TV TATTLE

Fresh Off the Boat says farewell after kicking off an Asian-American entertainment revolution

  • With Episodes 115 and 116, the groundbreaking Asian-American comedy said goodbye Friday night after six seasons with an episode fittingly titled "Commencement". As Inkoo Kang points out, Fresh Off the Boat helped launch and pave the way for a number of Asian-American stars, from Randall Park to Constance Wu to Ali Wong. "Today's Asian American boom likely would have happened at one juncture or another, but it is genuinely remarkable how many Asian American projects — and how many different kinds of Asian American representation — have come out of Fresh Off the Boat," says Kang. "To briefly play Sliding Doors, if ABC had never taken a chance on Fresh Off the Boat, it's harder to imagine Crazy Rich Asians being greenlit with nary a recognizable star, especially one like Wu, who had garnered much good will in the show's early seasons by advocating for Asian American issues off screen as well. Crazy Rich Asians went on to launch future Paul Feig muse Henry Golding and eventual Golden Globe winner Awkwafina — and while Lulu Wang has stated that the latter came on The Farewell team's radar well before Crazy Rich Asians, the rapper-turned-actress' scene-stealing turn in the record-breaking rom-com could only have helped the smaller arthouse drama, and led to her own (much raunchier) family sitcom on Comedy Central, Awkwafina is Nora From Queens. And if an experienced lead actress like Wu hadn't been around for Crazy Rich Asians, the industry's abominable trend of whitewashing Asian protagonists might well have continued for Hustlers. Fresh Off the Boat also boosted the career of Ali Wong, who has become, with just two Netflix specials, arguably the most acclaimed Asian American comic ever. (In Baby Cobra, her first special, the visibly pregnant but decidedly family-unfriendly Wong devotes a segment to the discomforts of going to the bathroom at work as an early Fresh Off the Boat writer.) Wong's vaulting into stand-up's top tier paved the way for last year's cultural phenom Always Be My Maybe, an unofficial Fresh Off the Boat reunion between the former writer, star Randall Park and creator Nahnatchka Khan that borrowed liberally from the series' 90s nostalgia and offbeat sweetness."

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    • Fresh Off the Boat mattered because it didn't transform the sitcom as we know it: Celebrity chef Eddie Huang, whose memoir inspired the groundbreaking Asian-American sitcom, voiced his disapproval early on with the series' middle-of-the-road interpretation of his story and fictionalized persona. "His criticisms have merit; all of these characters, even (Constance) Wu's sharp and hard-to-please Jessica, represent fairly formulaic archetypes in the world of broadcast sitcoms," says Melanie McFarland. "But in a way, that was the point: Fresh Off the Boat doesn't exist as a network's performative token of inclusion. It's a series starring Asian Americans telling its version of universally relatable stories about the human experience without negating the family's shared cultural identity or sidelining each character's individual personality. Its writers also used the show's primetime platform to tell vital stories about racism and immigration through the Huangs' experience without abandoning its comedic spirit. People should also appreciate the show's status as the only broadcast primetime series that features a co-star regularly speaking Mandarin, in the form of Lucille Soong's straight-faced Grandma Huang."
    • Early critiques that Fresh Off the Boat relied too much on Asian stereotypes proved to be unfair: "Looking back, I find these critiques to be unfair and expectant of too much," says Wesley Yiin. "But they were also a reasonable symptom of a very particular fear: that the show represented a once-in-a-generation shot to get this right. Asian American viewers wanted it to be an accurate, authentic reflection of their own lives and thus pulled it in a million directions. On an aesthetic level, critics and creators wanted it to be funnier, bolder, and more specific. In the wake of (Eddie) Huang’s rebuke, even those who argued in the show’s favor seemed compelled to simultaneously ding it... But, as with many shows, FOTB’s first season may have been more of a practice run. In its second and subsequent seasons, the show still had its repetitive moments — an issue faced by most network sitcoms — but there were also definite highs of weird and specific brilliance: when, in season two, Evan thinks about changing his American name because he finds his parents’ choice uninspired; or when, in season four, viewers are treated to an episode of near-complete Mandarin dialogue, as the Huang family competes to see who can go the longest without saying anything in English; or the stellar season three installment in which Jessica spikes with jealousy when Evan goes to church with friends in lieu of their usual Sunday trip to Costco."
    • Randall Park says Louis Yang's worldview made him a more positive person: "It definitely became a part of mine, in terms of his positivity, his love of life and the people around him," he says. "He’s just such a loving soul, and I really think throughout the course of the series it kind of became a part of me. Louis is an infectious character, and the fact that I got to play him really made me a more positive person in general…not that I was ever a really negative person, but I definitely see things on the brighter side more than I ever have these past six seasons. And I think I’m going to hold on to that, in the sense that playing this guy has really — and it sounds corny — made me a better person in a way."
    • Hudson Yang hopes to return someday for "Refresh Off the Boat": "I'm always going to miss being Eddie," he says. "He's a part of me. He IS me, really. I grew up being him, and I will always have great memories of my TV second family that I'll always love."
    • Executive producer Melvin Mar looks back on Fresh Off the Boat's journey to "The Promised Land of ABC comedy": "Fresh Off the Boat had been picked up for a midseason launch," he writes in The Hollywood Reporter. "We had been shooting our 13-episode season that late summer into fall. Right after the holidays, we found out our airdate — Feb. 4, 2015. A Wednesday night. The Promised Land of ABC comedy. We would get a magical taste of precious comedy scheduling real estate. But just for the premiere. Then we would be sent to Tuesday at 8 p.m. — the slot recently vacated by (one-and-done comedies) Selfie and Manhattan Love Story. Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune were our lead-ins with a couple of dramas behind us. Not precious comedy real estate. But by the time Fresh Off the Boat moved to Fridays a couple seasons ago, Tuesdays had become comedy real estate. (Creator) Nahnatchka (Kahn), (executive producer) Jake (Kasdan) and I still joke that Fresh Off the Boat was the scheduling pioneer of Tuesday night on ABC. Looking back on this now in 2020, with the de-emphasis of same-day ratings and the emphasis of three- and seven-day delayed viewing on streamers, it's easy to recognize that we lived through both an upheaval in ratings metrics and a dramatic change in viewership habits that was unimaginable when we sat down to dumplings at our first table read over a half-decade ago."

    TOPICS: Fresh Off the Boat, ABC, Ali Wong, Constance Wu, Eddie Huang, Hudson Yang, Melvin Mar, Nahnatchka Khan, Randall Park, Asian Americans and TV, Series Finales




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