When I heard there was finally going to be an Asian American family sitcom, I was pumped. I don’t normally like sitcoms, but having a TV show reflect what I physically look like on cable was a big step for the community that I identify with. So I wanted it to do well, and support it by tuning in each week. Unfortunately, I had to stop watching it. I just couldn’t get into it, even though I sat through almost all three seasons, it just fell flat for me.
The first thing I want to say was that in the first and maybe the second season there was an adopted Chinese boy character. He was adopted into a Jewish family and excelled at everything “stereotypically Asian.” Which I guess was funny because he’s not being raised the Asian way, but the Jewish way. The punch line is that Chinese genetics are so strong; he’s just awesomely good at “Asian things?” I didn’t get it. Also, it was unrealistic for Jessica to fawn over him so much because in reality, adopted Chinese people are not a welcome member in most Asian American circles, because they weren’t raised “the right way.” I guess in the show they’re saying that being raised Jewish is as good as being raised Asian? I don’t really know, but it was totally unrealistic and not funny.
The next thing I have a question about is, why the 90s? I know they were trying to be Everybody Hates Chris, but then they changed the narrative of the show to just a sitcom, so it doesn’t work anymore, not like it ever did. In the first season, they were trying to show Eddie Huang’s real life, but even the real Eddie Huang didn’t endorse the show. They scrapped the narrative element in the second season because Eddie was boring. I like that they changed the story telling aspect, but now the setting doesn’t make sense. How much 90s nostalgia is there? Why not make it present day and address real issues like Black-ish. UGH.
What I do like about the show is that the acting talent they got for the show is great, but they’re not given anything to work with. The grandma, dad, mom, and kids – except for Eddie – are great actors. But their characters are bland as fuck. It’s like they’re trying to not make the characters stereotypes that they just end up being stereotypes. Like the show was afraid to have Jessica be the stereotypical oppressive Asian American mother, so they made her have all these other white soccer mom character traits, like being competitive, manipulative, and materialistic. So now she’s just a mean spirited character. They didn’t want Eddie to be the stereotypical obedient filial son, so they made him rule breaking and dangerous, but with a flippant mom and fun loving dad like Louis, I don’t see how his character is possible at all! Why would he need to break rules if his dad is fun loving and his mom is just whatever?
Why not have more POC in the mix? Eddie’s friends are all caricatures of sitcom best friends. It tries to push the envelope and be edgy by talking about race, elections, and immigration, but it all falls flat, because they’re in the FUCKING 90s. I only watch it to support the only Asian American TV show on cable, but I can’t anymore. I don’t think it’s real or authentic. I wish it was, but it’s just meh. Why don’t the Huangs have any other Asian friends besides their family? Asian American communities are really important. Even if there are no Asian Americans nearby, people will flock together and find a place to meet and make friends. Finding a minority community and self-segregation is important to feel validated, why is that not a part of the show?
Some episodes had great potential, such as the Chinese New Year one, the one when Louis had to represent Asian people on TV, and when Jessica needed to get her citizenship. But Jessica is so unlikeable. Not even as a Chinese American woman, but as a person. She’s controlling, and mean. I don’t think it represents Asian people correctly, but at the same time, it wouldn’t even be entertaining if they were white. Everything is so bland and forgettable. Another great episode concept I was excited for was when they go to Taiwan. How great would it be to show the feelings of not having a home in the U.S. or Taiwan? There’s a scene when Jessica and Evan say they feel at home, but in reality they don’t, which is a real feeling, but they barely address that. I guess it’s because the episodes are so short, but then they wasted precious minutes on a montage of Eddie wearing new sneakers. There are good ideas, but the characters and execution make them bad ideas.
I like the grandma and how she speaks mandarin. But she’s the only one who’s actually fresh off the boat. Everyone else is American. I know they want to prove that Asian people can be American/white too, but why is the show called fresh off the boat? And great, Asian people can be white too, but this is a huge problem in the show. The whole show is basically them saying, we’re white, we’re American, and forgetting all the problems that come with being Asian American.
It’s hard to critique a show like this because it’s the only Asian American show in the U.S. right now on cable but god; I wish they did a better job. I know any representation is welcomed. And one family is never going to represent all the different Asian American families there are. I don’t think they should be stereotypical fresh off the boat immigrants with accents and such, but if you’re going to bring up identity issues, go full throttle, don’t half ass it. Make an episode where Jessica has to mentor a new actually FOB family, maybe have Cattleman’s ranch try to go “fusion” and mix different types of food, have Asian American girls at their school, have the boys feel emasculated by Asian male stereotypes, ANYTHING. Maybe it’s because it’s on ABC, but they could do a lot more. I’ve seen cable to TV go there with other shows about other racial minorities, so go there.
23 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.