This Atlantic piece entitled “Fresh Off The Boat Is Good—But It Could Be Even Better” is the best analysis I’ve seen so far of the show. As both an Asian American and someone with a culinary background, you know I read Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name before allowing myself to become mildly excited about the prospect of the show. So I understand why he’d be upset about how it was changed to get to TV—at least, as much as anyone who didn’t live it could do.
In the piece, writer Lenika Cruz rightly points out that a lot of fan-favorite (and critically-acclaimed) shows start off on shaky ground, then find their individual rhythms and become something special. She uses examples like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Parks and Recreation to make her points—which are valid. She also talks about FotB’s not-so-sly shoutout to All-American Girl, another show which I eagerly watched every episode of at the time it was on (yes, even as I cringed—though it did cement a lifelong love of Margaret Cho that has’t failed me yet).
Cruz briefly touches on the idea of the sitcom formula, and even mentions 30 Rock as being a shining example that successfully uses sitcom tropes and two-dimensionality to subvert deep levels of cultural bullshit, which include (but are not limited to): sexism, racism, ageism, political gerrymandering, and unhealthy celebrity (and reality show) obsession.
But the thing she doesn’t point out is that it took DECADES for sitcoms in general to get to the point where they could begin to subvert themselves, to offer commentary and refractions of modern life beyond the bland predictability of Where Are My Pants? Now we’re starting to see more than just an endless sea of white families on TV, and that’s great. But even white families didn’t have Roseanne (which was also incredibly important, and which I still love) until the late ’80s.
These things take time, as well as timing. So many shows don’t ever get the chance to work out their kinks, and plenty of mediocre ones just go on flapping away sadly in the kiddie pool and never learning how to swim. In watching FotB, I’ve seen enough flashes of brilliance that I want to watch them develop into something greater. Also, it would be criminal to remove the comedic genius of Constance Wu from American airwaves. #JustSaying
Like Cruz, I hope the show gets a chance at a second season. And I’ll add in my echo of hopes that if it does get that second season, it pushes the envelope much further.
Like the real Eddie Huang said, it did take some balls for ABC to let that “chink” incident fly in the pilot episode (for those who didn’t read his memoir, that’s one of the few real moments culled from his life that they adapted for this first season, and also likely instantly relatable to every kid who grew up Asian in America at some point). But ABC and Nahnatchka Khan and the writers on this show have a real chance to make it something special, now that they’ve gotten some attention. I really hope they don’t squander it.