Fresh Off the Boat’s Attention to Detail Makes it Special


Eric Ting, Staff Writer

Fresh Off the Boat is a new 30 minute comedy show about a Chinese family that moves from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida. It airs every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. After seeing trailers and previews of the show I was initially skeptical. Being half Chinese myself, I was concerned that the show would be written and developed by caucasians who would draw their humor only from common stereotypes about Asians, therefore making the show racist and inaccurate.

I decided to watch the first two episodes, “Pilot” and “Home Sweet Home-School” with relatively low expectations. After 60 minutes of essentially non-stop laughter, I can genuinely say that Fresh off the Boat is both hilarious and accurate. The show is based off the 2013 memoir by Eddie Huang, which details his struggles growing up as a Chinese-American. The show stars Randall Park as Louis Huang, the father of the Huang family and owner of the Cattleman’s Ranch steakhouse, Constance Wu as Jessica Huang the aggressive and frugal mother, and Hudson Yang as Eddie Huang, a sixth grader who must adapt to a new school.

Huang has recently spoken out against the show, calling it an “artificial representation of Asian American lives.” He furthered that the show has gotten so far from the truth that he doesn’t recognize his life anymore. I ,personally, beg to differ. While the show may deviate from Huang’s actual experiences, I still find it an accurate representation of Asian-American culture and daily life.

My father is relatively Americanized, so I do not experience the more “traditional” lifestyle that many Chinese American children lead. I have, however, visited the homes of relatives on that side of the family and gotten a look into their lives and heard stories of their lives growing up. Many of the happenings in Fresh Off the Boat are incredibly similar to stories that have happened on my father’s side of the family.

For example, the fourth episode, “Success Perm,” captures the essence of Chinese values, both important and ridiculous. Jessica’s sister and her family pay the Huangs a visit, and the get-together degenerates into a competition of who is the more successful daughter. The episode is titled “Success Perm” because the fathers of these families get perms before meeting, as curly hair is rare among Asians. I can personally say that this is incredibly true, and curly hair is highly celebrated among Chinese families. When I was younger I had very curly hair, and to this day still hear stories from some of my great aunts who remembered “how so very cute” I was when my hair was curly. I laughed so hard during this scene, mainly because it was the first time someone poked fun at the Chinese culture and it was actually 100 percent accurate, and about something that someone of the heritage wouldn’t necessarily understand.

Another plot line from “Success Perm” is a competition between Jessica and her sister to impress their mother by finding a better bargain. The two go back and forth reading off their sale prices, but the mother is not impressed until Jessica’s sister states that she got a dress for free (that she stole from Jessica). This is another Chinese value that I can say firsthand is true. Just recently, my grandmother started a competition between my aunt and second cousin to see who could be more frugal. This blew up in her face when my aunt bought her a cheap smartphone that I can’t even figure out how to download apps on. The concept of being frugal and saving as much money as possible is probably a lesser known Chinese credo that Fresh Off the Boat effectively captures.

My favorite instance comes from the episode “Persistent Romeo.” Jessica watches a special on the nightly news about sexual harassment, and urges Louis to give a seminar at the family restaurant about identifying and reporting such actions. Throughout the episode, Jessica tells everyone she meets about sexual harassment, complete with anecdotes of victims and alarming statistics. This translates directly to a recent story involving my grandmother. She calls my father completely out of the blue one week night, and rather than check in and ask about the family, she immediately warns him of an app that criminals use to take pictures of people’s house keys and develop copies to rob houses with. The inclusion of the so-called “Chinese Paranoia” is yet another example of the show’s ability to accurately portray Chinese-American culture.

This past week’s episode “Very Superstitious” shed some light on another aspect of Chinese culture. Some Chinese people are terrified of things they believe to bring bad luck, especially the infamous number four. The Chinese word for four sounds incredibly similar to the word for death, so Chinese people tend to avoid anything with a number four on it.

While I do understand why Huang may be offended by the show, I still believe that the show is authentic in its own right. It doesn’t revert to overused stereotypes, and uses situations and jokes that only someone of the culture can really understand. What is really important about the show is its ability to poke fun at certain aspects of the Chinese culture as well as capture the essence of what makes the Chinese culture special. The show places an emphasis on hard work and commitment to each other, the core values of the Chinese culture. The constant reinforcement of these concepts along with some mockery of the more obscure beliefs makes this show worth watching for people of all ethnicities.