‘Fresh Off the Boat’ review: full of potential

By Ivan Mateo

It has been 20 years since an all-Asian cast appeared on television screens in the United States. With the arrival of “Fresh Off The Boat,” this is landmark news for Asian-Americans, because they finally have the chance to see and relate with characters who bear resemblances to them on screen.

“Fresh Off The Boat” shares a similar setup to “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” where the main protagonist is a child narrating certain events in his life. Just like “Everybody Hates Chris,” the actual muse gets the opportunity as the narrator (Eddie Huang _ÒåÊ la Chris Rock).

Another family sitcom, “Black-ish,” based on an African American family starring Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, premiered on ABC last fall to favorable reception. The premise of “Fresh” draws inspiration from food personality and former lawyer, Eddie Huang, and his 2013 memoir “Fresh Off The Boat: A Memoir.”

During the mid 90s, a father of a Taiwanese family, Louis Huang (Randall Park), uproots his family, so they can relocate from Washington D.C., to Orlando, Florida for his steak restaurant, Cattleman’s Ranch. Louis optimistically believes in the American Dream, but sometimes, people take advantage of his kindness and generosity.

For all his grandiose optimism, his wife keeps him grounded. Jessica Huang (Constance Wu) plays a more pessimistic, down-to-Earth wife and mother. She can be very strict, but truly cares and wants what’s best for the family.

Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang) obsesses over African-American and hip-hop culture, reciting lines from Notorious B.I.G. and wearing shirts emblazoned with the names of hip-hop legends Nas and Tupac Shakur. The interplay between optimism and pessimism also manifests itself in Eddie’s character because he tries to fit into the crowd while also standing out.

Emery (Forrest Wheeler) and Evan Huang (Ian Chen) are Eddie’s younger brothers, who each provide laughs in their own ways, but need to find separation from one another to differentiate themselves.

Besides the brothers’ slow starts, Eddie, Jessica, Louis and the rest of the cast quickly come into their own. Paul Scheer as Mitch also brings laughter to the show.

The show captures the general setting of the 1990s well with rollerblades, Lunchables, good hip-hop music and Shaquille O’Neal keeping the Orlando Magic relevant.

One of my favorite lines from the episodes had to be from the lone African American kid remarking on Eddie and another boy bonding over Eddie’s Biggie Smalls tee: “A white dude and an Asian dude bonding over a black dude ” this cafeteria’s ridiculous!”

It’s just a different feeling seeing Asian-Americans on the television screen, and they do not portray horribly racist stereotypes or caricatures. At its core, “Fresh” shows us a family trying to adjust to their new surroundings, but the dynamic of being an Asian-American family will assuredly reach new audiences and shed some light on living in the U.S. as an Asian-American.

In the first two episodes alone, “Fresh” tackles issues of racism, assimilation and grades, so the creators show no fear in discussing real issues. ABC (owned by Disney) definitely has limits to what it can and cannot do. Eddie Huang has been a staunch critic of his memoir being altered for television, but appreciative at the same time, because of the opportunity and significance “Fresh” means to audiences.

There’s loads of potential here, and I look forward to seeing what the Huang family will go through next.

4/5 Stars

Fresh Off the Boat

Kevin Foley / ABC

Fresh Off the Boat

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