8Asians TalkAbout: Watching the ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Pilot


Our internal e-mail lists have us discussing all kinds of stuff: Asian American identity, representation in the media, the experiences of activism in an academia setting and its progression as we transition to the working, adult world. And since the premiere of Fresh Off the Boat is the biggest television event to hit the Asian American community since… um… Linsanity? (does that count?), there was quite a lot we all had to say, but unsurprisingly, not about specific moments in the show:

Tim: Good news is I didn’t hate it. Bad news is I didn’t love it.

John: Since I had been already following all the news and videos posted online and TV promos, the pilot didn’t seem that fresh to me, but very familiar (because I had almost seen all the scenes or clips of them before).

Yes, Randall’s and Constance’s accents are not very good, and I hear they mostly go away in a few episodes.

As I had blogged and also commented to Jeff Yang, I though Blackish’s pilot episode was brilliant, funny and smart and I really like the show, going to almost watch it over Modern Family first now on my DVR. I’m hoping the writing and plot lines for Fresh Off the Boat improves, very quickly – since it did not improve fast enough for Selfie, which I think did improve over time. Blackish was lucky that they had a hit from the very start – and that is very difficult these days, especially for network television.

Joz: I thought the accents would bother me… either Randall Park’s lack of one, or Constance Wu’s Taiwanese accent… but I wasn’t bothered by them at all. Actually, I thought Constance was pretty good, considering the dialogue that’s being written for her is much sharper than I’ve seen written for other immigrants in the past. And I like that.

Tim: The problem I had with the accent is I know how mom and all my aunts talk when they try to speak English and Constance sounded nothing like them. So it sounded very fake to me.

Joz: If they were going to go for accurate, most of the parents’ dialogue wouldn’t be written the way that it is. If we were going by what my aunties and uncles sound like, I’d say their English would be more broken, no matter how long they’ve been in the U.S.

In all seriousness, I hope that accent doesn’t distract from a lot of what’s really good about the show. I think it’s pretty funny, and not just for Asian Americans.

I really, really like the casting. I think all the kids are really great, even though we don’t get to see much of the other two brothers in the first episode.

Tina:I had more fun watching the parents than the kids in the pilot. I felt that the kids were only funny when things happened to them, whereas the parents were funny in how they actively interacted with others and their environment.

As Taiwanese parents, they’re definitely not “realistic” if compared to my own parents and their generation of 1st gen immigrants.

What the two parents do seem like to me are 1.5 generation immigrants. They’re like immigrants who came to the U.S. in their teen or preteen years, not like my parents who came when they were 30 years old.

The 1.5 gen parents speak pretty good English, because they went to high school and college here, but still have pretty strong accents and English was a second language for the. They’re very American and Americanized, but also, significantly connected back to their heritage country.

In my reality, the Fresh of the Boat parents really fit into that. I know a lot of Taiwanese and Chinese immigrants my age that fit that. I was in high school during the era of the parachute kids from Taiwan, rich parents dropping off their kids here in houses with fancy cars so they can go to school here. And a lot of my peers currently have kids just around the ages of the kids in the show, so it’s pretty contemporary in that sense.

I don’t know if that was done on purpose. I think it was an accident–they were trying to Americanize and modernize “old 1st gen Taiwanese parents” and accidentally created “1.5 gen parents” instead.

Technically, I’m 1.5, too, but since I came when I was 2 years old, I’m practically ABC (American Born Chinese or Taiwanese to be exact) instead of having grown up in Taiwan and then coming here for upper grades. I had to go back in college and learn Mandarin in Taiwan, so it’s sort of a backwards deal in my case.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the parents in FOB could be me today if I had come to the U.S. later in my life, if I had gotten married, and if I had children. That’s a lot of ifs ^O^

Lily: I did find the parents interactions to be more interesting at this stage with the kids mostly being set up as characters in their own right. Later hopefully they’ll do something more than just compare (and contrast) the kids (not that Asian American parents compare their kids ever or anything…)

Except of course for the major scene with Hudson/Eddie at the end in the cafeteria. Eddie Huang talked about it recently and it does seem significant in a) making it on the air and b) nodding to more than just black/white relations and asian/white relations while c) being in this very familiar cafeteria hierarchy and d) bringing it back to the parental reaction.

I find myself wanting to like shows with Asian Americans because it’s not so common so maybe I come into this overly optimistic but I did find the pilot funny and hope the series manages to gain some traction and not overly network-television-ize the story and this one small, small slice of the Asian American experience.

Christine: I will most likely watch after a couple of episodes air (mostly because I don’t have cable and I’m off travelling in Asia for a several weeks.)

What I would like to make note of is that we have to look at pieces like bodies of work, that just because *I* don’t experience/ haven’t experienced/ *they* wouldn’t/ don’t doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. That THAT family portrayed shouldn’t bear the brunt of representing all Asian-Americans because that’s unfair (even though it is happening.) I always keep reminding myself if there is something that doesn’t seem right, that it’s at least plausible. From the previews, it seems charming enough.

Lily: Definitely agree with the point that this isn’t and couldn’t possibly encapsulate the entire Chinese American experience. I wasn’t around for Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl (youngster that I am), but I think the hope is that the general trend of greater POC casting on network television, with shows like FOTB, Jane the Virgin, and Blackish, etc. will not only bring POC into the picture (and maybe help bring up more POC writers and directors) but also succeed as comedies in their own right.

I did feel like their was realness under the comedy and I laughed while watching. So that’s two points for the show in my book and we’ll see how they go forward.

Tim: I think maybe I’m expecting too much. I was hoping to see something fresh or new. The storyline about the lunchroom and being shunned for having “different” food seems old, but maybe that’s just me (since it also happened to me – see my posts on kids teasing me for eating “ants” – in actuality pork or fish rousong). And I know I’m not the only one that’s written about this aspect of the Asian American experience.

I guess it’s okay for a starting point, but I’m hoping to see new and interesting takes on the Asian American experience.

Another reason, I guess I was disappointed also in Constance Wu’s accent, because I was hoping she would appear to struggle with English more (or even have Randall Park struggle with English more). A huge part of my Asian American experience was having to help my parents with translation at every imaginable place, and helping fill out forms, etc.

This show is also happening at an interesting time in my life. It’s my 30th high school reunion this year, and as some of you know, I was pretty much the only Asian in my school. So while everyone knew who I was, I certainly didn’t know everyone in my school (since there 6000 kids in my high school, about 1500 per grade). My better half asked me if I’m planning on attending the reunion, and really I have no desire to go. No happy memories to revisit, and really no one I want to see.

By contrast, my daughter is 9, and the show is a complete anti-thesis to her experience, since we live in the Bay Area. She just changed schools for this school year, and moved from public to private school (something I also wrote about in the piece on the racial divide in elementary school). She completely fits in to her school, and the kids are more like her (multi-racial or Asian), rather than not like her, and even her teacher remarked how completely well integrated she was and how quickly she made friends at the parent teacher conference this week.

I am going to let her watch the show, and she seems interested, so we’ll see what her reaction to it is. She does understand the concept of being an outsider in school, but not necessarily because of race.

Jeff: 1600 per class in high school? Wow, that’s bigger than my undergraduate class at Princeton! And you as the only Asian. That seems so weird.

Tim: My high school was profiled in U.S. News and World Report (remember them?) as the largest suburban high school in the U.S.

Actually there may have been on or two other Asian Americans in my grade, but I didn’t interact with them because we didn’t “achieve” at the same academic level. My school was very segregated by classes, e.g. if you took AP classes you were only in class with AP students. We also had in addition to AP classes, honors classes, regents classes, regular classes, and vocational classes. So basically each “group” of kids socialized with those of the same academic standing.

I should also note, that when I said that everyone in my school knew who I was, I’m not kidding, in addition to being one of a few Asians, my family was notorious. My sisters (one year older and four years younger) and I were the noted “smart” ones in the school. My older sister graduated valedictorian of her class of 1500. My younger sister graduated salutatorian (#2 in her class). I graduated neither (placing 5th in my class), yet had the dubious honor of being voted by my class of 1500 students as “Most Intelligent” for the school yearbook.

I’ll also remark that with regard to my comments about having to help with parents on translation, I find Ernie’s posts about his mom, and the mis-communication due to language, and the things his mom says, hilarious, and completely on-target. I guess I wish “Fresh off the Boat” had more stuff like his experiences, which I completely relate to.

John: I think we’d all like Fresh Off the Boat to reflect our own personal experiences…

My parents went to top universities in Taiwan (National Taiwan University ; National Taiwan Normal University) and were fluent in English (in fact, my father was an odd ball and had decided to study foreign languages eve though he scored high enough in the entrance exam to go study medicine). So I can’t relate at all the Taiwanese immigrants (like Tim & Ernie’s parents) who weren’t fluent. In fact, all of my parents friends were all well educated professionals (doctors, engineers), so moving to SF Bay Area was just a shock to see the diversity of Asian American professionals (like police officers, fire fighters, etc….)

As for me growing up, I grew up in a suburb of Springfield, Massachusetts – Longmeadow, Massachusetts. My high school graduating class of 1989 was 273 students, where I would say that maybe less than 10% were not white (though fairly Jewish – maybe 20% – 30%). My highest class rank I think was 8, but fell to I think 16th or something around there my senior year. Longmeadow High School (LHS) was consistently ranked the best public high school in Western Massachusetts. I think my brother was ranked 5th, but probably still holds the LHS record of most number of 5’s for AP exams (if memory serves me right, 11 or 13)

Tim: I exaggerated a little. My dad was actually fluent in English (he graduated valedictorian of his class at National Taiwan University). Most of my dad’s side of the family is very fluent in English. My mom’s side though, has lots of broken English, so much so you’d wonder how they survived for so long in the U.S.

Oh, and can you tell who was the disappointment in my family (given I didn’t graduate valedictorian or salutatorian), and guess whose high school graduation wasn’t attended by my dad….

Tina: Aw, no way Tim. What? Can’t believe your dad did that 🙁

Whoa. Was Tim’s dad High Expectations Asian Father?

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About jozjozjoz

jozjozjoz is a taiwanese-american gal who lives and blogs underneath the hollywood sign and who doesn’t clean her fishtank unless the fish starts to do the backstroke. she is also able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but cannot stop from bumping into door handles, cabinet doors, and anything else that protrudes or has a sharp edge. she does not run with scissors for this same reason. she can pet the fur off a dog but don’t ask her to go anywhere near a horse. or a moth. or a roach. her dealings with L.A.’s finest (aka the parking violations department) are legend, as are her giant sneezes. Other than the two too many joz’s, jozjozjoz is a perfectly normal, relatively sane individual who defies the odds, reaches for the stars, and carries moonbeams home in a jar. She’d rather be a fish… but not in her own dirty fishtank. http://www.jozjozjoz.com
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