Remember when I said “Fresh Off the Boat” won’t last past a season? I still stand by it. At least that’s the impression I got after the first two episode aired tonight.
Here’s the thing. The show is good. There are a lot of things I enjoy and that’s only because I enjoy these things. The 90s references, the hip hop, the entire idea of being a minority in a white man’s world. That stuff is great. In fact, there are a lot of things about this family that I recognized because I went through them as a kid myself.
Studies outside of school always happened. Chinese food brought in for school lunch. Refusal of expressing love through words. All of that I knew. (My dad never assimilated to American culture, so that’s one thing that isn’t the same.) So for me, as a Chinese-American who grew up in the States, that all made sense to me.
But does the rest of white America get it?
The reason why I don’t think this will last more than a season has nothing to do with the show. It has everything to do with the audience. When was the last time we saw a full Asian person succeed in the entertainment world in America? So rare. Especially for television, it’s very rare. And you can say that it’s because there never was a precedent before. But why was there no precedent? Because there was never a chance to believe that it would succeed, so people don’t give it chances.
I just don’t think a show that addresses Asian stereotypes helps, even though there are a lot of truths to why these stereotypes exist. The problem is just that it’s so new of an idea to have an entire sitcom of Asian people that I don’t think we’re ready for it yet in America. Can the American audience really warm up to the idea of tuning into a show every week to watch Asian people go through Asian problems and in the process complain about how white people are so different? I mean, is an Asian family running an all-American steakhouse a believable scenario? I don’t know.
There’s a comfort level that’s being taken out in this show and if you aren’t Asian or have no interest in it, then it might be a turn off. If the roles were reversed, and a white family complained about how weird Chinese people are for eating noodles that smell funny and look like worms, I wouldn’t tune in. I just think the gap in unity in America is still a work in progress. This show might bridge some of the gap, but there is still plenty of construction that needs to be done in the years to come before we can cross it.
Am I too cynical of America? Maybe. But that family on the screen is very much me. I see them in me. I just haven’t seen enough to convince me that people would want to tune in once a week to watch. But, it’s not out of the question still. If there were more Asians in the public eye, then this show might be the norm. But it isn’t. There aren’t enough Asians in the public eye — especially in the entertainment business. That might the speed bump that is so hard to overcome every week.
Maybe the Asians in America are tuning in and keeping the ratings up. Maybe then as it goes on, it gets a better reception. Maybe ABC, not wanting to cut short a program that’s based on Asians and avoid bad PR, will extend it. I don’t know what is going to happen. It’s just hard to see this show sustain any longevity. Their third episode might change my mind. I don’t know.
Trust me. I want this to succeed. I need this to succeed. But does the rest of America want it too? We’ll find out. I hope they do.