoms named “wetbacks?” No, because these are very offensive terms that roots from a very sensitive background. There’s definitely a racial hierarchy, where race issues regarding Asian Americans are pushed aside when it comes to black and/or latino Americans. All in all, obviously white Americans are going to base every Asian American they know now on this show, because surprise surprise, racism still exists. Although this show may be ground-breaking in many senses, such as being the first Asian-American sitcom, it is still simply a show greenlighted by ABC, a corporation run by white Americans who sees no harm in this racial slur. Maybe we should have a show called “crackers.”

  5. The title doesn’t make sense because the family didn’t move from Taiwan, they just came from DC. Fresh off the boat ultimately means you’ve travelled miles on a boat and have reached your destination. Yeah the parents still have the accents but they’ve been in the country for a while, hence the kids.

  6. ither comedies that have minorities as main characters joke about their stereotypes and such without problems. Yes we can refer to old shows from the nineties when they played alot of black stereotype. Or george lopez and any one of his shows that make fun of the mexican stereotypes. Look at the comedians. The make fun of what is real and sometimes exaggerating it but thats what they do. A comedy is a show to make fun of life in a storyline fashion. Im asian and I cant wait to see this show. I did nails and angela johnson cracks me up everytime. If everyone took everything so seriously how can you live life laughing.

  7. Btw if you feel like fob is such a derogatory term than maybe you should confront your fellow asian community about it since i myself have only heard other asian use that term. I was called fob by other asian born peers although I was born on american soil and they were not because I have an american accent and my family was from a different region. Ive never been called a fob by any other type of nationality or heard any other use the term but an asian.

  8. Also if anyone should be pissef at anything then why dont the people who are so concerned about how tv personalties show us asians than why doesnt anyone get at the disney londen chick who always plays a cute money oriented fashionista whos to dumb to tell you what 2+2 is…… they mainly cast her for dumb asian roles. Sooooooo…… but I guess thats ok right

  9. The asian sitcom is most welcome as a way to further integrate asians into the main stream melting pot the same way other ethic based sitcoms have done
    let’s not get hung up on titles or phrases and sit back and learn a little bit about each other and laugh together

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