As we’ve all heard by now, Fresh Off the Boat, is the first American television series staring an Asian American family in over twenty years (since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl in 1994) is coming to ABC, with the first two episodes premiering this upcoming Wednesday, February 4th – before settling into its regularly scheduled Tuesday evening time slot.
“It’s the ’90s and 12 year old, hip-hop loving Eddie just moved to suburban Orlando from DC’s Chinatown with his parents. It’s culture shock for his immigrant family in this comedy about pursuing the American Dream.”
Recently, Hudson Yang, the star of the new ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, and his dad, noted Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Yang, were in San Francisco for a fundraising event for the 1990 Institute, and I had the great opportunity able to interview the two of them, right after HoChie Tsai (who I like to describe as the “Godfather of Taiwanese America, 2nd Generation”) of TaiwaneseAmerican.org did one.
I first met Jeff Yang over 20 years ago at an ITASA conference at Harvard. Although I had already graduated from college, I often visited friends and my brother in the Greater Boston area. Yang was on a panel for “alternative careers” for Taiwanese Americans (i.e. for those not pursuing a medical, law, engineering, etc. stereotypical career) and he was the the publisher of A. Magazine and had re-started to follow him when he used to be a regular columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and then, the Wall Street Journal.
I watched an online screener of the pilot for Fresh Off the Boat, so I was surprised to see Hudson as a regular young kid acting like a kid (also being impatient, bored at the dim sum fundraiser – playing videogames, etc.), unlike his on-screen persona as Eddie Huang that he portrays on the TV series, as someone with a lot of swagger and confidence.
The deeply neutered “All-American Girl,” in effect “apologized for the Asianness of this family,” Mr. Yang said, by filtering it through the lens of traditional white sitcom values. On “Fresh Off the Boat,” about an immigrant family of Taiwanese descent making its way in white America with varying degrees of success, it’s the white perspective that’s foreign. It is also a memoir about falling under the spell of hip-hop at a time when, for an outsider, that could feel like a more or less solitary pursuit. (The first two episodes will be shown on Wednesday, and the following week, it will switch to its regular Tuesday time slot.)
Both series in their own ways have underscored tensions about how Asian-Americans can be represented in the mainstream. And both arrived with similar stakes: Whether designed to be a universally relatable representation or birthed from one person’s singular vision, it was the only one in sight.
“It freaks me out that if it doesn’t work for some reason, it’ll be another 20-year drought,” said Melvin Mar, one of the executive producers of “Fresh Off the Boat,” who said he had read countless scripts by Asian-Americans in search of one he wanted to produce.
“You have to remember we’re not making a show just for Asian-Americans, we’re making a show through the Asian-American point of view for everybody,” he continued. “We work on the Fox lot, so everything is compared to ‘Modern Family,’ so it became, ‘We want to be the Chinese Steve Levitan!’ ” (Mr. Levitan is a creator of that sitcom.)
I had a fantastic time interviewing Hudson and Jeff and look forward to seeing Fresh Off the Boat hopefully succeed into a second season. Who knows, if Fresh Off the Boat is a success, Hudson Yang’s fame may surpass Jeremy Lin’s! I hope you enjoy the interview!
As for my review of the show, well, I’ve only seen the pilot. I can say that I enjoyed it – but a lot of the show seemed already familiar to me since I had already seen the online trailer and television spots for the show – and they were mostly, if not all, taken from the pilot. I can’t say that the pilot was funnier than Blackish (which I thought was *hilarious* and smart), but definitely better than I think than the ill-fated Fall 2014 debut of John Cho’s Selfie’s pilot. 8Asians will be reviewing the episodes, so keep your eyes open for those posts!
Photo courtesy of Anna Wu Photography.