Last week, ABC made history by green-lighting two new sitcoms for their fall lineup that will include Asian American men in leading roles.
Earlier in the week, ABC announced it was picking up Selfie, a sitcom adaptation of My Fair Lady. Scottish actress Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) plays Eliza Dooley who enlists the help of Henry, an arrogant marketing expert (and likely love interest) played by John Cho (Star Trek, Sleepy Hollow, Harold & Kumar, Better Luck Tomorrow), to help her rebuild her image after a humiliating break-up goes viral and launches her social media presence into the stratosphere.
Selfie features a racially diverse cast, and with its pickup, Cho will join only a small handful of Asian American men currently on TV as lead characters in primetime sitcoms.
(Note: I also just wanna say I love Cho’s look in this promotional image. His hair looks so much better slicked back like that, and the button-down shirt and tie is all kinds of doing it for me.)
Cho won’t be alone in those Asian American sitcom ranks at ABC, though.
After intense negotiation with 20th Century Fox that stretched into the weekend, ABC also agreed to green-light Fresh Off The Boat, a sitcom inspired by celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s memoirs by the same name. The sitcom will focus on a young Eddie Huang, and the culture shock that comes after his family movies from a racially diverse area of Washington DC to a homogenously White suburb of Orlando. It will likely also spend most of its time exploring the young Eddie Huang’s relationship with his father, played by Randall Park (Veep , The People I’ve Slept With, The Mindy Project), which is a major theme of the book.
For most of last week, the fate of Fresh Off The Boat seemed to depend upon whether or not ABC could pen a deal involving returning Tim Allen comedy, Last Man Standing, which is also owned by 20th Century Fox. With its pick-up, Fresh Off The Boat becomes the first family sitcom featuring an entirely Asian American cast in 20 years since the cancellation of Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl.
I’m thrilled by the news regarding both Fresh Off The Boat and Selfie, and not necessarily because I think both sitcoms will be good. In fact, I have no idea if either show will be funny or will have staying power through the fall primetime season. However, I think that the current dearth of Asian Americans on primetime TV have left our community placing excessive pressure on the few Asian Americans who actually make it to TV, and expect them to represent the entirety of the community. Asian American artists should have equal opportunity to present their craft through TV; Asian American viewers should have the right to judge — and if necessary, criticize and reject — that art if it’s bad.
I expect that both sitcoms will help to diversify the current portrayal of Asian Americans — particularly Asian American men — on TV as both caring fathers and sexy love interests. But, I also want to clarify that my support of both of these shows making it to air is not an endorsement of their quality as shows. I don’t think I can speak to the quality of either show until I can review them in the fall.
Over at NBC, creator of Heroes Tim Kring is returning for a reboot called Heroes Reborn which is expected to return to the spirit of what Heroes was always supposed to be: an exploration of everyday people coping with superpowers. While no cast information is available yet, given the critical role that fan-favourites Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), Ando Masahashi (James Kyson) and Dr. Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) played in Season 1 of the show, I would expect Heroes Reborn to feature another prominent Asian American character in its regular cast.
Meanwhile, a few TV shows featuring Asian Americans in recurring roles were axed last week as well. Community, which included Ken Jeong as a recurring character, was cancelled by NBC after five seasons, and Revolution which featured Maureen Sebastian as Priscilla Pitman is ending (much to @SnoopyJenkins‘ chagrin; he had been hate-watching the show). ABC canceled Trophy Wife, which included Asian American actors Ryan Lee and Albert Tsai playing the children of protagonist Pete Harrison’s (Bradley Whitford) marriage with ex-wife Diane Buckley (Marcia Gay Harden).