In its brief run on ABC, Fresh Off The Boat has been one of the most talked about shows on television. It features an Asian American family attempting to assimilate into an all-white neighborhood in Orlando, Fla., making for a singularly unique sitcom featuring a wildly under-represented minority in Hollywood. Flip on over to Two Broke Girls on CBS and the depiction of Asian Americans is almost in line with the horribly racist cartoons of World War II America, demonstrating a clear need for an alternative. Showing us an average family looking to get by, Fresh Off The Boat is attempting to become the new normal in a decidedly whitewashed TV-scape.
There’s one word that keeps coming up in reviews for the show that may be the most apt description out there: Important. Fresh Off The Boat is far more than your run-of-the-mill family comedy. Rather, it’s the first real venture into telling the story of the Asian American experience, something that until now hasn’t been deemed marketable enough for network TV. Across the Internet, the consensus has been clear: Good or bad, this show needs to exist.
The show itself is based off of Eddie Huang’s memoirs of the same name, but don’t get the two confused: Huang is far from giving the show his blessing as a true depiction of his original work. In a piece he wrote that appeared in New York Magazine and on Vulture, Huang cites his own concerns for the watered-down show, lamenting that “it’s not enough … You can’t just get on base. We got to come home.” Even so, he does go on to acknowledge that its mere existence is a progressive (albeit small) step in the right direction.
What’s interesting about the media circus surrounding Fresh Off The Boat though, is that it seems to have earned everyone but Huang’s approval. Benjamin Zhang of Business Insider even goes so far as to call it “one of the most important shows on TV right now,” citing his own experiences growing up as a Chinese American in the suburbs of Atlanta. He of course qualifies this by admitting that as it goes on, it “could easily end up one massive cultural dumpster fire” for “networks that simply aren’t equipped to handle the cultural nuances of the community.” Zhang ends up convinced though that the show is indeed an accurate depiction of the Asian American experience, but his reservations are far from unwarranted.
Run through the reams of articles reviewing the show, and the general consensus seems to be the same: Fresh Off The Boat is a charming comedy that speaks to important issues, but with the frightening potential to devolve into damaging racial profiles. For now, it speaks to the issues that matter in a true and entertaining way. But as the show goes on, there will always be the temptation to fall back on the stereotypes we’ve become all too comfortable with for decades now.
As it moves forward, Fresh Off The Boat will be under a microscope of media scrutiny. Will it continue to tell a story that television has sorely needed for years now? Or will it drag our perceptions of Asian Americans in media backwards? For now, it’s proven its mettle as a must-watch comedy that does just enough justice to remain culturally relevant. We’ll just have to see if it manages to stay in that territory.