It’s been 20 years since a show about Asian-Americans was put on a major network. Comedian Margaret Cho created a show called “All-American Girl” that showed the culture clash between a natural born Korean mother and her fully Americanized daughter. The series only lasted a season.
Today, ABC has taken on “Fresh Off the Boat” (FOB), which is based off cooking personality Eddie Huang’s book. Huang’s story is about his life assimilating to American culture.
To depict his life, Huang and directors chose child actor Hudson Yang to play Eddie, Constance Wu (Jessica Huang) to play Eddie’s mother and Randall Park (Louis Huang), to play Eddie’s father. Some might recognize Park from his hit movie “The Interview”, where he played Kim Jong-un.
Huang’s story has transitioned well to television, but the expectation is that it’s suppose to represent all Asians. DePaul alumae Christina Orda, comedian Kristina Wong and DePaul professors Laura Kina and Lucy Lu disagree and believe the show is more than that. They believe it’s about the struggles people of displacement go through while assimilating to American culture.
“I don’t look for a sitcom to be the representation of some real Asian-American experience … But that’s what kind of put that pressure on it,” Kina said.
Critics have compared the show to Cho’s because of the surrounding belief that the show only tackles Asian-American struggles.
Kina believes it’s more than that and compares it to ABC’s popular show “Modern Family,” saying it’s uniquely funny while also tackling stereotypes.
Wong agrees with Kina and believes the show is “edgy” and “wacky” with their script.
According to Wong, she finds it funny that the directors’ use unique angles, like the mother being competitively cheap, to separate the show from “All-American Girl”. She explains an episode where Jessica is fighting with her sister about saving money, and says the satire of the mother stealing to get a deal makes the show comical.
Lu is also a fan of the show and believes it’s entertaining, but truly feels the show’s success lies in how it depicts the real hardships of immigrants.
According to Lu, her daughter Wendi faced similar hardships to Eddie. Like Eddie in the “Pilot” episode, Wendi once was mocked for bringing Chinese noodles to lunch because of the irregular smell.
“I had to buy my daughter Lunchables just so she could blend in,” Lu said. Eddie also forced his mother to buy Lunchables, so he’d stop being made fun of.
Orda highly recommends the show and says it’s not just for Asians.
“I have a co-worker who is Irish that says he relates to the show,” Orda said. “The language barriers … Most importantly, the struggles immigrated parents go through with Americanized kids and trying to sustain their cultural roots.”
One episode tackles identity by explaining Eddie’s fascination with hip-hop. Eddie’s cousin Justin Chen got Eddie into the lifestyle, but then Eddie finds out that Chen changed his love to acoustic when they meet in the episode “Successful Perm.” Although Chen tries to change Eddie’s beliefs, he remains loyal to hip-hop because of his identification with Tupac.
Since Asian-American shows haven’t found much success on major television networks, Orda hopes that this show finds its way to stay on the air.
“I hope it will last,” Orda said. “It seems that a lot of ABC shows don’t seem to last as long … but I feel like since it’s different and not the typical crime, drama or vampire show, it will remain on the air.”
Lu mirrors Orda’s feelings and hopes the show doesn’t face cultural controversy.
According to Lu, “All-American Girl” was taken off the air not only because of the below-average ratings, but because Koreans criticized the show for exaggerating their culture.”
Lu remains positive with the show’s direction and has heard nothing but positive things from her colleagues about the series.
Even though “FOB” is the first Asian American show on a major network since 1994, it’s more than just talking about Asian-Americans, it’s talking about identity and American dream.
ABC may not be able to guarantee a long run for “FOB,” but Huang taking his book to television is more than just a television show about an Asian family. It’s showing something different, and that’s progress.