Fresh Off The Boat is a television series based on Eddie Huang’s autobiographical book. Initially I skipped it because F.O.B. only has racist connotations in my community. The previews focused on stereotypical comedic setups and ABC hasn’t had the best track record with me. Early word on Twitter was very positive so I decided to try the show. While not perfect, Fresh Off The Boat comes very close to a complete home run. This is a family drama centered first on being a family, then on the Asian-American experience, and only lastly on white expectations. After the fourth episode I tried to recall seeing as diverse an Asian family on television and failed. This show is long overdue in arriving. I wish it had arrived with less of the conventional stereotypes, but not every show can be Jane The Virgin.
Still, I am far from in love with some of it’s choices (the only person to call Eddie a slur is the only black kid we meet, the mom-is-so-cheap jokes are already overdone, and we’ve got a fair amount of objectification going toward the ladies) but I am in love with the show. As a fan of Nahnatchka Khan I’m inclined to spot her a few points. This somewhat controversial interview with Huang sealed the deal for me. Watching Fresh off the Boat I was surprised to find that some of the moments I objected to in the preview were rock solid in context. That’s the show’s hurdle – to reach American audiences in such a way that the complexity is included. It’s easy for art based in one ethnicities experiences to be repurposed by the white American majority into permission to perpetuate bigotries. (See: Rap & words starting with N.)
In The Shunning Jessica, the brilliant Constance Wu, is forced to choose between personal inclination, good business practices, and the faux morality of the neighborhood. It was a shame that this episode insisted on Eddie (the excellent Hudson Yang) subverting it. I feel like the challenge for Fresh Off The Boat is captured here. On one hand you have Jessica coolly evaluating suburban culture and rejecting it’s insistence that allegiance to a woman she never met replace affinity with a new friend. On the other you have that friend “paying” for Jessica’s acceptance by allowing Eddie to use her as a sex trophy. This odd balance between sex positivity and straight sexism was occasionally present in Khan’s earlier series The B in Apt 23. What Jessica has given depth, Eddie has made shallow. Eddie’s brother collects girls like other kids collect Pokemon, but he never feels disrespectful. Although we never really meet these girls, Emery seems to respect them in a way that Eddie does not. It’s another twist that it’s Emery (the non sexist) who is assimilated and Eddie (the stone cold objectifier) who is the fish out of American Culture.
It’s too early to declare this show a complete home run, but Fresh Off The Boat is worth supporting. It’s funny, it’s satirical, it’s fresh and the best look at family in a long sitcom time. When Eddie’s rap loving cousin arrives fully immersed in the artificial nihilism of grunge I felt every bit of Eddie’s dismayed confusion. He thought he knew the guy and then that happened.
Final Assessment: Promising new series with some exceptional leads. Could go either way, get in early. A-