ABC de­buts funny sit­com fea­tur­ing Asian-Amer­i­cans

China Daily (Canada) - - ONE WEEK FREE SMART EDITION - By FRA­ZIERMOORE in New York

Di­ver­sity on TV takes a step for­ward with ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, which boosts Asians’ scant pres­ence in prime time with a sit­com about an AsianAmer­i­can fam­ily pur­su­ing the Amer­i­can dream while hold­ing onto it­sowneth­nic­ity.

It pre­viewed on Wed­nes­day night with two episodes.

“This is the story of my fam­ily,” be­gins the off­screen, real-life Ed­die Huang (on whose mem­oir the se­ries is based), and you could be for­given for emit­ting a weary sigh.

But here’s the good news: This is a funny show with lik­able char­ac­ters por­trayed by a cast of win­ning ac­tors, all of which gives this Boat suf­fi­cient comic buoy­ancy.

As Louis, Randall Park ra­di­ates charm and op­ti­mism, even as his coun­ter­in­tu­itively themed restau­rant — Cat­tle­man’s Ranch Steak­house— is strug­gling for life.

“I need to hire a white host,” he rea­sons. “In­stead of peo­ple com­ing in and see­ing a Chi­nese face and say­ing, ‘Huh? I thought this was an Old West steak­house,’ they see a white face and say, ‘Ahhh! Hello, white friend! I am com­fort­able.’”

Con­stance Wu plays his sup­port­ive but no-non­sense wife, who is full of un­der­stand­able mis­giv­ings about her new home.

For one thing, she misses the bois­ter­ous Chi­na­town mar­ket­place: “This is not how I like to shop,” she laments on vis­it­ing a mod­ern gro­cery. “This place looks like a hos­pi­tal.”

And when young Ed­die brings home straight A’s, his some­what tiger­ish mom is far from sat­is­fied. She com­plains to the school’s prin­ci­pal that Ed­die’s classes are too easy.

As Ed­die, new­com­erHud­son Yang is adorable, as are Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen as his younger broth­ers.

And gap-toothed co­me­dian Paul Scheer is hi­lar­i­ous as Mitch, the restau­rant’s ea­ger-beaver “white host”.

In its pur­suit of laughs, the se­ries doesn’t shut its eyes to overt prej­u­dice. In the lunch­room, a black class­mate of Ed­die’s pops off with a racial slur, an out­burst that leaves ev­ery­one who hears him dumb­struck.

What comes next is re­ported by the prin­ci­pal to Ed­die’s par­ents af­ter they are sum­moned to his of­fice: The usu­ally easy­go­ing Ed­die de­liv­ered a kick to the groin fol­lowed up with “some words that I never heard be­fore”, the prin­ci­pal says. “And I grew up in Bos­ton.”

But more typ­i­cally, the cul­tural clash is bridged with good­will and give-and­take. Af­ter all, Louis has cast his lot with Old West cui­sine, and young Ed­die de­scribes his over­all mission this way: “Get a seat at the ta­ble. Meet Shaq. Change the game.”

In an ideal world, the ar­rival of Fresh Off the Boat would be judged purely on its mer­its, not as a much-be­lated break­through in TV di­ver­sity. But the fact is, Asian-Amer­i­cans, who make up 5.3 per­cent of the US pop­u­la­tion, found their rep­re­sen­ta­tion on primetime scripted shows last fall to be half that fig­ure on ABC, NBC and Fox (CBS matched the cen­sus fig­ure).

More to the point: Boat is the first com­edy cen­tered on an Asian fam­ily since Mar­garet Cho’s All-Amer­i­can Girl aired dur­ing the 199495 sea­son.

A sit­com is typ­i­cally held to no higher stan­dard than to keep its au­di­ence amused. But hopes for Boat are in­evitably higher (as are its po­ten­tial re­wards): to help nor­mal­ize the pres­ence of Asians on TV and help de­clare their place in the Amer­i­can main­stream.

Yes, the show comes with a mes­sage, ex­pressed by nar­ra­tor Huang: “You don’t have to pre­tend to be some­one else in or­der to be­long.”

In the process, it also hap­pens to be funny.

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