Fresh Off the Boat, another family comedy from ABC, is based on the memoir of celebrity chef Eddie Huang. Set in the 90s, the series follows the tweenage Huang as he and his family moved relocate from Washington D.C.’s Chinatown to Orlando, Florida. There his father opens a western themed restaurant called Cattleman’s Ranch, essentially a Golden Corral rip-off.
The family moves into a predominantly white middle class suburb where the men play golf and the wives form Stepford-like cliques and hate on anyone who doesn’t think or dress like them. Needless to say, the Huangs are fishes out of water, none more so that Eddie. He worships rap artists, and dresses and acts like a player, but to comical effect. In the eyes of his classmates, Eddie is kind of a freak.
In its first 13 episodes, Fresh Off the Boat avoids being a treacly, moral of the week sitcom by focusing on the struggles of being Asian American and providing plenty of bite to the comedy. I’ve only seen the real Eddie Huang in a couple of TV interviews and the man is full of “I don’t give a shit what you think” attitude. That bravura comes out in not only the writers’ handling of young Eddie, but also the performance of Hudson Yang, the actor who portrays Huang in his formative years. Even in the pilot, Yang has a comfort in his character’s skin and gives plenty of reason to continue following his exploits.
Yang isn’t the only reason to watch, thought; he’s part of a great ensemble. Eddie has two brothers, Emery (Forrest Wheeler), the middle son, who has a way with the girls. Emery always has a new companion and exudes confidence and wisdom. The youngest brother, Evan (Ian Chen), is a squeaky clean, straight ‘A’ student who also relates better with the Stepford moms than his own brothers.
Randall Park (Kim Jong-un in The Interview) and Constance Wu play Eddie’s parents. As Louis, the dad pursuing the American dream, Park gives an honest, optimistic performance that makes him easy to root for. Even when he’s pulling a fast one or shamelessly promoting the Cattleman’s Ranch, you know that Louis is only doing it for the family. His actions are never cynical or malicious, which is refreshing in a modern family sitcom.
Mom Jessica (Wu) is a supportive wife who worries about fitting in and making ends meet. Although she expresses these fears, her support of Louis never wavers and she’s always ready to pitch in to help when needed at the restaurant. Wu is a gifted actress who instills Jessica with a tough exterior, but a softness that makes it easy to understand why Louis fell in love with her. Jessica is definitely one of the most enjoyable characters on ABC and other networks.
Recurring cast members include Paul Scheer as Mitch, one of Louis’s employees, Chelsey Crisp as Honey, the Huang’s next door neighbor and Jessica’s new best friend, Ray Wise (yes!) as Honey’s husband, Marvin, and Lucille Soong as Grandma Huang, Eddie’s paternal grandmother who doesn’t speak English and is Eddie’s biggest supporter.
Season one of Fresh Off the Boat premiered last spring and was quickly picked up for a second season. There are aspects of the show that make is stand out amongst the glut of family sitcoms, in particular, the 90s era setting and the Asian-American experience. The former is take-it-or-leave-it for me, but the latter offers a refreshing perspective on television altogether. Still, the series wouldn’t be enjoyable were it not funny and the characters not appealing. Everything about Fresh Off the Boat is appealing and after finishing the first season on DVD, I added the series to my DVR.