Yet, I have to confess: I don’t consider myself a fan of Ken Jeong’s body of work. I find Jeong’s most notable role — the sardonic, antipathy-fueled Leslie Chen of the Hangover films — racially unsettling for its flirtation with stereotype. I was deeply concerned when Jeong appeared in inexplicable Blackface for an episode of Community, a show that featured the comedian as a series regular. I also take issue with Jeong’s overall comedy persona; often, Jeong creates humour through racial dissonance by appearing as an Asian American while acting against expectation. Yet, he occasionally builds that dissonance through unchecked use of hip hop culture and slang; in a recent review of Dr. Ken, Christopher T. Fan recounts how Jeong entertained the writer and other visitors to the set over lunch by describing “his shit” as “on fleek”. Too often, I find myself so preoccupied trying to parse the racial play of Jeong’s comedic style to find the work funny. Thus, while Ken Jeong’s brand of humour is wildly popular and successful among mainstream audiences, it just really hasn’t been “my thing”; consequently, I had planned to pass on watching (and reviewing) Dr. Ken.
Then, when Fan (who apparently shares my unease over Jeong’s comedic work) wrote in his review of Dr. Ken that he unexpectedly found himself “laughing out loud”, I was intrigued enough to sit down and preview the first two episodes of Dr. Ken for myself.
Fresh Off The Boat‘s debut this week has rocked the Asian American blogosphere to largely rave reviews (read my review). It has spawned hundreds of thinkpieces, many written by Asian American television viewers ecstatic to see themselves, their families, and their experiences included, for one of the first times, among the lineup of primetime television sitcoms.
Sadly, it seems that at Disney-ABC, this new commitment to diversity extends only as far as investing in a single 22 minute television show; when it comes to marketing and community outreach, the corporate powers-that-be have been seriously dropping the ball.
A week before Fresh Off The Boat premiered, some (former) marketing intern tweeted a bizarrely offensive graphic depicting stereotypical caricatures of people of colour beneath the headline “we’re all a little fresh off the boat” (picture after the jump).
Now, the folks behind Fresh Off The Boat are in hot water again for another marketing misstep related to the sitcom. Last month, Disney-ABC (the parent television group that oversees both Disney and ABC Television products) invited a bunch of people to an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles (#ABCTVEvent) to preview and meet the cast and crew of five shows and movies — including a number that intersect with the identities of communities of colours such as Fresh Off The Boat, Big Hero 6, and McFarland USA. 24 bloggers — many of them mommy bloggers — were flown out to participate in this invitation-only junket; not a single one was Asian American.
Last night, the hotly-anticipated new ABC single-camera sitcom, Fresh Off The Boat, debuted in a special preview event: the series’ first two episodes aired in a bookend fashion around ABC’s Wednesday night anchor show, Modern Family (displacing for one week Anthony Anderson’s Black-ish); despite its clunky interrupted format,FOTB earned a solid 2.5 rating in the 18-49 demographic making it the second highest ranked comedy premiere this season and attracting better ratings than the most recent episode of Black-ish.
Nonetheless, Fresh Off The Boat deserves kudos for being one of the few primetime shows — of any genre — to engage Asian American creative talent at all levels of production: inspired by the autobiography of a Taiwanese American celebrity chef, the show also boasts an Asian American producer, writers, and lead cast. For this reason, FOTB‘s voice (unlike that of many of its predecessors) rings clear as undeniably Asian American, and therefore marks a pioneering moment for the representation of an Asian American lived experience in mainstream television.
Sadly, this happened before I had a chance to review the series, which I had planned to do. Sufficed to say, I think part of the issue with Selfie — or at least with the pilot — was a fundamental misunderstanding of My Fair Lady. In my opinion, Cho was wasted on a vehicle that was largely not worth his talent.
No word yet on the fate of Fresh Off The Boat, the Asian American family sitcom centered around the autobiography of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, which was picked up as an alternate series and which we’ve been promised will appear in the spring schedule.
And, if the last 24 hours has been any indication, Fresh Off The Boat is hugely provocative. Already, the show has sparked online controversy, specifically from pop culture critics questioning the possible political insensitivity of the show’s name.
Seriously. How is "Fresh Off the Boat" an OK thing to call a show?????? I am baffled.
This reaction is not surprising: it reflects the critics’ recognition of the term as a historic racial slur referencing new immigrants, coupled with ignorance of how “Fresh Off The Boat” (or “FOB”, pronounced “fob”) has also evolved to reference a core cultural dynamic within contemporary Asian Americana. The term “Fresh Off The Boat” is not uniquely Asian American, but it has strong Asian American connotations and distinct cultural significance for members of our community; in the context of this show, it is obvious “insider” language.
“The show is setting itself up to educate about the term,” Jenn of Reappropriate [said. She] voiced a mild concern with the title, explaining that the term lives somewhere between an insult and self-deprecating humor.
So let’s start that education process here with the question: what does “Fresh Off The Boat” or “FOB” mean?