'Fresh Off the Boat' puts focus on Asian-American families

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2015 8:06 AM

(Please be advised that paragraphs 8 and 9 contain language that may offend some readers)

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hip-hop loving 12 year-old Eddie Huang just wants to fit in. His Taiwanese immigrant dad Louis is trying to make a go of running a country-style steak house, and mom Jessica finds little in common with her new, white, roller-blading Florida neighbors.

The Huang family is "Fresh Off the Boat" in U.S. network television's first Asian-American family comedy in 20 years, premiering on ABC on Wednesday. And despite a title taken from a common put-down for immigrants, the Asian-American community appears ready for the program.

"I thought it was so refreshing," said California Congresswoman Judy Chu after watching an early screening of the program. "It showed a full view of Asian Americans in this country as opposed to a stereotypical image we've had to live with for a long time."

"Fresh Off the Boat" stars Randall Park and Constance Wu, who with their three children move in the 1990s to Orlando, Florida, from Chinatown in Washington, D.C.

The culture-shock comedy was inspired by New York BaoHaus restaurant owner Eddie Huang's best-selling 2013 memoir of the same title. Huang, 32, narrates the TV series and is a producer.

Although Asian-Americans make up about 5.5 percent of the U.S. population according to census figures, it is the first family sitcom about that community on network television since comedian Margaret Cho's "All-American Girl" ran for one season in 1994-95.

"Fresh Off the Boat" pulls no punches over racism.

In the first episode, a school student calls Eddie a "chink." Eddie reacts violently and is called to the principal's office where his parents threaten to sue.

"To deal with the word 'chink' in the pilot episode of a comedy on network television is borderline genius and insane at the same time," Huang told reporters while promoting the show.

The scene resonated with Asian-American audiences in advance screenings.

"There were actually people crying in the theater. It hit them so much because they've been called that as kids, me too, and now we're tackling it," the comedy's Chinese-American executive producer Melvin Mar said.

"Fresh Off the Boat" may also create more opportunities for Asian-American actors.

In 2014, only five network shows out of about 130 prime-time dramas and comedies on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW Network featured an Asian-American in a leading role, according to Dan Mayeda, co-chairman of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition.

As for the title, Cho said she urged Huang to stick with the phrase even though it is seen as insulting to newly arrived immigrants.

"It's great because I feel like Asian-American actors are finally getting a space in this very whitewashed world of television and movies," Cho said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis Editing by Jill Serjeant)