First Look: Fresh Off the Boat

William Lou
March 26, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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Even though it’s only eight episodes in, ABC’s latest comedy Fresh Off the Boat is already making waves. Boasting a 90 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the show has quickly joined the ranks of promising new comedies like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, becoming a must-see title for 2015 television. However, what makes Fresh Off the Boat unique isn’t the laughs or the gags, it’s the cast themselves.

From the beginning, Fresh Off the Boat was marketed as an important departure from the standard white protagonists seen in practically every sitcom in the history of television, towards a focus on the lives of Asian Americans. This claim only gained more attention when Fresh Off the Boat received criticism from the very man the show was based on. In a lengthy personal essay on the site Vulture, author Eddie Huang criticized show creator Nahnatchka Khan and executive producer Melvin Mar for taking away the critical edges of his creative vision, in favour of something more family and network friendly.

Thankfully, with each episode it becomes clear that the show’s positive ratings aren’t a coincidence; Fresh Off the Boat is undeniably a success. In fact, even though Eddie Huang had issues with the show with regards to its creative vision, he has since praised its ability to break down some of the stereotypes surrounding what defines an Asian family in America. To Huang, Fresh Off the Boat give Asian Americans the ability to define themselves, rather than restricting that definition to the few characters in mainstream media.

All this certainly left me very curious. While I don’t belong to an ethnic minority, my own social circle is typical of anyone who grew up in the GTA; most of my friends aren’t white. So when I watch television shows packed with only white characters, I honestly don’t feel as connected given how different my own upbringing was. If such a small difference can produce a noticeable disconnect, even when the rest of the material is from my own culture, actual minorities are clearly experiencing an even greater disconnect between their own experiences, and what they see on television.

Still, some people may disagree with the idea of diverse representation being necessary or impactful, and that’s what makes Fresh Off the Boat so effective. Right from the very first episode, the lead characters within the show are already experiencing situations directly unique to their race or culture. This makes Fresh Off the Boat not just an engaging comedy, but as an existing example of how diversity can change one’s perspective. If you’re one of the skeptics, watch a few episodes of the show and you’ll quickly see just how different others’ experiences can be.

For example, when the main character Eddie starts his first few days of Grade 6, he gets criticized in the cafeteria for eating Chinese food that the other school children describe as “worms.” These kinds of situations, though subtle, accurately reflect some of the challenges presented to those that belong to a cultural minority, and for many people watching at home, they’re something they haven’t ever considered. It’s likely the more you watch Fresh Off the Boat, the more you’ll gain perspective on how other cultures go through life.

So while it’s certainly not immune to criticism, Fresh Off the Boat is a show that’s both culturally significant, and hilarious. If you’re looking for something to get you laughing and thinking, this show is a must watch.

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