“Fresh Off the Boat” S1 Post-Mortem Pt. 1: Initial Thoughts

Last month, I took on the gargantuan challenge of rewatching every episode of Sleepy Hollow and writing down my thoughts. I intend to do the same thing with Fresh Off the Boat. I’m starting the post-mortem off with some initial thoughts about the season and what I’ve learned. 

It goes without saying that Fresh Off the Boat is a momentous show since it’s been way too long since an Asian family graced our television screens. I know what has been said about “rep sweats” and worries about the amount of people supporting or not supporting the show, not to mention Eddie Huang’s own misgivings about the show, but I think, from where I’m sitting, the show has done its job. It’s cemented the idea to studios that yes, Asian-American families are not only relatable, but marketable. People want to hear what they have to say. If it doesn’t get renewed, then something’s incredibly wrong with The Powers That Be. But I think it will, though.

Some bulleted points:

Breakout stars: I would have to say that the kids are, far and away, the breakout stars of the show. They have shown wit, humor, intelligence and acting savvy. It’s also especially interesting to watch them learn on the job, as it were, especially little Ian Chen, who plays Evan. It was fun seeing him get stronger and stronger with his character beats every week.

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I have to give special commendation to Hudson Yang, who has the tough job of playing Eddie Huang himself on the show. Hudson’s performance is what sets the tone for the show, and for a young kid to have the weight of the whole show on his back, I’d say he’s doing brilliantly. If there’s any element Eddie would have to be happy with, I’d think it’d be Yang’s ability to channel his bravado into the character.

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Jessica is my mom: I have really learned that my mom and Jessica would make great friends. Both are very passionate about cultural pride, grades and excellence, and hold the respective families together (like a lot of moms do). The aim of the show is to illustrate how every family have things they relate to on a macro level, and I expected that, but I didn’t expect to literally find a slightly exaggerated version of my mom on screen. That was a very unique and hilarious experience.

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I love Louis: I’m not sure if it’s Randall Park-as-Louis I love or just Randall Park, but I love Louis and his go-getter attitude. The best episode for him, I think, was “Blind Spot,” in which we see how much of a catch Louis is to anyone he’s talked to in 20 years. Also, he’s great at basketball, and I love basketball. (I’d even considered including basketball coverage on my site, even though it has nothing to do with race and culture.) Playing basketball and you’re an entrepreneur? You have my attention. (Of course, there’d be plenty of other hurdles to cross, interested men who might be reading this; it won’t be that easy.)

fresh-off-the-boat-Louis-Randall-Park-Basketball

 More Grandma and darker themes: I thought we would have seen more backstory on Grandma. Considering the little I know about her life in the book, I can assume that a lot hasn’t been mentioned simply because it’s depressing. But, if the show comes back for a second season, I would think that would mean the show has then proved itself and can push the envelope.

I think the second season would be the time to mention more of the real world experiences addressed in the book, since that’s always been at the crux of Eddie’s complex feelings about the show. Season Two would be the time to get some existential themes in there about some of the depressing, harrowing moments that make up Eddie’s life experience. One place to start is with Grandma, who has had some experiences the show is currently not delving into. She really needs fleshing out because, currently, the the show is only using her as comedic relief.

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I know that this is a comedy, first and foremost, but many comedies have underlying dark tones. Like Good Times. And Bojack Horseman. And Roseanne, if you count the ending revelation. Many, many more. So it’s not like it can’t be done.

 More on Eddie’s love of hip hop: Eddie adopting hip hop into his outlook on life has a lot more to do with what the show occasionally makes it seem like. The show is quite murky at times when showing exactly why Eddie gravitated towards hip hop. As he has said, the lyrics spoke to him on a deeper level than it just being “cool.” It spoke to him because they were talking about real life struggle.

To go along with the show introducing darker jokes, I’d like for the show to go into more detail about why Eddie loves hip hop so much. I would think that on the show, Kid Eddie’s love for hip hop gets distilled into the characterization of “He’s just that kooky kid that loves rap because it’s cool! We all know a kid like that!” And to a degree, he is that kooky kid. But a lot of the passion that Eddie talks about hip hop seems to be missing because a lot of what drew him to the culture is because of awful stuff that happened to him, all of which is addressed in the book.

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The book and the show are different animals and have to be treated differently. But I’d just like a little more insistence on the show wanting to illustrate why Eddie loves hip hop and rap. I discuss one of the reasons why I think it spoke to him so much, but he’s actually written about it in his own words. I’d like to see just a touch more of that (and some of what I touched on, if I’m tooting my own horn), in the show, because Eddie’s attachment to the hip hop culture is a lot more complicated than has been shown so far.

 Wrap-up on initial thoughts: Overall, I think Fresh Off the Boat did a great job with its first season and I hope it gets even better in its second. I think that if and when there is a second season, the writers would do well to just push the audience and the writing even more. If the audience can handle American Crime, which promises complex analysis of the racial quagmires in American life, that same audience can handle hard-hiting jokes in a sitcom like Fresh Off the Boat. The second season is the time to explore cross-racial togetherness and discrimination. The best moment out of the entire season for me is in the pilot, when Eddie gets called the C-word by Walter. As I wrote in my recap:

The biggest twist in this whole thing is that while the white kids’ response is expected by the audience, the black kid’s decision to degrade Eddie was probably seen as surprising. Some black people say that black people can’t be racist. Newsflash—yes, they can. This boy is proof of that. It’s society’s fault. The black kid, I know, has been taught by his parents that 1) America doesn’t care about black people and 2) the erroneous idea that Asian Americans don’t care about black people, even though they’re just as discriminated against as black families. I know this is what that boy’s coming from because I’ve heard this from people in my own life.

The boy is coming from the “I’ll get you before you get me” idea, which is only supported by America’s racial system. Everyone wants  to live the American dream, but as it’s been for decades, only white people were allowed to actually achieve every aspect of the dream. Everyone else is left to claw at each other and repeat the racial stereotypes taught to them by the society, the same stereotypes that have been used to demean them. Hundreds of years of this have led to Eddie being called a name by a black boy. Congratulations, America.

How great would it be if the entire second season focused on more nuanced moments of racial tension like this? Take for instance in “So Chineez,” when the remark, “I forgot you’re Chinese” comes up. The episode itself was great, but there are some places the episode could have gone that would have hit even harder than some of what was brought up in the episode.

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There are a few more things I could say, but I want to write those after I rewatch the entire season. My opinions on some things could change by then.

What did you think of the first season of Fresh Off the Boat? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

Photo credit: ABC

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