Have you ever wondered why TV shows are typically about single New Yorkers looking for love and life in the big city?
Perhaps you want something other than the usual procedural crime drama, teenagers surviving American high school drama or the woes of a middle child living in a dysfunctional family. Do you want all that plus no singing or dancing whatsoever?
Then tune in to Fresh Off The Boat, a brilliant new comedy set in the 1990s about the Huangs, an Asian-American family trying to get through suburban life in Orlando, Florida.
The Huangs are made up of dad Louis (Randall Park), tiger mum Jessica (Constance Wu), and sons Eddie, Emery and Evan (played by Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen respectively).
The family moves from Washington DC’s Chinatown to Orlando where Louis has opened a new restaurant. Jessica isn’t happy because they don’t know anyone there; plus, the humidity is not good for her hair.
Fresh Off The Boat also focuses on how 11-year-old Eddie tries to adjust to his new school where he and an African-American student are part of the minority group.
The comedy arises when Eddie narrates how the majority of the people he meets in Orlando seem clueless about Asians in general. On the first day of school, before a baffled teacher can pronounce Eddie’s Chinese name, he immediately tells the class to just call him Eddie. To which the teacher says to herself: “Oh, thank God.” The same thing happens to Jessica when she introduces herself to a group of suburban mums. One of the ladies says: “Oh, your name is Jessica? I was expecting something a little more exotic.”
I love how the show pokes fun at ignorance. I’m pretty sure most of us can relate to situations where some people expect our names to be Kung Fu Panda or Xiao Long Bao.
There is also another funny and relatable situation where one suburban mum, surprised that Eddie speaks English fluently, says very slowly: “Wow, your … English … is … very … good.”
The series uses numerous flashbacks to show how the Huangs compare their new surroundings to their previous home. In one episode, Jessica says she misses the Chinatown market because it made her feel calm – and a hilarious flashback shows a chaotic scene with her and other shoppers fighting over food items.
In another scene, Jessica complains to Eddie’s principal that school is too easy because he got straight As. She asks for the nearest Chinese Learning Centre, leading to an Eddie-narrated flashback to a time when after-school CLC sessions involved even more schoolwork and violin lessons! He looks out the window and is envious of two boys playing in the sun, imagining their laughter as “the sound of childhood”.
Wu is undoubtedly the star of the show. She absolutely nails the character of a no-nonsense, calculative and intelligent mother with a perpetual deadpan expression.
She also has some of the best lines on the show. When Eddie complains that his mother is all about the money, Jessica retorts: “Do me a favour. Find a homeless man and ask if he thinks money matters. You tell me what he says.”
Jessica also helps her husband’s business by dishing out Forbes magazine-worthy advice. When Louis says a customer needs an extra napkin, Jessica objects, explaining: “First you give them extra napkins. Next thing you know, they run out on the bill.”
Yes, in Jessica Huang’s world; things escalate very quickly.
However, the show is not without faults. Fresh Off The Boat is based on the autobiography of chef and media personality Eddie Huang. Surprisingly, he is the show’s biggest critic. Through a series of well-publicised tweets, it is evident that Huang does not appreciate the way the show is more laugh-out-loud comedy than edgy, hard-hitting drama.
In Huang’s book, he talks about how he endured being a victim of domestic violence and that Social Services tried to separate him from his parents. For those who have read the book, you may hate this show and mourn the wasted potential for a serious series about an Asian-American family.
But if you’re like me – someone easily amused who has never read the book – then don’t delay. Get on this boat.
Catch Fresh Off The Boat every Sunday at 9.55pm on Fox HD (Astro Ch 724).