SERIES FINALE. This photo made available by ABC shows Constance
Wu in the October 18, 2019 television episode of "Fresh Off the
Boat." After six seasons, the sitcom aired its final show on
February 21, 2020. (John Fleenor/ABC via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V30, #04 (March 2, 2020), page
"Fresh Off the Boat" leaves indelible mark on
By Terry Tang
The Associated Press
Even before "Fresh Off the Boat" hit the airwaves on ABC in
February 2015, the show was facing pressure that other new shows
It was set to be the first network TV comedy with an
all-Asian cast since Margaret Cho’s "All-American Girl"
premiered 20 years earlier. ABC cancelled that series after one
season, and some wondered how long this show would last too.
Randall Park, who portrays patriarch Louis, never even
thought the pilot — inspired by restaurateur and TV personality
Eddie Huang’s childhood memoir — would be picked up.
"The odds of a show getting picked up are tiny. On top of
that, being an Asian-American family at the center of a show
just made it kind of seem impossible in my head," Park told The
Associated Press in a phone interview from Atlanta, where he is
filming the Marvel/Disney+ series "WandaVision."
Now, after six seasons, "Fresh Off the Boat" has made its
Without question, the sitcom — centered on a
Taiwanese-Chinese-American family in the 1990s living in
predominantly white Orlando, Florida — is immortalized in the
canon of Asian-American representation. It accomplished some
unique firsts, like being the first American TV show to film on
location in Taiwan and having a majority of dialogue in one
episode be in Mandarin. It paved the path for movie stardom for
Park (Always Be My Maybe) and on-screen wife Constance Wu
(Crazy Rich Asians, Hustlers). And having passed
100 episodes, the Huangs will live on in syndication for years
Hudson Yang, 16, was nine years old when he won the role of
Eddie. Thanks to his father, journalist Jeff Yang, he had an
inkling this wasn’t just any TV gig.
"My dad would definitely talk about how important it was to
have this kind of show. We talked about how previously
‘All-American Girl’ tried to do the same thing," Yang said. "I
knew a little bit about how important it was but I didn’t really
know the full scale until a little bit later on."
The series used culturally specific humor while trying to
universally appeal to a broadcast network audience.
"What was smart was having a writers’ room, showrunner, and
actors that felt more empowered like they were part of the
process," said Stephen Gong, executive director of the Center
for Asian American Media. "They take that stereotype-based joke
and turn it on its head a little bit more. That’s where the
in-community joke gets funnier."
The show may also be remembered for headlines generated
off-screen. Wu, who was not available for an interview, shocked
viewers when she angrily tweeted about the show’s renewal in
May. She issued an explanation the next day, saying she would
have to give up another project. She also apologized for being
"insensitive" to struggling actors.
During the show’s first season, the real-life Eddie Huang
distanced himself from the show. In an essay for Vulture
in 2015, he slammed it as a "cornstarch story" that was less
about specific moments in his life and was instead a bland,
"one-size-fits-all" narrative. Huang hasn’t wavered.
"I take representing my experience as an Asian American in
this country very seriously," Huang said in an interview in
January. "I never compromised it for what a company or brand or
studio told me to do."
For better or worse, the show was often treated as a default
ambassador for the Asian-American experience. So, the cast
understands some of the criticism from Huang and others.
"As expected, there were some people who were like ‘This
isn’t my family.’ It’s an understandable kind of response when
there’s only one," Park said. "But I get stopped by people of
different races who say how much they love the show."
"Fresh Off the Boat’s" absence leaves "Awkwafina is Nora from
Queens," the Comedy Central series led by the star of The
Farewell, as the only other U.S. series with a mostly Asian
cast. But because of "Fresh Off the Boat," there’s already hope
that Asian-American-led successors will no longer be seen as out
of the ordinary.
"It is redefining what mainstream culture is. I think that’s
the legacy," Gong said. "It helped redefined a space that will
help all creative Asian-American media, producers, and artists."
As a young Asian-American actor, Yang said it’s been exciting
to see how much the landscape has already changed in six years.
He cited Ken Jeong’s since-cancelled ABC sitcom, "Dr. Ken," and
the game-changing opportunities for other Crazy Rich Asians
"Henry Golding, he’s playing Snake Eyes," Yang said. "I feel
like things are slowly changing. Soon, we hopefully won’t have
to worry too much about only having a few of us on TV, only
having a few of us represented."
Park credits "Fresh Off the Boat" fame for allowing him to be
choosier about work. The actor, who co-wrote Always Be My
Maybe with friends including Ali Wong — a former staff
writer on the show — recently formed his own production company.
"I’m in more of a position to create things now which is
really exciting," Park said. "It’s been a focus of mine [to]
tell more stories from an Asian-American perspective."
Park also recently was in a position to direct. He helmed the
series finale, which included flashes of the Huang family’s
future. Pulling double duty distracted him from getting
overwhelmed with emotions.
"While a lot of people were crying, I was thinking about the
next step," Park said.
For Yang, the next step will likely be college as well as the
next acting job. And he knows he can think big.
"My dream role is always gonna be Amadeus Cho. He’s the Asian
hulk," said Yang, referring to the fictional superhero in the
Marvel comic books. "But now, my dream for the next role is
something fundamentally different from Eddie."
Terry Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of The
Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team.