I caught the first two episodes of the new Fresh Off the Boat television show and it’s been talked about a lot, for a few reasons. As a white male, I can see the perspective that this show might be demeaning or offensive, as “fresh off the boat” isn’t usually a positive connotation in my experience. So I was curious if this show was able to actually deliver a decent premise that all sorts of audiences could relate to.
So after two episodes, let’s talk about Fresh Off the Boat.
The gist. This series is based on the memoir by Eddie Huang, author and restaurant-owner, about growing up in Orlando and struggling with issues of identity. The cast is led by Constance Wu and Randall Park as the parents of three young kids, who relocate from Washington D.C. to Orlando to help save their struggling restaurant. Hudson Yang stars as the young Eddie Huang, who we follow as he tries to acclimate to a new school and make friends.
This show succeeded on a few levels.
Your most immediate question is likely how they walk the fine line of being entertaining yet not being offensive. I think it helps that Eddie Huang is writing from his experiences, so it’s not based on some old white guy’s perception of what the Asian American experience is like but rather firsthand stories that have depth and meaning. I found the first two episodes to be both really entertaining as well as some really poignant moments that surprised me. As an outsider looking in, the show brilliantly gave enough context for me to understand the struggles and how issues of identity hit this young kid. It’s already tackled some deep and usually taboo topics in the first few episodes but did it with tact.
While young Hudson Yang does fine as the young Eddie Huang, it’s really the two parents that carry the show. Randall Park (most recently seen as Kim Jong Un in The Interview) has brilliant comedic timing and delivered a lot of great moments. He also had some great moments with his wife (played by Constance Wu). This is the first time I’ve seen Wu but she gave a very nuanced performance for a 30 minute sitcom. There were moments of outrageous and loud humor but she had some quieter moments where you can see behind the curtain. Together, these two made these episodes both hilarious and touching.
What didn’t work?
I wouldn’t say this necessarily didn’t work, but I’m excited for more time spent with the two younger brothers. They had a few really great lines but there’s some definite potential with these characters and how they might be acclimating different than Eddie did.
I’m really impressed and I hope that the general audience gives this show a chance. As a sitcom, it delivers solid laughs and there’s the foundation for some really great and meaningful stories. As a look into the experience of this Taiwanese family in white suburbia, this show successfully welcomes us into that world and gives us enough information to understand their struggles, without becoming offensive and without becoming a simplistic stereotype. I’d be curious if viewers with similar experiences found the show to be realistic or if it didn’t resonate with them as much. Overall though, I was impressed and I’m excited for where this show can go.