CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Let’s Get on Board ‘Fresh Off the Boat’

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WIMPY1By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO

So how many of you made the effort to watch the first two episodes last week of the new ABC series “Fresh Off the Boat”?

Wow! (Either way.)

I have to admit, CR2S is kind of ambivalent. Let’s start with the fact we don’t watch much television. And being a minority viewer not in the coveted 18-45 age range really makes me invisible and irrelevant.

Curiosity lured me to the Channel 7 premiere last Wednesday. Having suffered through the Pat Morita and Margaret Cho programming disasters of forty and twenty years ago, I confess to hoping “Fresh Off the Boat” will make it to season’s end. You know, the proverbial underdog somehow pulling an upset; yellow finally being added to television’s palette.

Not only want to see “FOB” survive, why not thrive!

Frankly, my hopes are tempered. No matter the network’s bravery introducing a family series with Asians in all major roles, it will be the regular viewer deciding its fate.

For the benefit of those who did not tune in (or catch last night’s regular Tuesday slot), we have a Taiwanese family of six (a 30ish couple, three young sons and a grandmother) moving from a Washington, D.C. Chinatown (comfortable) ghetto to Florida, in an all-white Orlando neighborhood. The father is determined to make a success of a western-style restaurant. Think of it as a cross between “The Jeffersons” and “Father Knows Best” with a touch of “Mayberry R.F.D.”

Accents and a “Tiger Mom” clone are immediately introduced, as are references to frugality and educational excellence. But instead of bowing stereotype apologists, we have a relatable family unit that happens to be Asian. And the depthless neighborhood housewives, bungling school principal and Gomer-like restaurant manager are all, gasp, white.

The Huangs (if funny foreign spelling confuses you, it’s pronounced Wong) come across as a young couple confronting the usual array of challenges in a strange environment. But we’re not talking “Family Ties” or Huxtable fantasy.

You don’t have to be Roger Ebert to realize the success of the show will be borne by Constance Wu, the discerning wife who counts parsley, croutons and napkins to save money, and Hudson Yang, a pre-teen round ball of gall who prefers hip-hop to being a typical #l son. Wu presents the “Tiger Mom” stereotype, but with heart and sympathy. These two will have to carry the show.

I have no idea who the show’s writers are, but story line possibilities are endless. The two younger brothers will probably be relegated to minor roles and the wheelchair-bound grandmother is destined to quote one-liners (in writing, since she doesn’t talk.)

As far as Randall (from Sony’s ill-fated “The Interview” motion picture) Park is concerned, the head of the clan is a question mark. It’s unfair to evaluate his role based on two introductory episodes, but he came across like a bumbling nice guy (Gomer Pyle?) but with wiggle room to become more of a “Father Knows Best” type.

The show will depend on the writing and expanded story lines. Adapted from an autobiography by Eddie Huang, a noted chef, the oddball ’90s setting will have to catch the interest of a fickle viewing audience that thus far has shown no interest in leveling the ethnic playing field. Forty percent of California is Latino, but other than a slew of Mexican stations, how many “mainstream” shows feature browns? African Americans are over-represented, if there is such a measure, but that’s because black viewers abound. How big is the AA blip? [Even though the fastest-growing minority in the United States, never no mind.]

We’ve already seen feisty Eddie shunned in the cafeteria because he brings something like kim chee for lunch. In flashback, Wu is shown being trampled in a Chinatown market in contrast to shopping in a hospital-clean Orlando store that offers free samples. I can visualize Wu being featured in any number of future adventures, softening her demeanor to take on a more sympathetic role. And restaurateur Park will probably join the Rotary Club, play golf and poker with the guys and wind up solving neighbor and employee problems, but not Charlie Chan style.

So yeah, I’ll watch. Anything that puts us (collectively) in a good light is definitely a preference. But despite hushed conversation and wistful dissections, what “we” feel and think is of no consequence. The success of “FOB” is in the hands of the mass viewing audience. The verdict on “Boat” won’t be decided by the dim sum crowd. Park/Wu/Yang will have to be accepted as next-door neighbors. [ABC deserves plaudits for its gamble but boos for picking the 8 p.m. Tuesday time slot: opposite top-ranked “NCIS” on CBS and NBC’s “Parks & Recreation.”]

There is an obese basket case in North Korea, sly guys hacking U.S. corporate computers and others buying up half of California. Not exactly a Banzai! moment for us Jappos, whose prominence nowadays is only in daily obituaries. Maybe it’s best we latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with Mr. In Between. Ain’t no fun being irrelevant, if you haven’t noticed.

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W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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