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‘Fresh off the Boat’ refreshing

April 8, 2015

Rarely does a comedy come along that so effectively portrays Asian-American culture in a realistic, intelligent and nuanced way as ABC’s latest hit, “Fresh Off the Boat.” Margaret Cho attempted to portray Asian-American culture 20 years ago with “All American Girl,” but it was canceled after only one season due to poor ratings and the show’s heavy use of stereotypes. Since the cancellation of “All American Girl,” Asian-American television characters have often been relegated to playing stereotypical well-educated and hyper-competitive best friends or office rivals.

“Fresh Off the Boat,” created for television by Nahnatchka Khan and based on a memoir by Eddie Huang, who is also a producer of the series, successfully subverts these stereotypes. The show successfully walks the thin line between making the story revolve around a family that happens to be Taiwanese rather than a Taiwanese family. In “Fresh Off the Boat,” the main character, 12-year-old Eddie Huang, is constructed as the odd one in the family due to his passion for hip hop. The interplay creates an unsteady dynamic with his parents as they try to support him, but are baffled by his interests. The creators mix Eddie’s exasperation and his parents’ bewilderment to create realistic depictions of familial relationships and the conflict and love that goes behind standing together.

“Fresh Off the Boat” avoids making overused jokes that get cheap laughs by presenting caricaturist accents. Instead, it gets its laughs with an insightful and honest portrait of a family trying to get its bearings in a new home. It adds dimensions to characters that could very easily be flat and stereotypical. This heartwarming portrayal of a family trying to make it against the odds finally brings to the spotlight a sitcom that sketches a candid, sincere representation of the Asian-American family.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 9 print edition. Email Anubhuti Kumar at [email protected] 

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