The so-called new golden age of television has mainly passed me by. While I can respect the quality of the storytelling of dramas from Breaking Bad to Game of Thrones, watching even a few minutes of their bleak plotlines and copious violence leaves me both depressed and queasy. I can’t consider that entertainment.
Fortunately, we’re in also in a less-remarked upon golden age in television, an age of diversity in sitcoms. Following a decade or more in which the success of the admittedly brilliant Seinfeld led to a host of lesser imitators, all centered around the putatively mirthful misadventures of an interchangeable crop of young straight white people, the prime time airwaves have become a little more colorful.
One of the best new sitcoms in recent seasons is ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, loosely based on celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name. Although the conventionality and nonthreatening nature of the show has been criticized by none other than Huang himself, the show is groundbreaking for the very reason that it aggressively normalizes a viewpoint hitherto unglimpsed on American television. This is, after all, only the second network sitcom in the history of American television to focus around an Asian family, and the first to qualify as a genuine hit.
The show is deliberately designed to be relatable and comfortably familiar to the average sitcom fan. It’s a show about a rebellious and attitudinal young pre-teen with a goofy dad, an overbearing mother, and two goody two-shoes younger brothers –in other words a fairly standard assortment of sitcom standbys.
The fact that the main characters are all Asian is something new and different, but at first glance the majority of them come across as uncomfortably stereotypical. The father is inoffensive and assimilationist, a fan of all things American. The mother is a “Tiger Mom,” and the little brothers are overachieving Asian wunderkinder.
What puts the “fresh” in Fresh Off the Boat, however, is one simple fact. When you watch the show, you watch it entirely from the Asian characters’ perspective. You aren’t laughing at them, you’re laughing with them, a fact that makes all the difference in the world. It gives the white viewer a chance to see what being the minority looks like from the inside –and what white culture looks like from the outside.
In summary, Fresh Off the Boat is definitely fresh. Go check it out.