Wednesday, 7 September 2016

What Happened to Fresh Off The Boat?

What has happened to Fresh Off The Boat? The first season, which aired only 13 episodes as a mid-season replacement, was close to flawless.

The first season provided an intriguing look at Chinese and American culture through the eyes of Eddie (Hudson Yang), a twelve year old hip-hop enthusiast and future chef who only wants to fit in. FOTB’s first season was, arguably, the best from the 2014-15 TV season and possibly one of the best in years. The series’ humour was sharp, fast and unexpected and all the characters including Eddie’s tiger mother Jessica (Constance Wu), his chef father Louis (Randall Park) and his two overachieving young brothers Emery (Forrest Wheeler) and Evan (Ian Chen). 

FOTB got everything right during its first season, including the cast who seamlessly slipped into their roles. Even the two young child stars were funny, which is incredibly rare in American sitcoms. FOTB managed to mould the coming of age ‘Wonder Years’ format, which is actually incredibly difficult to achieve, to its own strength and built the show around a character which we have never seen on a television show before. Even rarer in the world of television, sitcoms in particular, the “Pilot” episode, in which Eddie starts a new school and struggles to fit in with the other kids due to him not having “white people lunch” was particularly strong.

Episodes such as “Home Sweet Home School” in which Jessica believes school is too easy for the boys and gives them extra homework, “The Shunning” where Jessica and Honey become friends despite Honey being shunned by the community, “Success Perm” from which we meet Jessica’s sister Connie and their pseudo-perfect family. In the episode “Phillip Goldstein”, Eddie tries to make friends with the only other Chinese kid at his school, Jessica and Louis’ lack of gaydar is seen in “Blind Spot” and the season finale “So Chineez”, which further explores the Huang’s connection to their Chinese heritage is explored.

Furthermore, the show also explored Chinese culture and the ways in which it clashed with 90s American culture. The series was co-created by Nahnatchka Khan who previously worked on American Dad aka Seth Macfarlane’s best show, and the underrated sitcom Don’t Trust the B---- In Apartment 23, which also had dark humour, an amazing ensemble cast and wit.

Which leads me to the question, what happened to Fresh Off The Boat? The show is still the best comedy on network television alongside Bob’s Burgers, but the sharp humour and the jokes in the show have evidently been diluted and have been made more broad. While the season had some improvements from season 1; more focus on Jessica, Louis and of course the ADORABLE Evan! (And thank God we no longer have to endure the awful narration...) However, the Chinese cultural references and plots seemed to take a back seat and more broad run-of-the-mill sitcom plots + 90s nostalgia fests seemed to take over 

I fear the show is slowly turning into a generic family sitcom in Asian clothing, in which the only aspect which sets it apart from the other shows on the schedule are the frequent references to the 90s.  

What I want to see in FOTB is a cutting edge sitcom which explores Chinese culture in America. It seems as though the critique of Chinese/American culture has been shunted in favour of more traditional story-telling. Also, Eddie is no longer the focus of the show! One of the best aspects of the show was Hudson Yang’s portrayal of Eddie; he carries enough charisma and heart to portray a real person who can only be described as being very passionate about his values regarding his work.  I hope FOTB returns to form for its third season.

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