Review: “Fresh Off The Boat” sets sail with promising first two episodes

The Huangs of ABC's new sitcom, Fresh Off The Boat.
The Huangs of ABC’s new sitcom, Fresh Off The Boat.

Call it #FOTBFever. Call it #Huangsanity.

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.

This marks the first time in 20 years that a primetime family sitcom has aired starring an all Asian American family, which is itself an historic occasion for the normalization of the Asian American nuclear family. That impact on the American pop culture (and political) zeitgeist cannot be — and should not be — understated.

However, in an effort to correct a few over-exuberant headlines and tweets of the past week, let’s also be clear: FOTB  is not the first Asian American family sitcom; not the first sitcom to star an Asian American male lead; not the only primetime comedy or sitcom to star an Asian American; not the only currently airing primetime network show to star primarily Asian American actors and to delve deeply into questions of Asian American identity; and — since multiracial Asian Americans are still Asian American — not the only sitcom of the last two decades to focus a lens on a diasporically Asian American family.

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.

For this reason, Asian Americans could not have been filled with greater glee (and a healthy dose of trepidation) yesterday had Jeremy Lin single-handedly led the Lakers to a flawless victory over the Heat while announcing during the game’s halftime show his secret engagement to Taylor Swift below a stadium-cam HBO simulcast of Manny Pacquiao defeating Floyd Mayweather by total knockout victory in the second minute of round 2. All day, my social media timelines were a deluge of breathlessly excited status updates and tweets over FOTB; and, by the second episode’s closing credits last night at 10pm EST, viewers had crowded into live watch parties across the country to watch the series’ launch with over a thousand of their closest friends, and the hashtag #FreshOffTheBoat was a top trending topic on Twitter.

So, was it worth all the hype?

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